“We do not know what we want, and yet we are responsible for what we are.” –Sartre
“Freedom of choice
Is what you’ve got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want”
A brief sketch of Sartre’s basic assumptions regarding human reality, as found in Ashley Woodward’s Nihilism in Postmodernity (Aurora: The Davies Group, 2009):
We are each of us lack. The fact that we desire proves that human reality is lack.
We create existential projects in an attempt to overcome this lack.
We want security and freedom. We want to be free to make choices, but we also want to be a secure foundation for those choices.
“God is a self-consciousness and the necessary foundation of himself.” We, however, did not create our being.
Man is that being whose project is to be God. Man fundamentally is the desire to be God.
But the desire to be God is futile; it cannot be realized.
Thus all of our projects are futile: “It amounts to the same thing whether one gets drunk alone or is a leader of nations.”
A possible path to overcoming nihilism: Sartre’s outline of “existential psychoanalysis.”
Human beings are motivated by the desire to be God when they are in unreflective or impure reflective states of consciousness.
At some point, in an unreflective or impure reflective state, we each make a choice regarding our specific project—but this choice is essentially the desire to be God and is thus futile.
We must create our own values, and freedom is the criterion that guides the creation of values. There is no God. There is no human nature. There is you choosing your life for yourself on your own terms.
Nihilism must be confronted in the personal life of the individual.
To be free, to be authentic, is to act, not simply think. Freedom is freedom only when it is exercised.
What interests me here is Sartre’s concept of the specific project. What is my specific project? As a child I wanted to be like my father, a high school English teacher. But I can’t handle the thought of teaching high school, mostly due to my severe depression and anxiety. My father was depressed. Did he teach me to be depressed? Was I bound to inherit my illness and thus not as free as Sartre imagines?
If I set out to be a teacher and then got sick, does this mean that my depression prevailed over the pursuit of my specific project? Can I create a new project? Is my life somehow doubly futile because I feel incapable of fulfilling my original futile project?
Is my project simply thinking about my project, the role of human suffering, the indifference of the universe, the fullness of my Lack? Am I not destined to write, to wonder, to philosophize?