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October 27, 2011
A world leader recently insisted that the movement towards freedom was driven by “existential disgust.”
Certainly a subject only, perhaps, understood by consulting Jean-Paul Sartre, and his best-known utterance:
“Man is condemned to be Free.”
A seeming contradiction in terms.
But if it weren’t contradictory, it wouldn’t have exhausted conversation in all those smoke-filled rooms.
(Today, smoke free rooms.)
So what did he mean in his famous statement from "Being and Nothingness."
(B&N to Sartre fans — not Barnes & Noble.)
As Sartre writes, "Man is nothing else than his plan — he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life."
Ah, but Leibniz followers argue “God determined each man’s essence and then left him to act freely in demands of his essence.”
Yes, but Sartre counters in words that define the entire existential movement.
This reverses the traditional philosophical view that the essence or nature of a thing is more fundamental and immutable than its existence.
The “essence” or “nature” of a chair, in an often-cited example, exists in the mind of the creator before the actual chair exists in the world.
In humans, it's a bit trickier, but same lessons apply.
Man is condemned to be Free?
Or, if you like, these words from Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster:
"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
You have the freedom to choose.