Freedom and Responsibility In Jean Paul Sartre
GENERAL INTRODUCTION/Background of the Study
This study arose as a result of the researcher’s interest in the concept of freedom and responsibility in general and Jean Paul Sartre’s conception of it in particular. This interest is due to the following reasons.
- Human life is only lived to its fullest when one is the author of his action. The awareness of, and actualization of, one’s freedom gives one the chance to pursue one’s possibilities, unlimited by any external force, to the best of one’s capabilities; and for one to be able to take responsibility for one’s actions.
- Sartre’s conception and presentation of freedom and action, if appreciated, can positively affect people’s lives, in that it helps them discover that they are free in whatever situation they find themselves. This will foster personal development since this idea of freedom opens the horizons of the possibilities of the human person in terms of what he can achieve in life. It will also give citizens a sense of autonomy that will help them avoid being used for selfish motives by a few individuals.
These reasons for choosing this area of study are rooted in the fact that freedom is an essential ingredient in the development of anything human— be it the human person as an individual or as a group. Acting without interference, whether real or imagined, is the only pre-requisite for human beings to attain their full potentials. It is only on the basis of freedom that we can justifiably apportion blame or reward to any human act or conduct. For people to be held responsible and accountable they have to possess a natural capacity for rational self- determination. Jean Paul Sartre is one of the prominent philosophers who have committed interest in this question of freedom and how it is manifested in action. His central argument on the concept of freedom is that it is impossible to distinguish what we call human freedom from the being of human reality. Human beings do not exist first in order to be free subsequently; there is no difference, for him, between the human person and being-free. So freedom, for Sartre, should not be construed as a faculty of the human soul to be envisaged and described in isolation, that is, a property which belongs among others to the essence of the human being.4 He also asserts the inevitability of choice and responsibility that is bound with this freedom.
Most people have the tendency of attributing most of the failures in their lives to some causes external to them or to some other individuals, thereby giving in to the idea that human reality is controlled or preconditioned by some forces beyond it. One sees this kind of habit in the public and private lives of individuals. For example, in the area of politics, especially in Nigeria, many have come to believe that they cannot make it to a position without being placed there by some very influential persons. Again, many do not believe they have the power to change things by their votes. In the private aspect of life people easily give up and rely on fate to decide whether they are to progress or not.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Sartre’s theory of freedom has been vehemently and negatively criticized by many scholars as having an exaggerated idea of human freedom; and most previous works on Sartre’s notion of freedom were theoretical and analytical, little attention was given to its practical and ethical implications in the society. This study sets out to determine the tenability of Sartre’s theory of freedom and actions and to see if Sartre is a thoroughgoing advocate of absolute human freedom or not, and to examine the ethical, religious and social implications of Sartre’s theory of freedom and action.