Sartre on Freedom

French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre saw freedom, not just as a state of being or of mind, but as something with a distinct psychological or philosophical purpose. In his existential classic, Being and Nothingness, he writes, “Freedom is the way human beings put their past out of play by secreting their own nothingness.”

Jean Paul Sartre

Sartre had an exaggerated need for freedom, which may have come from his experiences in Nazi-occupied France. (Photo: WPClipart)

Sartre proposed that “nothing” is both the ground of human existence and what makes human existence possible. Unfortunately, this strange reality also generates an anxiety so unbearable that we all yearn to fill the nothing with something. From the psychological perspective, arbitrarily filling the nothing with something is an attempt to falsify ourselves and become what we are not. The something with which we choose (using our freedom) to replace the nothing is the foundation of our personal inauthenticity. In other words, there is nothing within us so we must “fill the vacuum,” so to speak, with an artificially constructed sense of self. Sartre’s motive for taking this unusual line is his desire to eliminate the old notion of dualism and replace it with a new monistic vision. To eliminate the perceived inside versus outside duality of the human being, he had to propose a situation where there was but one thing.

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Human Beings Are Always Half-Asleep

Young Charles Darwin

Evolution recognizes that humans are a work in progress. We are not yet, and perhaps never will be, completely conscious. (Image: public domain.)

In spite of our fond beliefs to the contrary, we Homo sapiens are not yet a fully conscious species. Perhaps our need for sleep reflects this reality, for the old argument that we must slumber while our bodies repair themselves does not withstand the verifiable truth that there are those who get by on just thirty minutes each “night.” These alert folk also demolish the idea that sleep is necessary to facilitate integration of the day’s experiences.

What purpose then, do our somnolent ways serve?

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