Jean Paul Sartre on Existentialism and Indeterminism

“Humans are not only free, but condemned to be free; condemned to create themselves and their own reality.” Jean Paul Sartre’s quote addresses two theories: Existentialism and Indeterminism. He believed that man is not only ‘condemned’ to be free, but we also have the freedom to make decisions entirely on our own. I agree with Sartre’s theory of existentialism and indeterminism based on the fact there are numerous real world examples that clearly demonstrate humans have the freedom to make decisions free of external forces and can attribute their own meanings to the world around them.

Existentialism is the theory that humans are entirely free, and are thus responsible for what they make of themselves. Sartre was an atheist, which, I believe, influenced his diction in saying that we are ‘condemned’ to be free. Since there is no God, no moral laws exist; therefore individuals are free to make their own decisions and will be held responsible for the outcomes. A high school dropout, for example, isn’t forced by any outside factor to make that decision. They didn’t have any predisposition to doing it, either. Dropping out is a choice they are able to make entirely on their own, without the forces of anyone (i.e., God or the Devil) or anything (i.e., society) making them do it.

When Sartre said we are condemned to create our own reality, he was referring to the free will we have to make decisions and to deal with the consequences. Free will goes along with indeterminism, which is the theory that humans are able to make their own decisions based entirely on deliberate choices, instead of preceding events or conditions. Let’s say I have two test to study for: algebra and English. I can freely choose to study for one, the other, or both. The decision to only study for English instead of algebra had not been previously decided, therefore, I had the option to choose what to study for.

Sartre combines both existentialism and indeterminism in his quote. To further show how much evidence there is of both, let’s say you’re walking into a store and there is a man with a donation bucket sitting outside. What do you do? You could either donate money or ignore the man. There is nothing forcing your decision, it’s entirely up to you. Now, let’s say you choose to ignore the man. Was your mind already made up before you saw him? Or did you choose an option while approaching him? The fact that there is nobody telling you which to choose and the decision wasn’t previously decided shows that Sartre’s theory of existentialism and indeterminism are both likely true.

There are many arguments that can be made against both theories. Taking a look at existentialism, one could say that the government is a controlling force in our lives. The government enacts certain laws that tell us what we can and cannot do, and therefore we base all of our decisions on the expectations of this external force. However, this can easily be argued against. Laws are broken all the time. Humans are guilty of theft, destruction, and even murder. If government were really the controlling force in all of our decision making, then there wouldn’t be any crime at all.

There are also many arguments that can be made against indeterminism. If you look at Newtonian physics, the argument is that everything in the universe operates according to a fixed set of knowable laws. If a glass plate falls from a certain distance at a certain speed, you will (in theory) be able to predict how many pieces it will shatter into. However, if you look at the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, it is impossible to predict where an atom will hit when being shot repeatedly from the same spot. There was no pattern; the atoms hit randomly by chance.

There are many examples in life that show humans are not being controlled or guided by any outside forces, nor is everything that happens based upon previous events. Existentialism can be confirmed from the ostensible ability of humans to attribute their own meanings to the world. Indeterminism, likewise, manifests itself in the practice of human understanding and can be freely stated to exist and therefore falsify determinism. I believe that Sartre’s existential and indeterminist outlooks are correct; this believe creates a world of opportunity, interpretation, condemned to experience cultivation from the mind. 

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