Being and Nothingness

by Jean-Paul Sartre

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The Will and Psychoanalysis

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Sartre concludes his phenomenological essay with a restatement and further elucidation of the nature and quality of human freedom, and a delineation of his program of existential psychoanalysis. Freedom is discussed in relation to the will, in relation to facticity, and finally in relation to responsibility. The will can never be the condition of freedom; it is simply a psychological manifestation of it. The will presupposes the foundation of an original freedom in order to be able to constitute itself as will. The will is derived or posited by reflective decision. It is a psychological manifestation that emerges within the complex of motives and ends already posited by the for-itself. Properly speaking, it is not the will that is free. Human existence is free. The will is simply a manifestation of humanity’s primordial freedom. Freedom in relation to facticity gives rise to the situation. The situation is that ambiguous phenomenon in which it is impossible clearly to distinguish the contribution of freedom and the determinants of brute circumstance. This accounts for the paradox of freedom. There is freedom only in a situation, and there is a situation only through freedom.

Sartre delineates five structures of the situation in which freedom and facticity interpenetrate each other: one’s place, one’s past, one’s environment, one’s fellow humans, and one’s death. Insofar as freedom always interpenetrates facticity, one becomes wholly responsible for oneself. One is responsible for everything except for the fact of one’s responsibility. One is free, but one is not free to obliterate fully one’s freedom. One is condemned to be free. This abandonment to freedom is an expression of one’s facticity. Yet one must assume responsibility for the fact that one’s facticity is incomprehensible and contingent. The result is that one’s facticity or one’s final abandonment consists simply in the fact that one is condemned to be wholly responsible for oneself. Although freedom and facticity interpenetrate, it remains incontestable that human freedom is given a privileged status in the Sartrian view.

The touchstone of existential psychoanalysis is a concentration on humanity’s fundamental project (projet fondamental). This fundamental project is neither Heidegger’s Sein-zum-Tode, nor is it psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s libidinal cathexis. The method of existential psychoanalysis resembles that of the Freudians in that an effort is made to work back through secondary and superficial manifestations of personality to an ultimate and primary project, but the existentialist differs with Freud concerning the nature of this project. The Freudian localizes the project in a libidinal attachment that is determined by the past history of the self. The existential psychoanalyst broadens the framework of explanation to include the future projects of the self as well. The fundamental project is thus understood in the context of one’s temporalized being, which includes the ecstatic unity of past, present, and future. The irreducible minimum of this fundamental project is the desire to be. Quite clearly, it is impossible to advance farther than being, but in having advanced thus far, one has undercut the simple empirical determinants of behavior. The goal of this desire to be is to attain the impermeability, solidity, and infinite density of the in-itself. The ideal toward which consciousness strives is to be the foundation of its own being. It strives to become an “in-itself-for-itself,” an ideal that can properly be defined as God. One can thus most simply express the fundamental human project as the desire to be God. However, the idea of God is contradictory, for in striving after this ideal, the self can only lose itself as for-itself. Humanity’s fundamental desire to give birth to God results in failure. One must therefore reconcile oneself to the fact that it is a useless passion.

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