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59777Re: [existlist] Sartrean nothingness, anxiety & freedom

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  • Doug Viener
    May 16, 2013
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      Very interesting stuff Mary. Ties in nice with what I am reading right now, Sartre's Existentialism is a Humanism.
      Doug

      Sent from my iPhone

      On May 16, 2013, at 9:20 AM, "Mary" <josephson45r@...> wrote:

      > In trying to find some reproducible text to better explain the relationship between nothingness which produces anxiety and its relationship to freedom, here are two excerpts from Steven Crowell's page at the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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      > As a predicate of existence, the concept of freedom is not initially established on the basis of arguments against determinism; nor is it, in Kantian fashion, taken simply as a given of practical self-consciousness. Rather, it is located in the breakdown of direct practical activity. The "evidence" of freedom is a matter neither of theoretical nor of practical consciousness but arises from the self-understanding that accompanies a certain mood into which I may fall, namely, anxiety (Angst, angoisse). Both Heidegger and Sartre believe that phenomenological analysis of the kind of intentionality that belongs to moods does not merely register a passing modification of the psyche but reveals fundamental aspects of the self. Fear, for instance, reveals some region of the world as threatening, some element in it as a threat, and myself as vulnerable. In anxiety, as in fear, I grasp myself as threatened or as vulnerable; but unlike fear, anxiety has no direct object, there is nothing in the world that is threatening. This is because anxiety pulls me altogether out of the circuit of those projects thanks to which things are there for me in meaningful ways; I can no longer "gear into" the world. And with this collapse of my practical immersion in roles and projects, I also lose the basic sense of who I am that is provided by these roles. In thus robbing me of the possibility of practical self-identification, anxiety teaches me that I do not coincide with anything that I factically am. Further, since the identity bound up with such roles and practices is always typical and public, the collapse of this identity reveals an ultimately first-personal aspect of myself that is irreducible to das Man. As Heidegger puts it, anxiety testifies to a kind of "existential solipsism." It is this reluctant, because disorienting and dispossessing, retreat into myself in anxiety that yields the existential figure of the outsider, the isolated one who "sees through" the phoniness of those who, unaware of what the breakdown of anxiety portends, live their lives complacently identifying with their roles as though these roles thoroughly defined them. While this sort of stance may be easy to ridicule as adolescent self-absorption, it is also solidly supported by the phenomenology (or moral psychology) of first-person experience.
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      > Sartre argues that anxiety provides a lucid experience of that freedom which, though often concealed, characterizes human existence as such. For him, freedom is the dislocation of consciousness from its object, the fundamental "nihilation" or negation by means of which consciousness can grasp its object without losing itself in it: to be conscious of something is to be conscious of not being it, a "not" that arises in the very structure of consciousness as being for-itself. Because "nothingness" (or nihilation) is just what consciousness is, there can be no objects in consciousness, but only objects for consciousness. This means that consciousness is radically free, since its structure precludes that it either contain or be acted on by things. For instance, because it is not thing-like, consciousness is free with regard to its own prior states. Motives, instincts, psychic forces, and the like cannot be understood as inhabitants of consciousness that might infect freedom from within, inducing one to act in ways for which one is not responsible; rather, they can exist only for consciousness as matters of choice. I must either reject their claims or avow them. For Sartre, the ontological freedom of existence entails that determinism is an excuse before it is a theory: though through its structure of nihilation consciousness escapes that which would define it—including its own past choices and behavior—there are times when I may wish to deny my freedom. Thus I may attempt to constitute these aspects of my being as objective "forces" which hold sway over me in the manner of relations between things. This is to adopt the third-person stance on myself, in which what is originally structured in terms of freedom appears as a causal property of myself. I can try to look upon myself as the Other does, but as an excuse this flight from freedom is shown to fail, according to Sartre, in the experience of anguish.
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      > Hopefully this begins to better explain Sartre's philosophy of nothingness. He, as I do also, resists reducing the complexities of thought to mere mechanical brain processes or practical exigencies. The power of nothingness is apparent not only in its negating capacity through reason but also in how it forces freedom upon us. Philosophy is not thinking per se; it is thinking about thought. Thought is an object of thought which no flight into the study of biochemical processes can resolve. Sorry, eduard, it's not that simple.
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      > Mary
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