Jean-Paul Sartre: To Freedom Condemned: A Guide to His Philosophy

Jean-Paul Sartre: To Freedom Condemned: A Guide to His Philosophy

by Justus Streller, Wade Baskin

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Jean-Paul Sartre’s most influential existentialist work, Being and Nothingness, broken down into its most fertile ideas
In To Freedom Condemned, Sartre’s most influential work, Being and Nothingness, is laid bare, presenting the philosopher’s key ideas regarding existentialism. Covering the philosophers Hegel, Heidegger, and Husserl, and mulling over such topics as love, God, death, and freedom, To Freedom Condemned goes on to consider Sartre’s treatment of the complexities around human existence.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781453228821
Publisher: Philosophical Library/Open Road
Publication date: 01/17/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 166
Sales rank: 243,130
File size: 672 KB

About the Author

Justus Streller is the author of Jean-Paul Sartre: To Freedom Condemned.

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To Freedom Condemned

A Guide to His Philosophy

By Jean-Paul Sartre, Wade Baskin

Philosophical Library

Copyright © 1960 Philosophical Library, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-2882-1



Things are exactly what they are and as they are; that is, they possess being-in-itself and are in themselves. They exist in pure positivity but are also purely contingent—unfounded and without the possibility of having a foundation. They simply are. Their being is absolute.

A thing unsatisfied with its existence and desirous of establishing for itself a foundation must become aware of itself through reflection. It must achieve separation from itself. Obviously, however, it can effect a separation only by splitting in two and keeping its parts distinct. This it accomplishes through the instrumentality of nothingness. It follows that a thing in order to be able to reflect on itself and provide for itself a foundation must contain nothingness. Through pure positivity it is transformed into a negativity, into something that contains nothingness. It is no longer in itself, no longer coincident with itself, but only present with respect to itself. It is no longer in itself but for itself. It is no longer a thing, an in-itself; it is a for-itself. And the for-itself possesses consciousness; this means that it possesses at the same time freedom and can select ends. Because it selects and pursues ends, the for-itself acquires individuality. It becomes a man. Choosing and pusuing ends is coincident with the emergence of the for-itself.

Things have qualities. For us the most important are their coefficients of hostility and their utility. These qualities are obvious if I consider things from the standpoint of the end selected. For depending on whether things hinder or facilitate my reaching the end, I become aware of their coefficients of hostility or of their utility. "The for-itself discovers itself as engaged in being (that is, in being-in-itself), hemmed in by being, threatened by being; it discovers the state of things which surrounds it as the cause for a reaction of defense or attack. But it can make this discovery only because it freely posits the end in relation to which the state of things is makes threatening or favorable." Before the for-itself makes its choice, things seem indifferent, and the for-itself feels lost in their indifference; it feels neglected and chooses an end in order to compel things to unveil their being, to turn toward it their faces. Along with their being, things naturally unveil also their otherness, that is, the fact that they are not the for-itself.

"We are separated from things by nothing except by our freedom; it is our freedom which is responsible for the fact that there are things with all their indifference, their unpredictability, and their adversity, and for the fact that we are inevitably separated from them; for it is on the ground of nihilation that they appear and that they are revealed as bound one to another." By nihilation is meant our ability to refuse to accept things as they are and to transform them instead into tools which will help us to attain our goal, acquire knowledge, etc. Our freedom to nihilate, however, "adds nothing to things."



The for-itself (a thing which has to be what it is because it projects itself toward goals, and which therefore is what it still is not and still is not what it is) and the in-itself (a thing that is in itself) "are reunited by a synthetic connection which is nothing other than the for-itself. The for-itself, in fact, is nothing but the pure nihilation of the in-itself; it is like a hole of being at the heart of Being." In other words, it is a nihilation of being at the heart of an individual and particular in-itself.

This nihilation, which determines the reality of the for-itself, is enough to "cause a total upheaval to happen to the in-itself. This upheaval is the world." It follows that the for-itself is not independent. It is a nonsubstantial absolute (an absolute because it uses its freedom to create itself). It depends on the in-itself. It is for that reason always uncertain; its being is never established but always sought after. "The for-itself is always in suspense because its being is a perpetual reprieve. If it could ever join with its being, then the otherness would by the same stroke disappear and along with it possibles (that is, ends), knowledge, the world." Ontologically and essentially, the in-itself takes precedence over the for-itself.

"It is only by making itself for-itself that being can aspire to be the cause of itself." This necessitates a break "with the identity-of-being of the in-itself, a withdrawal by being in relation to itself and the appearance of presence to self or consciousness." But consciousness is nihilation of being and "appears therefore as one stage in a progression toward the immanence of causality—i.e., toward being a self-cause. The progression, however, stops there as a result of the insufficiency of being in the for-itself" (only things have plenitude of being). The for-itself is always an abortive struggle to find a cause, to avoid existing any longer without justification and to acquire the value of an in-and-for-itself.

The in-itself can of course "acquire" something only when it is presence or consciousness to itself. Here ontology can only declare "that everything takes place as if the in-itself in a project to found itself gave itself the modification of the for-itself. It is up to metaphysics to form the hypotheses which will allow us to conceive of this process as the absolute event (the upsurge of the for-itself) which comes to crown the individual venture which is the existence of being." Metaphysics must also determine whether the first attempt of the in-itself to found itself is to be interpreted as a "malady of being" and whether the for-itself is to be understood "as more profound malady pushed to nihilation."

The in-itself and for-itself are two modalities, two modes of being. "The for-itself without the in-itself is a kind of abstraction; it could not exist any more than a color could exist without form or a sound without pitch and timbre." "Doubtless the for-itself is a nihilation, but as nihilation it is; and is is in a priori unity with the in-itself."

Hence being as a unity consisting of in-itself and for-itself is an ideal Being, namely an In-self grounded on and identical to a For-itself; it is therefore the ens causa sui, that is, the Being which is its own cause, the absolute and independent Being which the Scholastics called God. Considered from the point of view of this ideal, unrealizable Being, "the real is an abortive effort to attain to the dignity of the self-cause. Everything happens as if the world, man, and man-in-the-world succeeded in realizing only a missing God. Everything happens therefore as if the in-itself and the for-itself were presented in a state of disintegration in relation to an ideal synthesis, a synthesis which has never occured but which "is always indicated and always possible."



Man is a degenerate, degraded thing. He is a thing that seized upon the insolent plan of delving into the condition of its existence. It surrendered its immaculate positivity in exchange for the fateful capacity to be able to say no, to oppose something, to deny, to forbid, to obstruct, to nihilate. This capacity it acquired by implanting in itself nothingness, the root of all negation. Then it could say "I am not that" or "This is not that." The thing acquired consciousness and changed from an in-itself to a for-itself. Along with consciousness it received the questionable gift of freedom, this for-itself could select from its possibilities an end and project itself toward this end. As a result of its choice and its project the for-itself became a man.

Man is the being who brought into the world nothingness and with nothingness the possibility of nihilating something. "But what am I if not a certain internal negation of the in-itself? Without this in-itself which I deny, I should vanish into nothingness."

"We shall never apprehend ourselves except as a choice in the making. But freedom is simply the fact that this choice is always unconditioned."

"The for-itself in order to choose itself as a person effects the existence of an internal organization which the for-itself surpasses toward itself, and this internal technical organization (for the appropiation of the world or for living in harmony with others, since these processes are the collective property of mankind, of national, professional, and family groups) is his human or national quality."

Since man is descended from things (from lumps of clay into which God breathed: there was a void in which no thing, no in-itself, nothing was; there existed in the thing a place on which nothingness could settle), he participates in the contingency of things, in their fortuitousness, in their non-urgency, in their groundlessness. One characteristic of man is therefore his facticity, that is, the for-itself's necessary connection with the in-itself, which makes it possible for him to assert that he is and that he is as he is. Man has Dasein ("being-there"), he exists; but he is "cast" there, that is, he not only is but has to be there.

The main employment of man is to recover the being-in-itself of things and all the while be for himself—not to merge with the world of things but to incorporate it in himself. His desire is therefore to be in-and-for-itself, to become the proof and foundation of his self (an ens causa sui); he wishes to free himself from contingency, that is, to become God.

Christ sacrificed himself in order to bring into being the true man; man destroys himself in his striving after being-in-and-for-itself in order to bring into being God. The true meaning of human behavior therefore transcends egoism, altruism, and disinterest. "Man makes himself man in order to be God," that is, to become his own foundation. But since "there is no common measure between human reality and the self-cause which it wants to be, one could just as well say that man loses himself in order that the self-cause may exist."

Being-a-man is being-in-the-world, and man can not tear himself away from the world unless he tears himself away from himself. He actually does this in doubt, in interrogation, in suspension of judgement, etc. Here one state of consciousness is wrenched away from another that immediately precedes and motivates it, with the result that a caesura is produced. This caesura is nothingness. Nothingness is impregnable precisely because it is nothing.

As a consequence of his freedom man is always separated by nothingness from what he has just been, that is, from his being. Never can a man's act be explained by what can be asserted about him, for man is what he has been. An act, on the contrary, is actual; it anticipates the future and always trascends man's being.

If a man directs his undivided attention toward something and actively gives himself over to it, his conduct has no "outside" (that is, he does not observe it); "it is merely a process of relating the instruments ... to the end to be attained, a pure mode of losing myself in the world, of causing myself to be drunk in by the things as ink is by a blotter in order that an instrumental complex oriented toward an end may be synthetically detached from the ground of the world."

A man can not actually make himself an object of cognition. An object is what my consciousness is not and what has in itself no trace of consciousness. For outside my own consciousness there is nothing that has for me the characteristics of consciousness. A self that I have made into my object is therefore a self that is not my self. For even if I could see myself clearly and distinctly as an object, what I saw would still not be an adequate representation of what I am in and for myself.

Man's being is tied not only to his being-for-itself but also to his being-for-others. Both the upsurge of my consciousness and the upsurge of my being-for-others have the character of absolute events. My being-for-others is the first fact that I meet with, and the one that I meet with continuously. At all events I must be the one who is not something else or the Other. In this negation directed toward myself I bring myself into being, I become my Self and the Other emerges. To produce the Other, my consciousness must have the faculty "not to be" the Other; it must therefore spontaneously wrench itself away from the Other (who "is" my consciousness to begin with) and choose for itself nonbeing. This non-being is the Other as such. My being-for-myself invests the Other not with being but rather with otherness, the characteristic of being someone besides me. "It is necessary that the other be present to consciousness in every part and even that it penetrate consciousness completely in order that conscious precisely by being nothing may escape the Other who threatens to ensnare it. If consciousness were abruptly to be something, the distinction between itself and the Other would disappear at the heart of undifferentiation." The Other is of course (in contrast to things-in-themselves) exactly what I myself am: for-itself and consciousness. He therefore has the same mode of being as I. By excluding the Other he is myself. "The Other exists for consciousness only as a refused self," that is, I exist for myself as the self that has been refused by him, and only as that self. "Thus the Other whom I recognize in order to refuse to be him is before all else the one for whom my for-itself is." But I nevertheless refuse to be a self through which the Other can make me into an object (in his judgment, etc.),

"Thus my being-for-others ... is a perfectly real being, my being as the condition of my selfness confronting the Other and of the Other's selfness confronting me."

Shame, the feeling of man's original fall, results not from the fact that I have committed a particular wrong but simply from the fact "that I have 'fallen' into the world in the midst of things" and must have the help of the Other to overcome objectness and be what I am.

Adam and Eve realized after the fall that they were naked because the naked body symbolizes our brute objectivity. Putting on clothing signifies laying claim to the right of being the subject, of seeing without being seen.

I "am" my possibilities, and the order of the instruments that are in the world "is the image of my possibilities," that is, the image of what I am. Through action I unknowingly adapt myself to this image. The Other, whom I have made an object (in my judgment, etc.) is an instrument defined for me through its relations to all other instruments. I also apprehend the Other in terms of his organization of the world around him (since he in turn makes the world a totality of his instruments), but the whole remains my microcosmos. Nothing is irretrievably lost. On the contrary the world reveals to me the Other together with his situation, that is, as a unity which extends throughout "the whole world as a mundane power for the synthetic organization of this world."

But I structure in a wholly different manner the world in which I make the Other an object. I can never apprehend a situation as it appears to the other, and I can always be mistaken concerning the Other's intentions. It would be different if I could apprehend and communicate with the Other as subject. But that is impossible. As soon as I turn toward him, I make him and his world into objects of my world.

The for-itself, which constitutes the essence of man, is the nihilation of the in-itself; it is a degraded thing bereft of being-in-itself. Through nihilation it did indeed achieve consciousness, but it had at the same time to take upon itself the burden of facticity—a body, the quality of a "given" with respect to others, a preterite which defined it. It seeks henceforth to escape its factual existence, that is, "its being-there as an in-itself for which there is no foundation." Always pursued, it flees toward an impossible future where the for-itself would be in-itself-for-itself—an in-itself with its own foundation (and not something for an outside observer). It nihilates and flees from the in-itself which is at the same time pursuing it. The for-itself is a pursued-pursuing. It is both flight and pursuit and can not be distinguished from its two-directional movement.

The continuous flight which constitutes the being of man comes to a sudden stop when the Other emerges, for the Other sees it and changes it thereby into an object, an in-itself. The reason is that for the Other I am unalterably what I actually am, and even my freedom becomes a mere quality of my being, a given; it ceases to be something experienced. I experience my objectivity as an alienation of my self, and it confers on my flight the character of the in-itself before which it flees. The in-itself recaptures me.


Excerpted from To Freedom Condemned by Jean-Paul Sartre, Wade Baskin. Copyright © 1960 Philosophical Library, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Philosophical Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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