Heidegger, Sartre, And Freedom


Sartre Standing With The Other Half Of His Brain—His Lifelong Friend And Collaborator Simone De Beauvoir

Working Castalia
May ’77

Well that’s about it for Heidegger. You can agree him or not agree;
either way he leaves you with something to “chew on.” Heidegger’s
philosophy, for me, seems organic, even spiritual. Unlike Sartre,
Heidegger at least leaves the possibility open for a pure, positive,
Being. With the concepts of present-at-hand and ready-to-hand,
Heidegger’s approach to Being is much earthier than Sartre’s
comparable concepts of being in-itself and being for-itself. For the
most part, by limiting his analysis to being-for-itself, Sartre turns
the idea of a pure, positive, Being into its opposite—Being’s nothingness.

I have to admit, though, if it weren’t for the time I spent with
Sartre’s philosophy, I probably wouldn’t have got much from
Heidegger’s Being And Time. It was almost as if Sartre looked at
Heidegger’s work and said, “Let’s cut to the chase. Dasein is a mental
case, so lets get rid of him/her!” He then squeezed everything out of
Being And Time that didn’t pertain specifically to conscious belief
and came up with Being And Nothingness. Sartre secularized Heidegger’s
work; he stripped Being-in-the-world of its meaningful content, and
put in its place his machine-like idea of being-for-itself. If it
weren’t for Heidegger, Sartre would not have had anything to write
about. In Sartre and Heidegger’s respective notions of freedom that
dependence is made very clear.

In both philosophies, freedom is referred to as a kind of disclosure,
but for Sartre, that disclosure is the result of the negation of
being. Dasein, by futureally making present, affirms rather than
negates. In Heidegger, we are free for something, while in Sartre we
are condemned to not be something. Ultimately, for Heidegger, we
become totally free in Dasein’s resoluteness, but there is a strange
twist here because Being-in-the-world is already chosen. Thrown Dasein
is free to choose among its many possibilities, but–what gets chosen,
how things are chosen, and why things are chosen– limits Dasein’s
freedom. When Dasein understands Being-in-the-world as already chosen,
it becomes free not to choose, and by not choosing, everything gets
chosen. Freedom, for Sartre, on the other hand, replaces Heidegger’s
“being free for authenticity” with pure negation. Sartre’s freedom
becomes nihilation–being’s nothingness. It separates our past from
our present as two distinct realities, forcing us to be free every
instant. Being free, where every moment is separated by nothingness,
leaves us, according to Sartre, anguished. Anguish then, for Sartre,
becomes the thread that runs through freedom.

Does that sound familiar? It should, because without the state of mind
of anguish, (plus a few other equiprimordial requirements) Dasein
could not become free for Being-in-the-world. The difference between
Sartre and Heidegger here is that, for Sartre, the consequence of
being free for mere belief is a cause for anguish; while in Heidegger,
anguish becomes the cause for the “call of conscience,” which in turn,
calls us back to our own most potential being—Being-in-the-world. Put
in slightly different terms, in Heidegger, temporality, riding the
cusp of care, makes possible the fullest expression of
Being-in-the-world, while, for Sartre, nothingness, as the condition
of Being-for-itself, tortures forth the past, present, and future as a
nihilating surpassing of my very
being—being-what-is-not-while-not-being-what-is. No wonder I found
Sartre so depressing!

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About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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4 Responses to Heidegger, Sartre, And Freedom

  1. frizztext says:

    Simone De Beauvoir and Sartre – they have been a curious couple 🙂

    • bwinwnbwi says:

      Simone and Sartre wrote Being And Nothingness together (she was also the editor). It was Simone who studied Heidegger and brought Heidegger to the attention of Sartre. Simone never wavered on the philosophy that went down in that book (Being And Nothingness), while Sartre, in later life, rejected “his own philosophy” while under the influence of Bernie Levy–all this according the biography of Simone written by Deirdre Bair.

  2. ElizOF says:

    Interesting to see that picture of the two… 😉

  3. bwinwnbwi says:

    “For the most part, by limiting his analysis to being-for-itself, Sartre turns the idea of pure, positive, Being into its opposite—Being’s nothingness.”

    Being’s nothingness, (the ~bb of b-b-bb/Sartre’s cogito) is like a chisel splitting wood, consciousness (conscious wood in this example) experiences a self-gap or hole. The emptiness experienced is the result of a “higher trans-formative state of freedom, i.e., the participatory moment of a conscious self. This experience (some call it psychological time) when deconstructed, has produced a litany of accomplishments (civilization) as it also implies ‘a being other than itself.’ This ‘other than itself being’ is not, as Sartre believed, just the nothingness of for-itself consciousness, it is, rather, an affirmation of ‘here and now’—Logos liberated—the divine liberated in each and every one of us. Jesus said: “Split wood, I am there. Lift up a rock, you will find me there.” Gospel of Thomas saying 77b

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