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Sartre says, "when we say that a man is responsible for himself, we don not only mean...

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gudu | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 19, 2010 at 3:35 PM via web

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Sartre says, "when we say that a man is responsible for himself, we don not only mean that he is responsible for his own individuality, but

Sartre says, "when we say that a man is responsible for himself, we do not only mean that he is responsible for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men" (paragraph 1). Write an essay explaining how, in the framework of Existentialist beliefs, this paradoxical statement is true.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 20, 2010 at 12:12 AM (Answer #1)

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I wouldn't call this a paradoxical statement - in Sartre's context or even in general.  Sartre believed that ideally, we will ourselves to be what we want. He even went so far as to say that we want to become God. Essentially, existentialism means "existence precedes essence." So, we exist and then our essence (who we are, what we think, and how we want others to perceive us) is manifested/created by us.  We are subjective (subjectivities) which means we have our own perspectives and we can't obtain objectivity.  So we are abandoned (as he says) to our freedom. (If we were objective, we'd have no trouble making the correct decision. Since we are subjective, we have to choose - there is no Absolute or Universal answer available to us - we must rely on ourselves; thus responsibility.

As we fashion and mold ourselves into who we want to be, we are doing so selfishly - for our own piece of mind - but also for others to see. This "being seen by the other" is part of Sartre's subjective-objectivized philosophy. We are subjective but we objecitivize others and they objectivize us. Each of us fashions ourselves into an image that the other sees. In this respect, a humanistic take on existentialism, we are creating (in ourselves) an image of what we think a human should be. As I have the ultimate freedom to choose what I become, the responsibility is also mine. And if part of my decision rests upon the idea that I am also creating an image or model (think role model) that humanity could follow, be inspired by or learn from, then I am not just responsible for myself but for all humanity.  This is a more righteous and almost downright optimistic part of Sartre's philosophy which tends to be interpreted as living in anguish, loneliness and despair. But those are all just parts of being free and responsible in difficult situations: situations where we have the freedom to choose but the correct choice is almost never clear.

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