Reason as the Leading Motive

Freedom as Non-Value

Posted by Jerry on February 27, 2006

Since I’ve been reading Sartre for a while now, I’ve been chewing on this issue:

Sartre’s notion of freedom is ontological – in that it is unavoidably fundamental in the nature and identity of a human being, i.e. being-for-itself.
So in that sense, freedom cannot be gained or lost because it is inseparable from the entity.
Therefore, freedom is not a value – because value is something one strives to attain and keep.
Therefore, there cannot be any such notion as a “loss of freedom” according to Sartre’s conception of the concept.
Therefore, none of us could complain about lack of freedom as such, nor could anyone strive to live in a “free society” as opposed to an oppressive society.
However, Sartre still argues for the concept of individual responsibility because he argues that responsibility is inseparable from freedom (despite the fact that freedom itself is not a matter of choice).

Sartre says that even at the point of a gun, when you are being forced to do something or be killed, you fundamentally have the freedom to either choose to do it or die. This is because freedom is unavoidable. Therefore, he argues, if you commit the act by convincing yourself that you had no choice in the matter because it was life versus death, you have acted on bad-faith. The action is insincere because you have not conceded that your act was in fact a choice, because you could very well have chosen to die.

Such a concept of freedom is at the very least, meaningless, and at most, a grotesque, dangerous, adulteration of the concept.

In Sartre’s notion, an entity does not have freedom, but more precisely, an entity is free, and can never be “un-free”. So, once freedom is rendered meaningless, and more importantly, valueless, then it seems understandable to think of freedom as a “burden” and live a life rife with guilt for alleged acts of “bad-faith” because really, no matter what you do in whatever contexts, one could never act sincerely. Sartre in fact sees this problem of inescapable bad-faith as a logical outgrowth of his metaphysics and therefore, struggles with convoluted arguments at trying to define a sound ethical theory. The only statement Sartre makes regarding this issue is that good-faith acts are possible. Yet, nowhere in the entire corpus of his philosophy does he exactly state what could be good-faith acts and how they could be possible.


2 Responses to “Freedom as Non-Value”

  1. maximilion said

    That’s true, in most cases we have a choice, barring those instances where we’re not conscious of making them or don’t have the ability to make them (in a tight situation where our reflexes aren’t fast enough, as a crude example).

    I think freedom is related to wanting. We COULD choose either way, but that other way could put us in a position where we’re worse off. That’s what makes us hesitate. Put in context, we could do whatever we want all the time, but people we care about might take offense. If we want their help, we will make our choices so that we get it.

    In general though, I think a lot of people throw up their hands and say they have no choice, when many times they do – if they’re prepared to “face the music”.

    Nice to see another philosopher blogging 😉

  2. Ergo said

    Thanks for stopping by Maximilion.
    I think the crucial point I was trying to make regarding freedom in this post was that freedom is a value that can be lost. Therefore, one needs to strive to maintain one’s freedom. If, like Sartre, one accepts the notion that freedom is instrinsic in our beings, and that we are never “un-free” and that all our actions are “free actions” or “free choices”, then we are seriously headed down a treacherous path of slavery: the very opposite of what it means to be free.

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