To what extent are we equally free? How does our relation with others restrict or enhance our freedom? What does de Beauvoir add to Sartre’s account? Which do you find more convincing? Freedom is undeniably one of the major thoughts which have driven human kind to great pursuits and maintains to be a crucial tenet in human life. It is the true synonym for life, for what is life without one’s ability to express individuality. An upset to freedom provokes mass revolutions and has been fundamental to why countries have meddled in each other’s affairs.
Many philosophers have attempted to go deep into the psychology of freedom and the act of being free, but the two most prominent in this field are Simone De Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, who worked together extensively and had a lifelong relationship. Jean-Paul Sartre maintains a view in which that all humans are necessarily free. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre upends the conventional view of freedom and states that it is impossible for a human to not be free. In his view, to not be free is the same as to ‘cease to be’.
Sartre’s existentialism views are focused on the duality of the Being-for-itself and the Being-in-itself, and his account of consciousness is merely that consciousness is always consciousness of something and that it cannot exist as consciousness itself. Consciousness is simply nothing in the views of Sartre. Simone de Beauvoir has very similar views on freedom. She adopts Sartre’s ideas on existentialism and so also claims that freedom is just human existence. However De Beauvoir adds to this by saying that not every situation is the same in regards to freedom, such as women in a harem.
Women in a harem are compared to mind-sets of children because they are kept in a state of “servitude and ignorance”. Children are seen to be excluded from holding responsibility and are seen to escape the “anguish of freedom” through their innocence. Another example of this mind-set is of how slaves don’t raise to the consciousness of their slavery, and are caught in “believing” that they are not free consciously which is merely ignorance reinforced by dogma of their entrapment. They have no opportunity to even get to contemplate a possibility of freedom due to their conditioning or acclimatization.
Sartre claims that to exist is to be free, and that this quality is directly attributed to being human. Because we can never stop self-definition we are free to choose whatever conscious projection we choose to see in the world, but de Beauvoir states that this is limiting in the sense that freedom can never then be achieved as we are always pursuing our own growth and ‘existential projects’. She goes on to explain how there is only engaged freedom, the act of interacting directly with the world through one’s intention of freedom.
De Beauvoir explains that true expression of being human also embodies hope, for when someone is placed in a situation of restriction or control such as a harem or slavery, out of this emerges a chance for liberation or freedom. She explains freedom to be joyful expression of life and to be committed to this is to be committed to freedom. She comes to the realization that one can never be a fully completed self and that all humans will have a desire for growth. In aiming for a goal and constantly having a sense of having to gain more this is freedom.
Sartre argues that the relationship between that which limits our freedom and that which doesn’t is simply our mind-set, which in itself is propelled by freedom. We have the freedom to see a cliff face as limiting us, or we have the freedom to use the cliff face to allow us freedom. The argument here is the subjective view each individual has on the world and the way they view the world is what constitutes their freedom. Freedom then is seen not as something that you are born with or entrusted with, but simply a shift in perspective or realization that in viewing the world subjectively we always have a choice to be free equally.
With the introduction of the other the being-for-itself status is threatened as one comes to a realization that the other also has a being-for-itself. Others have the ability to limit your freedom and acts as a threat to it. Sartre explains this by arguing that since the other is as free as he is, this will undoubtedly place limitations on his own freedoms because we all have different wills. Other people are also what Sartre claims to enforce the realization of one being a presence in the world, rather than the unreflective consciousness that ‘floats almost effortlessly in the world”.
The status of the other defines the status of the individual and how they exist in the world and this undoubtedly places a limit on the freedom an individual has. De Beauvoir states that it is universally human to want men to be free, in relations to others. She says that all situations are inter-subjective, and that even though someone else can cause your lack of freedom, the other still allows an opportunity where one can liberate themselves and find freedom. She also comments on how the act of realizing freedom, of contemplating whether one is free is directly linked to the other.
How can you know of freedom when there is no oppression and control? Sartre in a way agrees and suggests that in our interaction with others, the conscious realization of freedom only comes to awareness when freedom is taken away from us. Unless you are oppressed by others, Sartre argues, you will never have a full realization of your own self-conscious. So in a way, the paradox shows that in order to realize our inherent freedom one must have that taken away. Sartre views being-for-others as simply conflict, and that at the bottom of all human relations there is a tension or conflict in relations to freedom.
He rationalizes this by showing how in order to interact with others you will be always in a joust between ‘my’ freedom and ‘your’ freedom, and that every action limits or enforces one’s freedom. In order for one to assert their freedom with an aim of being-for-itself, to reduce other’s to just things in “my” world. Sartre also explains the tension within one self is outwardly reflected to desire both freedom and self-consciousness, but at the same time both can only exist in paradox.
When you are objectified by others there is a self-conscious reflection and understanding of one being in a world in which others exist, but by being objectified this negates the ability of having freedom. De Beauvoir adds to this her own view, stating that rather than freedom being conflictual, it can only exist in a state of cooperation. She adds however that although it is accurate that freedom only comes to awareness due to a realization of others and their oppression, this allows an opportunity for one to gain their freedom. She confirms the possibility that others aren’t always a threat to your freedom, but merely a atalyst to realize your freedom and this can happen in positive ways.
De Beauvoir differs to Sartre as she states that to realise absolute freedom there must co-exist a possibility of freedom for both you and the others. In a state of oppression, no one essentially is free. The oppressed is in a state of surrender and capture, such as slavery, and the master must always be on alert to prevent against rebellion or escape. De Beauvoir’s explanations seem to be more convincing as it makes sense that to be in a total state of freedom you must allow others their freedom.
In order to be an oppressor there must be an inner feeling of being oppressed, or a sense of a lack in control. Sartre believes that even in a state of love, there exists a state of a lack freedom because you are attached to the person. De Beauvoir suggests that there can be a state of love and freedom in cooperation, and the lack of trying to control the other person and restricting their freedom will empower you your freedom, both physically and mentally. De Beauvoir also views freedom as an act of breakthrough or revolt against conditioned oppression by doing something about it.
As oppose to Sartre’s view of bad faith in relations to all acts of freedom, De Beauvoir suggests that freedom through an act of self-definition isn’t in bad faith, but rather an empowering realization of future possibilities. She also makes light of the distinction between men who are apathetic to their own freedom and a man who realizes his potential for growth and a passion for always trying to achieve a goal. A man who has a drive to achieve a goal truly realizes his own humanity and the ability for change.
The overwhelmed feeling in facing the insignificance of existence, in which Sartre explains as ‘nausea’, De Beauvoir clarifies this as merely a choice to not act on one’s freedom. Both Sartre and De Beauvoir share very similar views of freedom but have several distinctions. Sartre can be seen as a more negatively oriented view, focusing on how freedom is never truly achievable when there are others involved and there must always be a state of conflict.
There is always someone who is the oppressor and someone who is the oppressed. De Beauvoir adds to this by suggesting that freedom is truly freedom when both parties re allowed freedom. She also goes on to note that freedom can be seen as an act of breaking out of an apathetic state, where Sartre describes as the realization of the insignificance of existence. De Beauvoir in my view seems to have a more convincing attempt of explaining freedom, and allows the humanity of each individual to be reflected through their existence and freedom.