Share
Explore BrainMass

Free Will and Existentialists, Nature vs Nurture

1. The existentialists, such as Sartre, claim that if there is a human nature, it is formed by a homosapien as it lives its life and is done so by the choices it makes. Relate the concepts of free will and responsibility to this claim.

2. There are those who claim there is a genetic basis for behavior. All human activity is determined by one's genes. On the other hand, persons such as Plato, Marx, and Skinner believe that, in varying degrees, society determines human nature. Can you reconcile these two views?

Solution Preview

1. The existentialists, such as Sartre, claim that if there is a human nature, it is formed by a Homo sapien as it lives its life and is done so by the choices it makes. Relate the concepts of free will and responsibility to this claim.

Question 3:

The best way of working out an answer to question 3 is to get clear on Sartre's conception of the human being as radically free. Sartre's ontology ('ontos' is the Greek word for being; ontology is the study of being) recognizes two radically different entities in the world. First, there is being-in-itself, and second, the being-for-itself. This distinction corresponds roughly to the distinction between conscious entities and unconscious entities.

Objects such as tables are paradigm examples of being-in-itself. The table just is; it cannot be anything other than it already is. It is passive and inert. On the other hand, (and this is simplifying somewhat) human beings in virtue of their consciousness have the capacity to make themselves something different from what they are. Beings-for-themselves are fluid (not solid), and dynamic.

We can say, then, that Satre believes that beings-for themselves are conscious beings. Moreover, Sartre believes that there is an important link between consciousness and freedom. But what exactly is the nature of this link?

The first part of the answer to this is that Sartre maintains that consciousness is distinguished by the property of intentionality. (This term is due to the Austrian philosopher, Brentano.) Intentionality is the power of consciousness to fix on (to be about) objects. When Sartre says that "all consciousness is consciousness of something" he is saying that consciousness is intentional. For example, thinking about a person you love is being in an intentional state since your consciousness is directed at an object (a person).

The second part of the answer (to the question: what is the link between consciousness and freedom?) is given by the connection between intentionality and negation (nothingness). Sartre maintains that being able to think about objects (intentionality), requires that we think about states of affairs that do not exist. In order to pick out the table in one's visual field, one must be able to think that the table is not the chair. More generally, consciousness has the power to
think about states of affairs that do not exist. For example, we are able to imagine possibilities about how the world could be, rather than how it is. These possibilities are only possibilities because they are not actual. They are how the world is not, but may be.

Finally, and crucially, Sartre thinks that in virtue of being able to think about how the world is not, we possess a dynamic potential to organize the world and to shape it. By thinking about what it is not, we are able to imagine possibilities for how it could be. This is the basis of our freedom. So what Sartre is saying is that there is a conceptual connection between consciousness and freedom. Firstly, consciousness has the power to imagine what is not the case, and this gives the mind a freedom ...

$2.19