Are we as free as Sartre Suggests?
- Before i begin, i will say that i have faith in Sartre's ideas,
however these are some of the problems i have encountered in recent
times studying psychology (stop groaning) and biology (more darwin
than anyone else).
1) Identical Twins raised in different environments, show
similar 'personality traits.'
If "existence precedes essence" as Sartre claims then how does he
explain two beings, raised in completely different environments, who
have never seen, spoken to or known of the others existence, yet have
Surely if nature has no effect, these two beings create themselves,
partly helped along by the environment they exist in. And as a result
will not end up with similarities. Whilsts statistics are limited,
because identical twins reared in different environments with no
contact with eachother are hard to come by and test, there are many -
and this obviously isnt a coincidence.
My answer to this comes in two parts, and i'd love to hear your
thoughts on the answers and question
a) Science will tell us that "babies learn in the womb," so then is
it not possible for identical twins to pick up common information and
then be seperated, with this information as a part of their 'ego,'
leading them later on in life to develop symmetries in personality?
In this case it must be examined as to what Sartre means when he says
existence - when does existence begin? When we are born and enter the
world, or when the first cell of what will be 'us', is created, or
why not when we can hear, remember for the first time etc. it goes on
b) secondly, i don't think this proves anything on behalf of science,
as we can never really have just nature. Its impossible, (unless we
raise a child in a white room and feed it while its asleep;)) to have
nature without nurture. this is probably a bit of a cop out.
Sartrean epistemology also gives us "freedom of thought".
But can we really control our thoughts to the extent where external
stimuli doesnt effect cognition?
"DON'T THINK OF ELEPHANTS!"
I did. did you? clearly you have been constrained. You cant, not
think of elephants. Or maybe you can, but repeat that a thousand more
times with a thousand different objects, concepts and places, and you
Does this restrict our actions? our actions begin in our thoughts, so
i would say yes.
I would also argue that any effect this has is trivial. Psychology
itself recognises that thoughts that are NOT; important, repeated or
relative to our lives are quickly forgotten. For something to enter
our "ego," which we can infer that Sartre believes cannot constrain
us, if it does exist, we must allow it. we must actively seek to
remember it by repetition or relation. Sigificant events in life
(particularly traumatic ones) are also remembered even if they are
not repeated. We can, however, repress or interpret these memories as
So back to the point; Trivial memories are quickly forgotten, and for
an event to significantly effect (constrain) our future decisions the
way Freud claims they would, we must actively seek to remember them.
Sartre would say that whether they become part of our facticity or
not, whether they are rememberred or not, is irrelevant when speaking
of freedom and constraint.
I fail to see however, how our actions are not alterred by the
situation just given ("elephants"). Any interaction of this sort,
changes what "would have happened." We can claim to be able to
interpret anything in any way we want, remember what we want, but our
immeadiate actions are changed as a result of interaction with
Take the following as an example, and also a way of thinking of what
i have just said in a physical sense.
We are walking down the street and a man steps in front of us, whilst
i am of the opinion that the future does not exist, we can clearly
see that if the man never came into our lives, our actions would've
Sartre says we are free outside of our facticity, and in this he
includes the fact that we live on planet earth, and planet earth
contains other people, but if we take this as an answer to the
problem just posed, we are clearly simply evading the phenomena that
lies before us.
This happens not only with the physical, but with all interaction.
Think i'll end on that poorly articulated point - sorry if your
struggling to follow me, i'll clear it anything up later on if there
"absolute free will"
Are we 'absolutely free' if we are forced to think of something, even
in the short term that has no effect.
- --- In Sartre@yahoogroups.com, "Paul" <p.cave@u...> wrote:
> Before i begin, i will say that i have faith in Sartre's ideas,who
> however these are some of the problems i have encountered in recent
> times studying psychology (stop groaning) and biology (more darwin
> than anyone else).
> 1) Identical Twins raised in different environments, show
> similar 'personality traits.'
> If "existence precedes essence" as Sartre claims then how does he
> explain two beings, raised in completely different environments,
> have never seen, spoken to or known of the others existence, yethave
> similar lives.result
> Surely if nature has no effect, these two beings create themselves,
> partly helped along by the environment they exist in. And as a
> will not end up with similarities. Whilsts statistics are limited,many -
> because identical twins reared in different environments with no
> contact with eachother are hard to come by and test, there are
> and this obviously isnt a coincidence.Obviously, Paul, we are hardly free at all. We are completely
> Sartrean epistemology also gives us "freedom of thought".
> cheers, paul
> "absolute free will"
> Are we 'absolutely free'?
contingent beings. We don't choose our bodies or where and when we
are born. And if the things which make up our world are largely given
to us, our psychological states are pretty much given to us as well.
Freedom is something, I believe, that you have to work at.
And I think Sartre has a very strong feeling for our contingency and
general lack of freedom. For instance here are some quotes from pages
155 to 169 of B&N dealing with pure and impure reflection:
We must distinguish two kinds of reflection: reflection can be either
pure or impure. Pure reflection, the simple presence of the
reflective for-itself to the for-itself reflected on, is at once the
original form of reflection and its ideal form; it is that on whose
foundation impure reflection appears, it is that also which is never
given first; and it is that which must be won by a sort of katharsis.
It is impure reflection which constitutes the succession of psychic
Only a pure reflective consciousness can discover the For-itself
reflected on in its reality. We use the term Psyche for the organized
totality of these virtual and transcendent existents which form a
permanent cortege for impure reflection and which are the natural
object of psychological research.
The psychic object, being the shadow cast by the For-itself reflected
on, possesses in degraded form the characteristics of consciousness.
The unity of being in the For-itself is explained by the ekstatic
character of its being; it has to be in full spontaneity what it will
be. The psychic, on the contrary, 'is made-to-be'. This means that it
is by itself incapable of determining itself in existence.
Although the psychic is not on the same plane of being as the
existents of the world, this inertia enables the psychic to be
apprehended as related to these existents.
The absolute unity of the psychic is indeed the projection of the
ontological, ekstatic unity of the for-itself. But this projection is
made in the in-itself which is what it is in the distanceless
proximity of self-identity.
Inasmuch as the psychic is the objectivation of the for-itself, it
posseses a degraded spontaneity.
It is necessary to give up trying to reduce the irrational element in
psychic causality. This causality is a degradation of the ekstatic
for-itself, which is its own being at a distance from itself, its
degradation into an in-itself which is what it is at its own place.
Or in other words, I believe Sartre is saying that the psychic is
certainly not free. But the for-itself is free.