In Sartre’s world of Existentialism, the responsibility of the entirety of our actions, as well as of the outcome of any given situation, falls on the individual alone. There is no Creator to blame, there is no person or occurrence or human nature to blame, it is simply of our own fault. This may seem counterproductive to what one may consider the positive idea of free-will, however once understood that we are truly free in our entire existence it becomes seemingly more sanguine.
Sartre discusses various consequences of being completely free in our own choices. The most prominent ideas are that of being “condemned to be free”, abandonment, “bad faith” and not allowing one’s self to use excuses such as passion, human nature or “unconscious decisions”. Think of society as it is today and how a human might live his or her every day life. From something as simple as stubbing one’s toe on a toy a child left in the middle of the floor, to suing a large corporation for the coffee they sell being too hot.
If I dump a hot cup of coffee into my lap and it scalds me, I am not at fault for the carelessness of my actions, rather the company that sold the coffee to me is responsible for it being hot enough to burn me. If I stub my toe on a toy my child left laying on the floor, I am not responsible for not paying attention to my surroundings (knowing that my child is not old enough to put his toys away yet and left them out), nor am I responsible for owning that toy to begin with, or not putting it away myself. The consequences we face are consequences that we don’t like, so we choose to use xcuses and complacency to make ourselves feel better, or “bad faith” as Sartre would put it.
Sartre simply states his idea that apart from the natural abilities of our bodies, we are free to choose. When we choose, we are alone in that decision We require of ourselves to choose what is best for ourselves in any situation. In short, it is isolating that we must rely on only ourselves and cannot allow ourselves to leave our fate or judgment in the hands of anyone else, nor that of circumstance. This gives us the pure bility to make our own decisions and trust ourselves, which is a consequence in itself because we have to come to terms with our own consciousness. We must be keenly aware that we are conscious of what we are aware of and can never escape it. Sartre states “existence precedes essence”. Essence is the character of something, or its intrinsic nature. If essence were to exist in a human being, it would mean that our lives were predetermined because our essential nature would already have a pre-written script to the story that we live.
If this were true, then one could go through life excusing their actions due to their “human nature”. Human nature relies on the definition of both “human” and “nature”. “Human” is the physical makeup of what we have when we are born. We are only physically capable of being human. In other words, we cannot turn into a dragon and breathe fire, or shrink down to be a paper clip. “Nature” is the concept that something already has an inherent sense of a way to “be” when it is created. For example, as a human, we would know that we already want the things that a human wants, and desire to be all things that a human is.
Nevertheless, we rarely turn out to be the same exact makeup of one another. Furthermore, if human nature were something of our essence, then it would have to be created by an external force before we were born. Relying on something like “human nature” removes us from being absolutely present in every moment of our lives. Sartre states that we are “condemned to be free”. (I actually enjoy this idea, however, Sartre seemed very depressed about it. ) The word “condemned” by its own definition emits a quality of suffering in doing something that one might not enjoy doing.
To be condemned to freedom means that at any given moment, no matter what the situation, we have a choice that we do not necessarily want to choose upon. The responsibility of that choice lies in our hands and we must face the decision that we make, no matter what the outcome. Due to this “freedom”, we are never able to sit back and relinquish control. We always have to be present in the moment of our lives and always have to be aware of it. This leaves us with no excuses or blame. If something is wrong, out of order, or the outcome is undesirable, it is our doing.
Assuming the blame for what has been done is a tough consequence as it is, but to assume that we were conscious of what we did to acquire that blame is what I feel is most likely the toughest part of the consequence. For example, imagine that a couple (we’ll say a man and a woman for this example) went on a cruise together and something happened to the ship that it sank and only the man survived. Devastated as he would most likely be, in Sartre’s world of existence, the devastation might be much greater than just dealing with the loss of a loved one.
For example, this man consciously boarded the ship while consciously knowing his girlfriend was with him; consciously aware of the fact that the ship has the possibility of sinking; consciously determining that he knows this and is conscious of the fact that he or his girlfriend could die if the ship sank; and then being conscious of the fact that either he did not choose to do all that he could do to save her, chose to do all that he was knowledgeable in to save her, or just chose not to do anything.
In any case, he is consciously aware that he did not save her and that she is dead. For all didactic purposes, he then has the decision to make on who he is in this situation, how he reacts to the tragedy, how he will recover from it, and what is the next step that he faces. All while being completely conscious that he is aware of himself and what he is responsible for. Eternally “condemned to freedom”. The next question to this might be “But, what if he wasn’t aware? ” Sartre argues that we are very aware of what we are doing, regardless of whether or we claim to be aware.
Clearly, the man in the ship scenario was very aware of where he was going when he bought the tickets, or when he agreed to go if the tickets were already purchased. Furthermore, even if no ship has ever sunk throughout the entire history of ships, he is still conscious of the fact that this ship is unfamiliar territory and he is unaware of its dangers, and that it is floating on water, which he would recognize as something he does not exist within for his normal habitat for survival.
In a sense, we are aware of what we are unaware of, but never unaware of what we are aware of. To exist is to choose to exist. Sartre claims that even choosing to not exist is still a choice. The consequences of existentialism may be on the sidelines to our initial human reasoning and understanding. However, much like the fact that we are always aware even when we claim that we are not, recognizing our awareness of our duty to our freedom of will and defining character is the beginning of our conscious effort to wake up and claim our life.