It's interesting that you should have brought up Skinner at this point.
I read his Beyond Freedom and Dignity a few years ago and was quite
impressed by his argument - although I told myself at the time that I
only read the book in order to disagree with it.
It's especially interesting that Sartre and Skinner were
contemporaries, that their ideas were so opposed and that Sartre, whose
conception of freedom was so focused on the individual, should have
become associated with the Left - whereas Skinner, who considered the
individual to be no more than an organism responding to stimuli he
considered it the role of the State to provide, should be associated
with the Right.
So much for those who would require politicians to be consistent with
But I am becoming interested once again in the deterministic view of
human existence via ideas contained in 'eastern' mysticism, transmitted
into western thought by thinkers like Gurdjieff and his interlocutor,
According to Gurdjieff, ordinary man is completely mechanical,
responding to stimuli such as human political situations and planetary
influences alike. Given that the context for the Work begun by
Gurdjieff was Petersburg during the First World War, when men marched
by their millions to die in cold, muddy trenches for a meaningless
political cause that couldn't even be articulated by their 'political
leaders', this seems reasonable.
The idea is that, until man realises that he is completely automatic
rather than autonomous as he has accustomed himself to believe, he has
no chance of gaining control over his destiny.
�Man has no permanent and unchangeable I. Every thought, every mood,
every desire, every sensation, says �I�. And in each case it seems to
be taken for granted that this I belongs to othe Whole, to the whole
man, and that a thought, a desire, or an aversion is expressed by this
Whole. In actual fact there is no foundation whatever for this
assumption. Man�s every thought and desire appears and lives quite
separately and independently of the Whole. And the Whole never epresses
itself, for the simple reasons that it exists, as such, only physically
as a thing, and in the abstract as a concept. Man has no individual I.
But there are, instead, hundreds and thousands of separate small I�s,
very often entirely unknown to one another, never coming into contact,
or, on the contrary, hostile to each other, mutually exclusive and
incompatible. Each minute, each moment, man is saying or thinking �I�.
And each time his I is different. Just now it was a thought, now it is
a desire, now a sensation, now another thought and so on, endlessly.
Man is a plurality. Man�s name is legion." - In Search of the
Miraculous, P.D. Ouspensky, p. 59
The question is, who is the "he" (or "she") in question? Sartre's
being-for-itself formulation is quite precise; the distinction between
being-for-itself and the roles that are played by personalities is
clear. Consider the example of the waiter in B&N.
So Sartre has thought through the same conundrum as Gurdjieff: a being
who believes that he IS the waiter or whatever other role he or she is
playing is _identifying_ with this role. To identify with a role is to
become entirely subservient to those who are able to define this role:
"Waiter, there's a fly in my soup..."
But of course, the spirit of seriousness, according to which a customer
in a restaurant colludes in the definition of the role of waiter,
places the customer in an equally determined role as the waiter. Both
respond to the situation (the "restaurant") within which both are
contained. The customer peruses the menu and believes him or herself to
be making a choice. But it is only through _identifying_ (eg. I am a
vegetarian, or I am a person who likes his steak rare) that such
"choices" are made.
We can analyse almost any situation within which we might find
ourselves in this way. It is only by identifying with a role, a
personality, that "choices" can be made. But all such "choices" are
determined by the role with which one identifies.
Being-for-itself has no more autonomy in the political world, the
consensus reality of the "they", than any determined personality which
is being identified with.
Gurdjieff taught that by adopting an aim and proceeding with the Work,
having previously considered all the ways in which ordinary man
identifies with roles - mechanically - it was possible to get in touch
with a higher, a cosmic self, and this was the aim of the Work. In
order to progress with the Work, it is necessary to have a Teacher.
Sartre, on the other hand, seems to think that being-for-itself is
something that can be understood intellectually. One can discover one's
freedom and live one's life freely, autonomously.
Do we agree with him? Are we any more autonomous today than the
mechanical man who went to die in his millions in the slippery trenches
I tend to think that the only thing which is truly mine is my
understanding. Everything else is conditioned, determined, phenomenal,
That is my understanding. That is "my freedom".
On 1 Dec 2004, at 05:14, decker150 wrote:
> Stephen, thanks for your thoughts. My recollections of B.F.
> Skinners behaviorial studies indicated that there is no inner
> experence. Whatever activity occurs within a human being is
> regarded as a mere novelty, a reflection of the objective world; an
> idea similar to Buddhism of the 'no self'. I would phrase the
> direction of this outward to inward determination as 'the effect of
> reality upon the mind." The idea being that we are controlled by
> the environment and of course the culture. Control the environment
> and you control human behavior; well that's the idea anyway. A
> Kants a priori reason pointed out that there are unique
> configurations of thought that occurs within the mind that are not
> based upon experience. However conditioned we are, there is still
> the unique way in which all this is reformulated by the individual.
> My interest in the crossover from mind to reality alters the above
> view to 'the effect of this reformulating mind upon reality'. That
> is, we also learn how to manipulate the world for ourself. In spite
> of our conditioning, what is possible within the context of our
> responses, is something unique, i.e., creativity, imagination, and
> dreaming. Ideas emerge as a power, a living and growing entity,
> almost as if the idea itself is striving to control-the world. In
> the turn that exposes how thought-preceeds-action, it is now
> possible to see 'the germinal idea' as seminal, progenitive, a viral
> power, determinate of action, and the world is impacted as an
> outcome. The propoganda is a propogation. Births occur in the
> mind. These are called conceptions. The fanaticism of German
> National Socialism was like a virus; it's ideas spread kind of like
> a bad cold. Marxism was a very powerful idea that had the real-
> world aim to 'change the world'. This was a reification. These
> ideals were to become 'the state'. I think that is why Sartre was
> temporaily converted to Marxist views.
> I am particularly fascinated by 'role engagement' (as in Dungeons &
> Dragons), where a psychological reality is contrived, entered into,
> and acted out. This would be an extreme version of
> Heideggers 'apophantic as structure' that indicated how reality is
> always construed this way / one way or another through psychological
> invention. I have long wonder if the formulae for psychological
> reality could be understood; the structure of designer reality. The
> average person today, in my view, is 'world driven', they live much
> of their life in a stressed out, absorbed and translike state,
> enculturated, "lost in the they", out of touch with their core
> capacity; the can not seize their creative uniqueness, they do not
> deeply know where they stand with their own self, especially in
> terms of 'changing the world', how their own mind could potentially
> have a nonconforming effect upon reality.
> Well enough said. I believe this resides in the core meaning of
> being-for-itself and the potentiality of being-one-unique-being in
> the world. But it would take enormous self-reflective power, and
> the discipline to counter-control the world, since, reality is
> already precontrued, and already under seige by competing illusions.
> These illusions are only 'rationalized states'.
> I would be interested in your views.
> Thanks - Joe
>> decker150 wrote:
>> <<<<Right. I am interested in the crossover from mind
>>> to reality, the bridge between existential
>> philosophy and being in the 'real'world.>>>>>
>> And it seems clear that this "crossover" was precisely
>> Sartre's lifelong quest: from the discovery of
>> Husserlian phenomenology to selling the new-leftist
>> and Maoist "The People's Cause" at plant gates. I
>> would argue that he never fully made the transition
>> from philosophy to reality - and Sartre himself at
>> times seemed to realize this. While grasping the moral
>> and social degeneracy of the European Bourgeoisie he
>> was never able to achieve concreteness in the sense of
>> coming to terms with the Communist workers' movement.
>> The closest was maybe from 1952 to '56, when he was a
>> "fellow traveler."
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