The Philosophy of Sartre - The Phenomenologist and the Activist - Seeker's Thoughts

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The Philosophy of Sartre - The Phenomenologist and the Activist

Sartre was an incredible multitalented figure. A philosopher, novelist, dramatist and political figure; he combined philosophical concerns such as phenomenology and metaphysics with existential themes of freedom, authenticity and anguish in his writings; which all provide a pessimistic viewpoint of life itself.

Key to his thinking was the notion that consciousness creates and produces its own ego, rather than prioritising such processes as an excuse for certain forms of behaviour. This means that accounts of agency cannot appeal to preexisting egos as justifications for certain forms of conduct.

The Phenomenologist

Sartre's Biographical Novel (BN) centers around human freedom, which he seeks to establish both ontologically and phenomenologically. However, freedom runs counter to both determinism and naturalism since it relies on subjective representations of who we are - it cannot be considered objective reality. Sartre asserts that in order to preserve his freedom a person must be able to represent him/herself objectively or else they risk falling prey to bad faith projects that rely on false beliefs about oneself - something he illustrates through biographical studies of Baudelaire, Flaubert and Jean Genet biographical studies respectively.

His approach in these examples is what is known as phenomenological, drawing heavily from Husserl's eidetic analysis and Brentano's concept of the relative object. What distinguishes it is his emphasis on intentional experience's irreducible transparency (a concept first explored in Modern Times (Les Temps modernes).

Sartre's phenomenological analyses demonstrate how consciousness cannot understand or grasp certain objects on its own, such as the in-itself which does not depend on pre-reflective or reflective awareness and therefore transcends it. Furthermore, Sartre shows how in any event, the in-itself cannot be reduced to being identical with personal lived experience and therefore cannot be captured within an intentional horizon of an "Ego", as an object of reflection.

Sartre expands this idea in his ten volume set of works on sociology, political philosophy and the history of ideas by showing that individuals are held hostage by social forces which shape their existence. He asserts that individuals can only be free of these "collective objects" when they enjoy basic material security without coercion and have access to cultural and social goods essential for fulfilling their chosen projects. He provides several existential biographies as evidence of his argument, including Flaubert, Mallarme and Genet's lives to illustrate this point. While not deterministic Marxism as some critics have claimed, this view does assert that individual freedom plays a pivotal role in shaping history.

The Activist

World War 2 in 1940 forced Sartre to change his focus from philosophical encounters with phenomenology - described by de Beauvoir as making him "pale with emotion" (Sartre 1960 ) - towards more overtly existential themes like freedom, authenticity and responsibility. This period produced numerous writings such as 1938 novel Nausea; early short stories; 1944 play No Exit and, most famously 1943 book Being and Nothingness.

Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre is an exceptional work of philosophical analysis. Sartre asserts that various philosophical positions ranging from realism to idealism have fallen victim to what he terms "solisism's reef." Instead, what really matters is other minds being present to us through experience: reflection.

Sartre holds that other minds are essential components of an authentically fulfilling life, and states that in order to pursue it we must muster up enough courage to stand up for our convictions even at great personal sacrifice. By doing this, he states, it will transform those around us for the better.

The second half of the book provides an in-depth examination of intentional consciousness, its relations to reality and fiction, phenomenologically accounting of its structure of imagination as well as negation and nothingness based in part upon Sartre's reading of Heidegger.

Sartre continued producing works of literature and drama during this time, and lectured widely to address his audience's needs and address their concerns - such as colonialism and racism, contemporary Marxist criticisms of his existentialism by Marxists or Christians and more than 3,000 attendees of public lectures such as Existentialism is a Humanism which attracted thousands. Additionally he founded and coedited Les Temps Modernes journal starting in 1943 which became an influential source for philosophy research and thought leaders worldwide.

The Socialist

Sartre defined human freedom as the rejection of pre-social ideas such as natural needs or nature that can be fulfilled through certain activities (Being and Nothingness Notebooks p.330). He thus rejects materialistic views of freedom that assume only positive goods such as food, water and shelter are available - instead arguing that human liberty also encompasses negative rights such as freedom from slavery, poverty or discrimination (Notebooks pp 167-181).

The Second World War had an immense effect on Sartre's thought. Conscription into the army and detention in a Nazi prisoner of war camp forced him to confront questions that were no longer simply theoretical; choices and alliances made as an activist in the Resistance involved real people with whom their lives could be at stake, making clear that his philosophical endeavours weren't just intellectual; they could mean life or death for real individuals.

In his post-war years, He developed his existential philosophy into a theory of social and political action. In particular, he revised Hegelian recognition, rejecting its idea that we are bound by dyadic consciousness as opposed to social reality as its starting point. Furthermore, he used ideas of phenomenologists such as Emmanuel Levinas and Maurice Merleau-Ponty to incorporate new insights into his thinking while creating a concept of social structure encompassing multiple dimensions besides economic class.

Became a prominent figure in leftist politics in France and internationally, publishing extensively on American literature (Faulkner and Dos Passos), jazz, colonialism, antisemitism and Marxism (particularly his essay "Materialism and Revolution"); also notable for rescuing POUM leaders after Franco's victory from Spain with Francoise Audry's help; No Exit is his collection of plays while Notebooks for an Ethics is posthumously published essays that address existential ethics and politics respectively.

The Humanist

Humanism is an ideology with the purpose of improving humanity's quality of life, advocating that everyone has access to freedom, health and social support. Humanists reject imposing religion or culture onto another and prefer explanations based on empirical data rather than myths and traditions when explaining events that occur in nature. Humanists recognize the inherent dignity of all humans while working towards ending poverty hunger and lack of housing as much as possible.

Sartre's phenomenological analyses were underpinned by ethical concerns. He asserted that individuals should strive not simply to acquire things but instead strive to exist; and this project drives all human behavior. Therefore he developed an alternative account of human beings distinct from Freudian theory of unconscious. His vision of humanity's totality involved seeing themselves as one continuous being that unifies all their attitudes and conduct through one singular fundamental choice made for themselves by each one of us; his two major works on this subject describe this idea of totality within themselves: Being and Nothingness and Existentialism is Humanism.

Sartre began work on his initial significant philosophical contribution during his stay in Berlin: an essay he later published as Transcendence of the Ego. This work shows his enthusiastic discovery of phenomenology and presents his interpretation of Husserl's theory; furthermore, its realistic view of intentionality contrasts sharply with Husserl's idealist tendencies of Logical Investigations phenomenology.

This essay also serves to outline the basis of his later philosophy. He begins by exploring the problem of otherness, showing how our ego's transcendental object is not simply an idea but something external. This allows him to move away from realist approaches initially adopted and make the study of our experience of otherness his priority.

Sartre moves on to explore our experience of other minds, showing that we cannot be prisoners of our egos. He develops his theory of negation and nothingness through this examination of how other minds appear to us; some critics accuse him of solipsism in this respect; however, its centrality to his approach makes up an integral part of it.

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