According to the existential philosophy of Sartre

According to the existential philosophy of Sartre, the possibility to find meaning and purpose in an individual’s life is closely linked and connected with the capacity of an individual’s stand for his freedom of choice. Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous phrase, ‘existence precedes essence’ also explains that existence is prior to essence and essence is the meaning or the purpose of an individual’s life, which he makes himself. The true meaning can be found in the actions done by an individual for himself and not by being influenced by the others or by the society, or restricting your actions according to the set rules of the society. A person should be free enough to be able to take a decision and later take the responsibility of that action.
‘Humans are free’, is one of Jean-Paul Sartre’s most radical beliefs. He believes that with the freedom of being, the conscious being, comes the responsibility of the individual’s actions. But with the responsibility of taking few choices, also comes the weight of multiple possibilities that an individual gives up while making a choice or a decision, which leaves the individual in the state of anguish.
Heidegger’s philosophy helps to further the discussion, as he believes, that moods play an important part in the life of an individual, which helps him understand and find the meaning and purpose of life. While anguish occurs in the initial part of this process, Heideggar explains that there are two directions. The first one is where anguish gives rise to angst and the other direction is to fall in Bad Faith. The first direction – angst – is a bit similar to fear but is yet different. In this situation, the individual feels as if things are becoming strange, as in Sartre’s Nausea also, the protagonist feels this strangeness when he says, “I felt a little strange… For instance, there is something new about my hands, a certain way of picking up my pipe or fork. Or else it’s the fork which now has a certain way of having itself picked up, I don’t know.” (Sartre, 2000: 23) Heidegger divides existence into three levels, first being the man, second, the world and the third, the things of use. When an individual tries to alienate himself from the society and the world he feels anxiety, which is a form of mood, which according to Heidegger plays an important part. As anxiety is the fear of losing something, the fear of nothingness, i.e., when the things look strange and a sense of slipping away of thing is felt. It is the situation where an individual feels that the whole world has become strange. During this time the individual questions himself, why does anything exist at all?, at this moment the individual becomes an undefined being and this undefined being is what Heidegger calls the ‘Pure Being’. ‘Pure Being’ is not defined and therefore, the being takes the responsibility to define himself in his own way by taking few decisions and making the choices which he is responsible for. This makes the life of an individual an authentic one.
Individual’s decisions and free will is the integral part of Camus’ novels. Camus set independence over tyranny, oppression and suppression prevailing in the society by accepting nihilism. Camus through his work portrays the central theme of the philosophical issue of defining the good or positive and humane substance of resistance by revolting against the maltreatment or wrong doings without delving into the nihilistic approach. Terry Hoy in Albert Camus: the Nature of Political Rebellion, draw three phases of Camus’ notion of treatment of the humane substance in order to give meaning, commitment, purpose and value to an individual’s existence in the age of revolutionary terrorism and violence. The first phase is, an individuals encounter with the absurdity of human existence. Second phase is where he reduces the political nihilism to false idea from the understanding of the absurd. Thirdly, he tries to combine the absurdist reasoning to an individual’s limited freedom and human dignity.
Camus believes that freedom serves as the major components of the human nature and also the commitment and responsibility that goes hand in hand becomes the deciding element of morality for an individual’s authentic existence. Like Meursault (The Stranger), is put in a different world, where it embraces the absurdities of life and oppresses the truth. Such could be seen as the nature of the existentialist belief, where logic, reason and rationalisation serves as the essence of the individual and the status quo and premonitions of society only manipulates the false sense of truth.
Therefore, the protagonist of The Stranger also takes up the burden to define himself in a different light, by not abiding to the set rules of society, but as what he is. However, during this period, he feels embarrassed at many occasions where, people symbolising the society misinterprets his actions. Throughout the novel Meursault’s unemotional self makes him embarrass at different times. He feels embarrassed for the first time in the novel when he meets the warden of the house where his mother stayed during her last three years. He says, “The warden was a very small man… He gave me a long look…we shook hands, and he held mine so long that I began to feel embarrassed.” (Camus, 1989: 9). He acts very indifferent to his mother’s death and does not even remember when his mother died, as in the opening lines he reports the death of his mother in the most straightforward and plain manner, he states that, “MOTHER died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure…it could have been yesterday” (8). This statement shows that he is more interested in the time or day of his mother’s death rather to the pain and remorse of the loss. This characteristic emerges out to portray the character in a new way, which the society could not accept.
Meursault’s situation made him embarrassed again when he refused to see his mother’s body. He says, “No” and, “I realised then that I shouldn’t have said, ‘No’, and it made me rather embarrassed. After eying me for some moments he asked: ‘Why not?'” (13), and the only answer he could give was, ‘I don’t know’. The things he thought during that time were very different from that of any normal human being to have felt, as instead of crying or feeling the loss of his mother, he was enjoying the cup of coffee and also at other moment he expressed the want for Cigarette in mortuary, where he states, “then I wanted a cigarette. But I wasn’t sure if I should smoke…I thought it over; really, it didn’t seem to matter”. (15) Characters like Meursault develop the characteristic of a free man, who do not care what society will think of him for the choices and decisions he makes at the moment. The lack of compassion and his refusal to behave in a particular way the society wants him or any individual to act is what makes him apart from others and an outsider. The decision could be wrong according to the mass or misinterpreted but he takes the responsibility of his actions. There are times when Meursault is found being more alert about the unnecessary things, like during the procession of his mother’s funeral, he seems to be caring much about the heat of the sun rays than the task at hand and the situation he is in. The unnatural behaviour and acting against the expectations of the society in particular situation makes him an outsider, or stranger.
The undoing and virtue of Meursault lies in his unique way to choose and exist indeed without accepting the societal pressure or emotions or any of their standard set of rules. His stoic character, in impulse will always be in the conflict between his logic and rationalised existence and that of others, which could be seen in the heated argument with the magistrate and the chaplain, who emerged out as illogical and living in the bubble of the set rules of society in conformity.
The other way to deal with anguish is to fall in Bad Faith. Sartre explains the concept of Bad Faith in his philosophy. According to Sartre’s philosophy, Bad Faith is where an individual lies to himself in order to come out of his sufferings, even if it is temporary. It is self-deceptive. It is exactly what an individual should totally avoid, because then the individual is denying his individuality, his uniqueness, for his freedom. Sartre gives the example of an individual falling in Bad Faith through Roquentin, the protagonist of his novel Nausea. Roquentin takes the support of his beloved Anny and the historical figure, Rollebon to come out of his suffering by falling in Bad Faith. He always wanted to go around the world to have adventure but because he could not do so, therefore, he takes the support of the thesis on Rollebon, an adventurer and starts living the life of a historical figure, Rollebon. This helps him to temporarily come out of his sufferings or unachievable desires. Whereas, on the other hand, his beloved Anny, also fell in Bad Faith, as she took the help of the ‘Perfect Moments’, to come out of her sufferings.
Sartre’s concept of freedom is very essential to the concept of Bad Faith, as it is inevitably tied or connected to consciousness. According to Sartre, human beings are the only beings who have the capability to divorce themselves from the chains of the events of the Universe and stay in isolation, alone. Sartre believes that an individual does this by bringing nothingness to the casual series of events, then divorce himself from the events and make his own decisions.
Sartre believes that the individual should divorce or separate himself from the past in order to recreate his future as an individual will never be able to reach towards the meaning of his life. Sartre writes, “The real nature of the present revealed itself: it was what exists, all that was not present did not exist.” (Sartre, 2000: 139). The unfolding of the chained up events which lead an individual to this stage is past, and the present will be otherwise determined as past, if the individual does not have the ability to create nothingness. One should not let himself be a part of history, rather he should be a part and contribute to make his own history. The individual should be able to make past but not become a part of past.
In Nausea, the theme of meaninglessness and inauthenticity begins with the undated sheets. While Roquentin was working on the thesis on Rollebon, he doubted whether his research project on Rollebon will also become meaningless at the end in the same manner his life became meaningless and strange. He wonders if it will leave him in the condition, “exhausted, disappointed, in the midst of fresh ruins” (15)
With the idea that the individuals are free to make their own choices and take their own decisions, and are not predetermined to be anything, their decisions and choices will determine what they are in present and what they will be in future as life has no a- priori meaning. Sartre writes, “Life has no meaning a priori. It is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that you choose” (Sartre, 1943: 87). The meaning needs to be developed by an individual as no individual takes birth in this world with a meaning already set for his life and purpose too, rather the moment an individual gains his consciousness, or becomes conscious, he begins to shape his own world of meaning through his choices and decisions made in his life. Taking decisions and making choices does not only helps an individual to shape his world of meaning but it is the only thing that guides an individual, gives him value and direction in life, and this knowledge is burdened over the mind of an individual. On the other hand, Camus believes that in an individual’s journey to find the truth and meaning of his existence and to revolt against the strange or the absurd, he learns a lot about the human condition. The major role of Absurd in the lives of individual is to teach them that every experience is important in an individual’s life and huge amount of experiences will help him attain wisdom. It also teaches an individual to be indifferent to the future, i.e., death. Camus states that beyond the boundaries of the existence, lies “collapse and nothingness” (Camus, 1942: 60). For a man to live a life as absurd is like to live a life in harmony in a world without a God, without concerning about the future and weakness.
In Nausea, the theme of bad faith is portrayed by showing the inauthenticity of men. It is described through the people in the Cafe Mably, where people join others in a group, “in order to exist” (Sartre, 2000: 16) and there are people who find it important “to think the same things all together”, (19) in order to be a part of the society and does not feel alone and get isolated from the rest. People in order to exist in the society use the herd instinct. In contrast to such people, the protagonist find himself as the person who lives alone, although at times he is tempted to take refuge in others. He is being divorced and detached from the society brings him increasingly close of experiencing the reality. In The Stranger, Camus gives the references of the events that occurs at the outset of the novel and have great importance inherent to existentialism. One such example is the death of Meursault’s mother. It is observed that he does not act emotionally at his mother’s death, what the rest of the society believes him to do. Most of the times he is sleepy and at other times he is busy smoking. Meursault is seen as an unconventional protagonist, who does what he believes is good not what society and people think is appropriate.
Camus’ objective of Meursault’s characterization (The Stranger) within existential concepts is to show the cold nature and true self of the human beings. ‘Freedom of choice’ is one of the most important aspects of existential philosophy. An individual makes choices without taking the consent of others or standards of society and later takes responsibility and keeps committed to the choices taken and decisions made keeping aside where it leads them. Another common aspect of existentialism is death, but not everyone has an answer to how individuals accept and understand this universal reality.
The absurdities of life, according to Camus, at different situations manipulate the mind and mentality of the people, which makes an individual to alienate from the rest of the world and society also try to execute an individual based on his emotional reactions and his indifferent view of the irrelevant things. During the execution of Meursault for committing a crime of killing an Arab was indeed became the execution of Meursault for committing the atrocities by smoking, sleeping and not acting emotionally during his mother’s funeral. The jury tries to execute him on the moral truth based on deformed misconceptions, which seeks to try him on the basis of right and wrong by misinterpreting the principles of justice. Here Jury symbolises the people in the society who fail to recognise that an individual’s choice and freedom is, “…the essence of individual existence and the deciding factor of one’s morality.” (2005).
According to Sartre’s concept, bad faith is where an individual is not true to itself and to others, when the individual is not what he actually is, it could be seen as the false identity an individual puts on consciously. Whereas, existentialists do not put a veil of false identity but exercise the freedom and their free will to make their own choices, take decisions and understand to take the responsibility of their actions and overcome the sufferings. Existential individual appears to be absurd to others because others willingly accepts the anguish within themselves, bows down to it and lead towards the direction of a systematic life which for him is hollow. On the other hand, according to Camus, an existential individual is absurd and the moment he understands the absurdity of life, world and universe and he quits to question the absurdity and accepts the existential freedom.