THE DOCTRINE OF FREEDOM AND
RESPONSIBILITY IN JEAN PAUL SARTRE - THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES IN AN AUTHENTIC
1.0 GENERAL INTRODUCTION
thesis has to do with the problem of freedom in man’s realization of authentic
existence in the existentialist philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre. Looking at this
topic, certain basic questions readily come to mind. These may include: What is
freedom? Is man actually free? What do we actually mean when we talk of
freedom? This thesis is devoted to an attempt to answering these questions and
a whole lot of others.
thorough introspection into the being of man reflects the fact and role of
freedom. In fact Sartre writes, ‘Man does not exist first in order to be free’.
Subsequently; there is no difference between the being of man and his being
essential consequence of our earlier remarks is that man being condemned to be
free carries the weight of the whole world on his shoulders; he is responsible
for the world and himself as a way of being.
the identity of the being of man and his freedom he said, “for lack of getting
out of it, I have chosen it”. We flee
this knowledge and responsibility by lying to ourselves.
the essence of a lie implies that the liar is actually in complete possession
of the truth. In fact, the ideal liar must know the truth precisely in order to
conceal it. Unfortunately, when we lie to ourselves we usually half-believe
ourselves, falling victims to our own untruths. Thus, though we should know
that we posses absolute freedom as well as absolute responsibility, we do not.
man has been viewed as sharing similar characteristics with other creatures, it
is deducibly provable that apart from the distinctive property fundamental to
man, he is equally endowed with the special quality of being free. His freedom
follows from his intellect. Hence, Aquinas notes that; “The very fact that man
is rational, necessitates his being characterized by free decision (Liberum
No one can freely choose or even will an alternative, which one does not know.
The will only pursues the object, which the intellect presents to it as good.
Moreover, everyman desires to be totally free irrespective of all the
constraints that surround him.
his philosophy, Sartre advocates for freedom. He maintains absolute freedom for
man. He says that man creates himself and that man is condemned to be free. He
goes as far as what may be considered as complete atheism and amoralism, and as
such says that there is no God. Everything is permissible.
work is divided into four chapters. On the first chapter we shall deliberate on
the general notion of freedom, we shall as well consider stating the problem
and the scope of research; some philosopher’s notion on freedom, the problem of
freedom, and the nature of human freewill. The views of some philosophers on
the term freedom will consist in the ancient philosophers down to the
dwelt so much on the views of the philosophers in their history, we shall then
move over to chapter two, in which we shall consider freedom in its absolute
nature, with special reference to Sartre, we shall as well consider its
relation to authentic self-assertion and, this freedom and moral
Sartre, freedom and responsibility are the two attributes, which belong necessarily
and absolutely to man. In fact, he made man synonymous with freedom and
responsibility, and this became the necessary condition for existence.
Authentic existence is presupposed by living in freedom and responsibility and
thus; any attempt to dodge these qualities (freedom and responsibility) brings
man inauthentic existence. It is this inauthentic existence that Sartre called
chapter three we shall consider a juxtaposition of freedom with determinism,
consider human law and the practicability of Sartre’s absolute freedom, and the
world of being and nothingness in relation to passion and freedom. Combating
Sartre’s absolute freedom some schools of thought have undermined human
capacity and projected the existence of a higher law, order, and have
maintained that human actions are not freely chosen but are determined. And
even through the influence of passion and beauty, human actions come by chance.
from all these, the final chapter shall tackle the absolute position of Sartre
on freedom and, considering some limitations to human freedom, shall give a
reasoned critique on the notion of absolute freedom and, finally take a
position or stand on human freedom, which is the final conclusion.
THE STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
is a work proposed at exposing and satisfying the project topic: The Doctrine
of Absolute Freedom and Responsibility in Jean Paul Sartre as the fundamental
principles in an authentic existence in all its ramifications.
sense in the authenticity of being was summarized in the association of the
terms: freedom, consciousness and nothingness. So, existence per se according
to Sartre is realized in consciousness and freedom, and the absence of these is
nothingness. Simply put, ‘you cannot not be free or else you are not’. Man can
be something other than nothing by being limitlessly free in the choice of his
actions. Thus, to be human is to be free. He carefully maintained that human
freedom precedes the essence in man and makes it possible. He made freedom
fundamental to every human action, which goes to define our essence. So, to be
for human reality is to act. It is not to be and then to act, but to be means
taking cognizance of Sartre’s background which undoubtedly led to some of his
shortcomings in a bid to portray his views, there will be a form of scholastic
or reasoned reconciliation on the subject-matter by recognizing man’s natural
affiliation to religion, which most at times leads man to recognizing a being
beyond him, which he refers to as God.
laws as levelling principles seem to obstruct human infinite manifestation and
assertion. It serves the need for protecting the weakest and so creates the
sense of equality. This brings in the possibility of consideration and accommodation,
and consequently sets in some limitations to human freedom. And so, it becomes
inabsolute other than absolute.
1.2 THE SCOPE OF RESEARCH
work will not go as far as presenting everything Sartre and other thinkers have
said about freedom, but will be bent on exposing the doctrine of Sartre
essential to achieving an authentic existence from the primary fact that man is
free to decide for himself and assert himself, by standing to be responsible to
whatever he has chosen to do. It will as well be geared towards attaining
reconciliation between freedom and determinism and the limitations of human
freedom in reference to natural and human positive laws. Thus, the invalidity
or impossibility of absolute freedom as Sartre would conceive of it.
in a form of intellectual stimulation and response, Jean Jacques Rousseau would
simply say in his treatise on social contract and determinism that, “man is
born free, but everywhere in chain”4. This is
not unconnected with some events that would by punishment or correction limit
man in is freedom. The fear of responsibility and the maturity expressed at
responsibility make the authenticity of being inconclusive in its connection to
you have freedom now and the other person has privilege, and next time, he has
freedom and you have privilege.
Human freedom should not interfere with others’ privilege otherwise it 1negates
the being of the persons. It rather integrates the privilege of others into a union, and forms a universal
mode of living acceptable to all.
1.3 NOTION OF FREEDOM
was William James who in his treatise on the dilemma of determinism said that,
“no subject is completely worn out in such a way that no new contributions
could be added to it”5.
However, we must admit the fact that great efforts have been made by different
philosophers and thinkers to solve the problem of freedom. Thus, before
entering into the problem of freedom in man’s realization of authentic
existence with reference to Jean Paul Sartre, let us have a look at some
Philosophers’ conception or notion of freedom.
Freedom is the object of
man’s yearning. Poets extol or acclaim it, Politicians promise or proclaim it,
and some others have given their lives to win it for
themselves or for others.
Yet what is it?
The word freedom in the
world of philosophers has many and different meanings and these give rise to
many nuances. Freedom is the power rooted in reason and will, to act or not to
act, and so to perform deliberate actions in ones own responsibility.
freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness. It can refer
to the absence of external social pressures and demands. It can simply mean the
lack of physical restraints. It can signify that capacity by which individuals
are able to form their own lives in a sense through their choice.
freedom comes from the Latin word “Immunitas a coercione” which means immuned
from coercion, which could also mean the capacity to decide what to do.
According to P. H. Partridge;
Freedom refers primarily
to a condition characterized by the absence of coercion or constraints imposed
by another person; a man is said to be free to the extent that he can choose
his own goals or course of conduct; can choose between alternatives available
to him, and is not compelled to act as he would not himself choose to act, or
prevented from acting as he would otherwise choose to act, by the will of
another man, of the state or of many other authority6.
by nature is free some would say; the dictum “man is free” explains all about
man and freedom. Historically, man’s existence is endowed with freedom. So
freedom is as old as man himself. John Locke speaking on freedom says “men are
naturally in a state of perfect freedom, to order their actions and dispose of
their possessions as they think fit…”7
the notion of freedom is as old as man, it started in time with the ancient
Greek thinkers, but only on moral reflections. They did not delve directly into
the problem of freedom because of three prominent reasons, which include:-
believe that everything is subjected to fate and absolute will, superior to men
as well as gods, which indirectly determine every action.
is part of nature, and thus, is subject to the general laws that govern
everything including man himself, and as such cannot but obey such laws.
also subject to the influence of history, which the Greek conceived as a
cyclical movement in which everything repeats itself within a certain period of
time. This is not unconnected to the fact that they were unable to understand
human nature and the cosmos exactly.
The above reason led to
asking such questions as; are we truly responsible for our actions? And how
imputable are our deeds to ourselves? The issue of freedom went philosophical
when Socrates took it up. He argued that “virtue is connected with knowledge,
but vice is simply due to ignorance”8.
This stand rather than solving the issue of freedom exonerated man totally from
any act of intransigence. Plato instead of repudiating the stand of Socrates
broadened the scope. He argued that the “body is a kind of prison and the soul
is entrenched in it, but could be liberated through the exercise of virtue and
philosophical contemplation”9. The
problem of freedom acquired new dimension and attracted a great interest in the
medieval period. Fate never existed; rather God was seen as the loving father
and a provider. History and nature were placed at the service of man instead of
being above man. During this period, freedom moved to a question of
relationship between man and God.
regard to the above assertion, some questions arose as: Why has God created man
free knowing that he would abuse the gift? Thomas Aquinas representing the
medieval thinkers said that, though man is under the authority of God, he has
the freedom to choose his own destiny by free act of the will. Thus, he writes;
The rational creature governs itself by its
intellect and will, both of which are required to be governed and perfected by
the divine intellect and will. Therefore, above the government whereby the
rational creature governs itself as master of its own act, it requires to be
governed by God10.
In the modern period,
freedom took another conception; The Theo-centric aspect was replaced with
anthropocentricism; man became conscious of his autonomy and thus, the issue of
freedom changed its dimension to human faculties, passion and man’s
relationship with the society. Descartes the father of modern philosophy has
this to say through the immanentic premise of his philosophy of the Cogito ergo sum: “Freedom is no longer
perceived as a choice of good, but as a choice of pure and simple as the
spontaneous self determination of the individual”11. Leibniz says that the principle of
reason causes everything. Hence, “every event must have a cause for its being”12. Hegel, on his treatise on the mind
and body relationship posited that all is absolute Spirit, and that an
“authentic freedom is not merely individual choice but obedience to the
objective reason”13. Karl
Marx substituted Hegel’s absolute Spirit with dialectical materialism, holding
that the idea of individual choice is necessitated by social value. Kant in his
view of ‘existential analytic’- a treatise on the justification of human
existence in relation to freedom argued that, freedom is neither direct
intuition nor logical demonstration, but a postulation that demands moral law.
Thus, Kant defines freedom as “the property of the will to give to itself a law
and to be subordinate to the law of necessity, as the phenomena are”14.
the contemporary period, the existentialists appeared on the stage. Freedom for them is not a property
of the will but the very structure of the being of man.
the general view of the contemporary philosophers, it can be said that freedom
is something that is lived in any concrete existence. Above all, freedom for me
is a human condition of action, which is devoid of any influence, which impedes
human consciousness or motivates human decision.
1.4 THE PROBLEM OF FREEDOM
Though freedom is an integral part of man, it has constituted a great
and intricate problem in practice and theory. It has often been debated if man
is in fact free. This debate has become loud in the modern times, when the
rights and freedom of people are infringed on, and when political and economic
oppression held people in chain. Besides, it seemsthat the freedom of choice is completely absurd since it
contradicts the laws of nature, which the theory of evolution tends to hold in
a deterministic way. This is precisely why William James writes,
I know of no
subject less worn out in which an inventive genius has a better chance of
breaking new ground, of deepening our sense of what the issue between the two
parties really are, of what the ideas of fate and freewill imply.15
above statement of James reveals the problem in reconciling freedom with the
idea of fate. Man’s life indeed reveals some occasions when he is constrained
to act in a particular way. For instance, a man in so far as he is alive is
determined to breathe; he cannot freely choose not to breathe and still remain
a living human being. One may ask if man is really free to act as he has been
directed by the will; whether he should be responsible for his actions. The
issue of freedom is truly controversial; this is why many thinkers have diverse
views on it.
the Greek Philosophers did not give any satisfactory answer to the problem of
freedom. “They regarded all things as subject to fate, an absolute will,
superior to man and to gods which consciously or unconsciously determine an
Christianity, the problem of freedom was reversed to God, and God was
emphasized rather than fate, natural law or history. As Augustine would say,
“There is the God of scriptures to reveal to us that in man there is the free
choice of the will”17.
opinions that presented God as determining man’s actions began to emerge in the
patristic or medieval period. Hence; Aquinas asked, “how is it possible to
assert that man is free while God is the principal and ultimate cause of
the modern era, Philosophers like Spinoza, Hume and Descartes hold that “human
passions and emotions are propellers of man’s action not free will.”19
in the contemporary era, the problem remains how man can be free in a society
in which political systems, communication media, and technological advancement
have become potent instruments of oppression.
fact, the solution to the problem of freedom lies in the reconciliation of
freedom with determinism.
1.5 NATURE OF HUMAN FREE WILL
The question of the
freedom of the human free will has put up an exhibition worth recognition
within the epochs of intellectual inquiries. The prominent question that occurs
often is “is the human free will free?
If it is, how free is the human free will? But following the scheme, the
main concern here is the nature of this free will and its mode of operation.
free will is sometimes called free choice or free decision. In Latin, it is
termed “liberum arbitrium”. “Free will is an ability characterizing man in the
voluntary activity of choosing or not choosing a particular good presented to
him”20. It is often defined as freedom
possessed by a person to evaluate and to yield to or not to the attraction of
an object. However, with regard to this definition, it is worthy of note that,
the will is drawn towards “a good” in so far as it is actual and attractive.
Thus, a differentiation between particular and universal goods must be made.
as Sartre would conceive of it, “I could not describe a freedom which is common
to both the other and myself. I could not therefore contemplate an essence of
freedom”21. On the contrary, it is
freedom, which is the foundation of all essences since man reveals
intra-mundane essences by surpassing the world towards his own possibilities.
“This in essence means that freedom has no particular essence and so, since the
essence is beyond realization within a particular confine, it then means that
it varies in selves”22.
one is only sure of one’s particular freedom, because freedom exists in a
particular experience. Yet it is a pure factual necessity appealing to human
from this, the will in the presence of particular goods, has some exercise of
choice, but before a universal good, the will necessarily chooses it.
Aquinas affirms that the “freewill is determined with regard to the infinite or
Descartes describes the nature of the freewill in the following words:
is proper to the nature of the will to have a large aperture, and the sum
perfection of man is of acting by way of will- that is, freely-and thus of
being in some peculiar way the author of his action and of meriting praise for
The will is solely an independent reality, and so it is very closely
linked with the intellect as well as other drives in man since it cannot act in
the absence of the cognitive faculty. This is why Aquinas would say “the act as
good is materially an act of will, but formally an act of reason because it is
directed towards its end by reason.”25
Still on this effort to finding meaning to free will and the method of
performance, the proponents of free will distinguished acts of the free will
from voluntary acts because “all acts of the free will are voluntary, but not
all-voluntary acts are acts of the free will”26
The human free will in its nature tries in a way to determine and
properly separate conscious and unconscious acts in their fields of
This is why Igwemma C., has carefully deduced that, “the issue of human
free will also gives rise to the essential distinction in ethics between acts
of man and human acts”27. A
human act is that which is resulted by the interaction of the human intellect
and the free will. It is a voluntary and deliberate act, and consequently
belongs to man.
In a way of summary, the will and the act define themselves separately,
and one cannot and does not suffice for the other. For instance, I desire to
ride a car, I cannot do so unless I have the capacity or ability to do so.
P. Sartre, Being and Nothingness,
(New York: Washington square press, Inc., 1966), p.1.