Question essence is the foundation for human freedom.

Question 1: How is
our human condition on of freedom? Why can’t we choose to be free or not?

Freedom is the most central
concept in Sartre’s analysis of human beings. According to Sartre, human beings
cannot escape this condition of freedom. He claims that no normal human can
fail to be free. It is proven because the consciousness that human beings
possess is what produces that freedom. A human is a being-for-itself which
makes it a conscious being and, therefore, free. We cannot choose whether or
not we are free because we cannot not choose whether or not we have
consciousness.

This is an interesting concept
to analyze. The human condition of freedom exists, even though humans have no
choice to be free or not. Are humans truly free, if the condition is forced
upon them? I believe they are still free according to Sartre’s philosophies
because they have the choice to deny that freedom. They can create their own
meaning for existence and why they make the choices they do. Humans can assign
something else responsible for their actions. Even though the freedom exists no
matter what, humans still have the choice to limit their own freedom or not.

            Sartre
claims that existence precedes essence. This relates back to Sartre’s concept
of the human condition being one of freedom. Sartre’s explanation of essence
refers to the idea that all beings have a predefined, ideal set of
characteristics and purpose. However, if existence precedes essence, then human
beings have no predefined pattern that must be fit into. Our life and existence
define us and what we believe and who we are. We are not predefined by
something outside of our control. Sartre believes that consciousness and freedom
go hand in hand. People have the freedom to define themselves without following
a set of morals, codes, and characteristics that were set before they even
existed.

            The
implications of Sartre’s claim that existence precedes essence is the
foundation for human freedom. We have the freedom to create our own meaning,
place our own value on our acts. This makes our individual freedom absolute and
completely unbounded by any moral guidelines. The only one that can restrict
our freedom is ourselves.

            Humans are free and we freely create who we are. Because our
essence precedes our existence, we create our own essence. Sartre’s concept of
human beings creating their own essence can be a helpful or hurtful way of
thinking about human existence.

            It is
helpful because it essentially means that everyone can create their own truth. Some
people will accept that they have freedom and embrace that. It will be
accompanied by an existential angst, according to Sartre, but they will
acknowledge that their condition is one of freedom. Even the people that deny
the reality of their freedom can create their own truth. They attribute their
choices to whatever religion, science, or other overarching moral compass to
avoid taking responsibility. While Sartre claims this is an avoidance of the
truth, it is in a person’s freedom to choose to do this. They can own this
truth for themselves and it will be unique to them. Every person can create
their own standard of how they conduct their choices and actions.

            It may be
hurtful because of the anguish that will be caused when people realize the
reality of their consciousness. Because everyone will have their own sense of
morality and religious beliefs, people will struggle with the idea that their
existence precedes their essence. It will be frustrating and cause anxiety every
time a decision must be made or an action must be taken. They know that it will
be a statement that they believed that choice was the best one that could be
made and that they must own responsibility for the consequences of that
decision. This fact that humans freely create who they are can be hurtful for
some people, causing them existential anguish.

Question 3:
Accompanying freedom is angst, for Sartre. Why? How is angst different from
fear?

            Sartre
asserts that there is no pre-existing essence to human beings. The meaning of
life is conceived within each individual being-for-itself through its
consciousness. Humans are responsible for themselves and the freedom that is
forced upon them through their consciousness. This freedom that they have no
choice to accept or not accompanied by the lack of a higher meaning or morality
to justify decisions and actions is the source of existential angst, according
to Sartre.

There is no pre-given essence to
human beings’ existence because there is no overarching God that pre-exists for
all people. This sense of abandonment of God is the source of freedom and the
angst the beings feel. When people commit to a course of action, their choices
are affirmed for all of humanity, not just themselves, because of the lack of a
pre-given essence to existence. Sartre explains that they are choosing for
everyone because the choice you make is the choice you believe anyone ought to
have made in that situation. This responsibility to act for all of humankind
leads to anguish, the pre-existing condition of choices and actions. Angst
comes from the realization that there are no constraints on our actions except
for the ones we impose on ourselves.

            The existential angst that people experience in their
freedom to make choices and take action is not interchangeable with fear. Angst
refers to a deep feeling of anxiety. This is contrasted with fear, which
applies to be afraid and is more simple than angst. People will feel anxiety in
the choices they make when they realize the responsibility that is on their
shoulders. They will not be afraid, or frightened, so that a choice will not be
made. They make be so anxious to enter denial of their responsibility.

            Human freedom does not necessarily have to result in
anguish. It only exists when human beings have trouble accepting that they are
responsible for their own actions. If they can accept that they have freedom
and all choices and actions are up to them, then people may not experience
angst. They must accept that existence precedes essence. They must accept that
there is no overarching power, god, or list of morals that is pre-given to
their existence. People do not feel angst all of the time because at times they
may be able to flee from it. If you do not have anguish when making decisions,
it is because you are forgetting that all consequences of those decisions rest solely
on your shoulders. Angst will not be felt all the time if you do not take
responsibility all the time and take for granted the gravity of your decisions
and their impact.

Sartre claims that angst is a
result of mankind’s realization of their freedom. This understanding that we
are in total control of choices and, therefore, responsible for the
consequences can sometimes result in a human reaction he calls “bad faith.” When
Sartre uses the term “bad faith,” he is referring to how humans may deceive
themselves into denying the existence of human freedom. This denial may take
many forms in different people. Some may try to rationalize their actions and
existence through religion, science, or any overarching belief system that
provides meaning and purpose to their life.

            This bad
faith reaction is the result of people trying to avoid the existential anguish
that accompanies the realization of freedom. The problematic nature of bad
faith is that it comes from within us and is, in fact, still a choice or
decision that humans can make. Humans who have trouble accepting that they have
freedom will, somewhat ironically, use their freedom to avoid dealing with the
consequences of that freedom because of the responsibilities that freedom
entails.

            Sartre uses
an analogy to explain the how the human reaction to angst is problematic. A
woman is faced with the choice of whether to go out with a man. The woman knows
that deciding to go out with him will result in further choices to be made
later on. These choices will consist of how to react when he places his hand on
hers and whether or not to encourage his advances. She has the freedom to
select any of these options and, because of that freedom, is responsible for
the outcome. However, Sartre explains that she may try to avoid the angst of
taking responsibility by believing that she does not have the conscious choice
at all. She may believe that it was the result of uncontrollable passion, or
peer pressure, or claims that she did not know the man’s intentions. She
chooses to deny conscious ability to make any decision and, thus, avoids
claiming responsibility for the consequences of her actions. This is living in
“bad faith” according to Sartre.

Question 4: In Being and Nothingness Sartre writes
extensively about nothingness. Exactly what does he mean by this?

Sartre writes extensively about
the concept of nothingness in its relation to being. Sartre uses this concept to
aid in answering the question “what is being?” Nothingness is the defining
characteristic of being-for-itself. Sartre explains that nothingness cannot be created
outside of being, nor in addition to being. Nothingness is the foundation of
all being. Being comes from nothingness. This raises an issue for Sartre. All
reality is being. Nothingness is the negative that begets all being-in-itself
and being-for-itself. Nothingness is non-being and, therefore, lacks all
relation with being and cannot be made outside of being, nor from being. So
where does nothingness come from?

To understand where being comes
from, Sartre analyzes all being’s ability to nihilate itself into non-being. Since
nothingness is non-being, it lacks the ability or force to nihilate itself, so
Sartre must use different analysis to describe the origin of nothingness and
how non-being can be brought into being. 
Sartre explains that if nothingness possessed the ability to nihilate
itself,  it would remove from itself the
last semblance of being. Only being can nihilate itself and Sartre defines
nothingness as non-being. Nothingness cannot nihilate itself because it is
already the product of the nihilation of being.

            Sartre is
not nihilistic about his philosophy of the origins of nothingness. Although he
discusses the concept of nihilism at great lengths, he is only speaking about
the concept of nothingness in relation to being. The other existential writers
that we have analyzed discussed nihilism as the denial of the existence of any
intrinsic values in the real world. Sartre does not use nihilism to refer to the
position that life is pointless and lacks any transcendent meaning. Instead, he
believes that being does not have any inherent value. Humans are
beings-for-themselves and create these values, or meanings of life, for
themselves. The difference between the conventional concept of nihilism and Sartre’s
concept of nothingness is that a nihilist would reject any existence of a
meaning of life. The concept of nothingness accepts that there is “essence” to
life, but it is created by humans rather than being a foundational aspect of
life.

            Sartre’s
analysis of freedom is something that would horrify some people because it puts
the burden of responsibility of their lives on themselves. Some people may not
like Sartre’s analysis that they are in control and are at fault for not having
the most successful lives they can. They have the freedom to choose. This makes
the consequences of their choices their responsibility.

            They are
horrified to face the reality of their existence and their consciousness. The
reality is that they create their own essence and meaning in life. It is not
created for them. Part of the horror may come from the inability to choose
their existence and their freedom. Consciousness is accompanied by freedom and,
therefore, people cannot choose whether or not they have freedom. Humans would
be more comforted to know that there is an overarching set of guidelines and
principles that governs their daily choices and actions. The fact that they
only create this for themselves and it does not precede their existence would
horrifies many people.