Friday, 6 February 2015

Sartre's Existentialism

Moving on from last week's post regarding The Distorted Simulation of Reality, in which I looked at how systems have developed in the form of modern media, a principle inspired by Baudrillard, I have decided to place my attentions on one of my favourite philsophical teachings - Existentialism. Jean-Paul Satre, as you've probably guessed by the name, was a French philosopher and perhaps the most significant presence of the Existentialist movement. In this post I will try to explain his views and how they may relate to modern life in what is an increasingly crazy world.

Firstly, Existentialism looks at the fundamental principles behind human existence, as well as deconstructing how we live our lives in the modern world. These philosophical teachings are based around the idea that we are terrifyingly aware of how free we are, thus producing ways in which we are able to cope with our own peculiar place within the world. In order to explain where this notion has developed from we must first look at the idea of consciousness and unconsciousness.

A being that's for itself is considered something that is able to think about things and perceive objects that are around them in reality. Human beings are the most obvious examples of beings for themselves as we can distinguish ourselves as being separate from objects such as tables, for instance. Not only do we perceive things but we perceive our self perceiving things, this meaning we notice our selves in relation to the world around us. We are capable of complex thought.

Something that is unconscious is what we call a being in itself, something that is unable to perceive or think about anything, this laptop I'm writing on for example has a specific purpose and is not able to think, it just is what it is. Now, separating the conscious from the unconscious is the principle of nothingness, this being what keeps the two apart.

Nothingness exists within the conscious being also, nothingness being a vacuous space which we try to fill with our actions and self-achievement. In other words, we go through life looking for fulfillment through what we do. The nothingness, therefore, is what gives human beings the potential to be different, and have different futures. A being in itself is created and this is the main difference between what is conscious and unconscious, a table for example has a pre-ordained life, in the sense that a table has been formed to be a table.

Ok, so now the basics are out of the way (pretty easy stuff, right?) we can now move onto the concept of bad faith. The nothingness inside us can be essentially filled with everything, for example we don't have to be loyal, religious, abide by laws and we are fundamentally free to do what we want. The most obvious example I can think of to stress the extent to which we are free is the idea of killing someone, although doing this has consequences, there is nothing restraining you from being free to suffer those consequences as a result of killing someone.

When we realise that we are free to make our own choices regardless of everything else, we are faced with anguish because we are scared of our own freedom. We do not have to follow any specific moral and this is a concept we struggle with because we do not want to lose what we have built up in our lives, meaning we favour constraints, turning to bad faith.

We decide to ignore our own freedom in an effort to convince ourselves we are not as free as we actually are. One way in which we try to cope with our realisations is by trying to treat ourselves as 'things', i.e. we can't help being a certain way because that's just how we are - pretty simple, I know. This method is what can often be referred to as being in denial of our own potential, we categorise ourselves as a type, or as appertaining to a set of principles or constraints, unable to act outside of those defining characteristics.

Another way in which we deny ourselves freedom is to give ourselves a role to play. Think about a teacher, we do not really think of a teacher acting outside of being a teacher, they are a role model and they perceive themselves as being teachers and role models. If a teacher was to act separately from being a teacher they would be condemned by the general public, maybe an example of this could be acting irresponsibly; getting drunk or sleeping with a student (let's be more specific by saying a lecturer being condemned for sleeping with a student, a student who is also a consenting adult).

Through his philosophical teachings, Satre showed that he believed that we, as human beings, wanted to determine our own futures by placing ourselves within defining constructs. An example of these constructs could be the idea of law or, on a wider basis, capitalism. Sartre believed that money served as a way for people to deny themselves freedom by providing the perfect excuse to say we cannot afford to do specific things. Money is not real in an existentialist sense, and is part of the machine which forces us to trap ourselves in jobs, not giving ourselves any room for fulfillment.

Rates of depression in modern times are through the roof, and perhaps one of the contributing factors is being overworked or not having time to really persue the interests which may fulfill us. A study was done showing that 10% of our happiness levels are governed by life circumstances - only 10%! This means that what we do as a job doesn't really contribute to whether or not we are happy, because once our basic needs are met we don't really have a need to have more money.

However, we continue to work because we are scared of freedom, despite us being eternally aware that it needn't be that way. We have got to a point now where we are trapped within a system, where we have become dissociated from what is truly real, and what it is to be free. Not only have we created a world in which we are no longer free, but the system created ensures that we cannot escape it even if we are to realise fundamental flaws within that system, such as inequality and mass consumerism.

So that's my take on Existentialism, I hope you've enjoyed it and have spurred you on to comment below telling me I'm all wrong! Let me hear what you think by commenting below, feel free to share this, +1 it or print it off and put it on your bedside table to be read everyday! Thanks for reading.

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