Philosophy: Existentialism

By: Damien Knight

Near the beginning of the book we are introduced to the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre was an existentialist who believed all humans are “condemned to be free” (Philosophy: A text with Readings P.67 pg 2) or in other-words have no choice but to accept that our lives are undetermined. Many philosophies declare that we are placed on the earth with a purpose, therefore leading a deterministic view.

Sartre claimed if there had been a god, he would have given us a determined purpose but without such conventions we had no purpose. We are essentially free to choose no matter what environment we grew up in. We exist and we choose how we live. To pretend we have no freedom otherwise is bad faith in the eyes of Sartre.

Reality is what we view in our conscious experience but is it? Do we make ourselves or are we shaped to some degree? If you are born poor and grow up having nothing and die with nothing is it not in part because the opportunity was not there. According to Sartre the answer is no, that man is free and his choices are made freely that a person chooses to live and die poor.

I cannot fully endorse complete freedom and the example the book petitions is a good example. I found before as a child that I was Christian. At first it was my choice but soon it became a mode of living and I was following a path determined by “god” and my family. Does this not equal a loss of freedom? Or say one takes a project to make oneself free but they slip as I had into just going with the flow are they free anymore?

The other reason I personally cannot agree fully to a complete free view is that I am a military spouse. When a sergeant makes an order to kill it is on the sergeant’s shoulders for the consequences of his men. According to Sartre each individual man is responsible for his actions but the military does not work as separate individuals they work as a unit and the head of the unit is who would manage individuals actions.

We should follow social constraints though ultimately we are free to not follow them. If we were not to follow the constraints, we set ourselves to limit and protect our freedom could get us in trouble. Yet since we do not, as Sartre implies only, affect ourselves we affect our family units causing trouble and affecting their own path.

I believe that to an extent environment affects how our lives are lived. Many decisions made in my life would have been made differently if my environment was different. Essentially we are free to make a few select choices in life but our lives while not predetermined are determined in the moment. In that moment, we have to choose out of the few we have and that choice can have lasting consequences. For example, if a man is about to be sent to war he has two choices: AWOL or go and fight. If he goes and fights he could end up with PTSD and that would not be a free choice he made in those choices but instead is a product of the environment he was in.

So Is Sartre wrong? Are men free at all are we in fact “condemned to destiny” instead? Is the novel idea of complete freedom elusive? No we still have choices after all. We have limited freedom. We carry within us desire both to be free and to please and conform. With our limited freedom we can do exactly what we are be the social creatures we are. Sartre’s true freedom would not allow for many of these social needs.

We could say that even though Sartre’s view is complete freedom mine is freedom by degree. We are given a start at our destiny by the choices our parents make for us. We have the freedom to eat or starve depending on where we are born and where chance rolls. Our education and social status helps shape our decisions. As our minds form we determine for ourselves what we want and how free we can be. While god may not have given use a destiny society constantly tries to.

Philosophy: Culture Versus Natural Behavior

Written By: Damien Knight

“Is the Explanation of Human Behavior a Radically Different Enterprise From the Explanation of Natural Occurrences?”

When we think about nature versus culture we get to the crux of this question. Is human culture natural occurrence? Some would say culture is not natural because human action is done based on intelligence and reason and nature is done on instinct and not learned knowledge.

While I understand this prevailing view point I think culture and human behavior is natural. Humans have been acting in similar behavior since ancient times and these behaviors are seen in nature. We are born and we raise our young, we build our homes, we preen and do mating dances. We are sexual and social in much a similar way as the bonobo are. We use language something other animals in nature are capable of if taught. Even our intelligence and reasoning are not limited to just ourselves. Dolphins, bonobo and chimps all can reason and show intelligence. It has been shown that gorillas can and have learned American sign language. In short the human species is not as special as we let ourselves believe we are another extension of what naturally occurs.

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Philosophy: The Past and Future

Written By: Damien Knight

“Is There a Good Sense in Which the Past is Fixed and The Future Open?”

I do not believe the past can ever literally be fixed. Even if some say that time travel to the past is conceivable going back might not fix the future that already occurred. It might instead create an alternate timeline. But could we possibly fix our past mentally. The answer is yes we alter our memories to suit our purposes and often have false memories in place given to us by our own-selves and family members around us. The future is believed to be an open page or blank slate but in reality our future is affected directly by our present action. We alter our chances by acting presently therefore the future is never truly open. We are defined by our present through altering our past memories.

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Philosophy: Conceivability and Possibility

Written By: Damien Knight

What is the relation between conceivability and possibility?

Well most things we believe possible are also conceivable. In the same that which is conceivable is often possible. For example I will use time travel. We can conceive or imagine that time travel is possible and it is in the sense that right now you and I are traveling through time from the present and into the future. But could one possibly travel into the past from the future. While the idea has been conceived it has not been proven possible. Still If a space ship were fast enough to travel the speed of light then maybe it would be possible to travel through time itself.

Now let’s take the meanings of the word possible and conceivable and examine them. Conceivable means to be able to be grasped or imagined. Many things are conceivable that are not possible. Humans sprouting wings for example. Possible means it is able to be done, that it is within the capacity of someone or something. Most things if not all that are possible are conceivable. Airplane flight for example is both conceivable and possible.

Therefore the relation between what is possible and conceivable is that all things conceivable are not possible but all thing possible have been conceived first.

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