This is from a college freshman course called Existentialist Sociology, which I took because the course name was so sexy. The below is, I believe, my mid-term paper, which I don't think I did well on, but I probably got a B in the course because that's how humanities courses work. The paper starts slow and bad, but give it some time to warm up. Rereading this years later, I found myself strangely compelled and convinced by the arguments. Clearly, I'd grasped the technical terminology and was familiar with the cadences of hard-core academic writing, even though I'd only been a college student for 6 months. So I'm actually not quite embarrassed by this, though I'm unsure what use it is to the world.
The loss of our freedom strikes fear into our hearts. As humans we value our freedom above all else because we feel that consciousness is our sole survival trait; we cannot fly nor claw nor inflate ourselves to an intimidating size. We feel that our superior intellect, and our knowledge of how to utilize it, is our only path to survival on this planet. No entity on earth, save one, can even threaten to relieve us of this weapon; the Other would seem to be our only worthy opponent. The Other is endowed with the same freedom as we. He has the same ontology, the same consciousness, the same recognition of his nearly impenetrable situation, and he also knows the threat we hold for him. Our existence, within ourselves and amongst society, is constantly fueled by this conflict of freedoms. As long as we value our intellectual sovereignty, we will always jealously, and sometimes violently, protect our freedom from the Other.
Why do we feel threatened by the Other’s presence? Several reasons. The Other provides the only check to our ability to negate our surroundings. We negate our surroundings in order “to change the world and to create a new human condition” (Hayim 34). We see our situation, be it master or slave, and our consciousness, our constantly forward-seeking pour-soi conceives of better situations for us to be in. Our actions, that is, the steps toward our Project, fundamentally reflect the ideal future for which our consciousness yearns. When we recognize the Other, we see that he also yearns for an ideal, but his Project must inevitably conflict with ours, thus impacting the range of our freedom.
The Other may also threaten us by use of his Gaze. In this gaze, we see the Other as focusing his morals, judgments, and subjectivity on our present appearance. The Gaze freezes us in our current state, crippling our pour-soi, and objectifying our existence. “A judgment, according to Sartre, is the transcendental act of a free person. The fact of being seen changes me into a being without defense against a freedom which is not my freedom” (“Our ‘Being-for-Others’ and their Gaze” Anthology). The Other can turn us into an en-soi and, because of this inanimation in his Gaze, prevent us from showing our possibilities, our potential that constitutes the pour-soi. We want to cry out to the Other, “Wait! I am so much more than this Being-in-itself you see before you! I am transcendental, as you are; I exist!” But we know that no outburst of words can change the fundamental judgment of the Other’s subjectivity.
The only conceivable way one could prove one’s freedom would be through acts of negation, which may or may not demonstrate the presence of our pour-soi. Such an ambition would, however, smack dangerously of the rejected cognitive theory of behaviorism, which proposed that our mental states are only a sum of our behaviors (Braddon-Mitchell and Jackson 29). The Other would know through his own experience with Being that the Project is only the externalized portion of the pour-soi, and therefore would not prove our Being to him. He would see the Project as part of our essence, our unchanging structure, and would credit us with as much pour-soi as a glass window that had the Project of breaking. This assigning of essences is a telltale sign of the relationship between pour-soi and en-soi.
Sartre emphatically reiterated through much of the first chapter of Existentialism and Human Emotion that those who essentialize human existence are in bad faith, and are deceiving themselves in order to evade freedom. Each of the modes of bad faith (essentalism, escapism, denial) represents a desire to remove oneself from the responsibilities of freedom. Being must be differentiated into the internal processes of the pour-soi and the more external en-soi. Sartre seems most concerned with the progression from one to the other and their interaction.
The externalization of the pour-soi begs another point regarding the fast transformation of pour-soi to en-soi. Whenever the ends of consciousness are attempted, we have no choice but to use that which has already been conceptualized to reach them, and whenever we create or destroy in the name of our Project we leave in our wake mounds of en-soi that, while they may come close to what we may have idealized, the pour-soi has already moved forward into the future. Consciousness is a black hole that we continually attempt to feed with creations and negations, but remains perpetually empty. We know our Project only as a lack, the hole in the donut of our existence that it is our existential purpose to fill. While this intense focus on lack and nothingness would seem to curse the existentialist with a somber attitude towards Being, Sartre is firm in pointing out in Existentialism and Human Emotions, that existentialism is not a philosophy of pathos, but one of optimism. For Sartre, the joy of existentialist Being is that every “man’s destiny is within himself” (Existentialism 36), that the materialist who assigns determinism to his life is paralyzing himself in a world full of possibilities. “We definitely wish to establish the human realm as an ensemble of values distinct from the material realm” (Existentialism 37). The danger of materialism lies in the close association between objects and human beings, an association that Sartre desperately wishes to avoid. The rejection of objectivity in favor of a more human subjectivity leads us quite naturally to the conflict with the Other.
Sartre uses a very interesting sentence to demonstrate the impact of the Other on the Self : “He realizes that he cannot be anything (in the sense that we say that someone is witty or nasty or jealous) unless others recognize it as such” (Existentialism 37). Note the hidden postulate “...cannot be anything...unless others recognize it as such.” These words show Sartre’s view that the Other is an integral part of the definition of one’s Being, for we cannot assign emotional adjectives to ourselves without the objectifying presence of the Other, either externally or internally. We must remember, however, that such an assigning is somewhat against our interests, for the Other would be casting a judgment, thereby freezing us in an undesirable en-soi pose. Unfortunately, if we are to gain any semblance of self-consciousness (which is necessary to Being), we require the presence of the Other. This need for judgment is eventually expressed as the various modes of the etre-pour-autrui: sadism, masochism, love, etc.
At this juncture, Sartre would do well to address the contrasting Being of lone consciousnesses. He does mention that to a point, the Other remains with us as our internal system of values and social acceptances, but one may react in opposition to the interior Gaze of the Other and thus not incorporate it into one’s Being. Is this a new mode of bad faith? Sartre addresses nearly this question at the beginning of his section on “Concrete Relations with Others” in Being and Nothingness. He mentions the inflating of his original question (regarding in-itself and for-itself) through the additional variable of the Other. The concept of the transcendence of the en-soi is restated, and the separation of for-itself and in-itself is strongly stressed, but this time with acquiescence that though they are different, they are closely tied in their roles. The crucial statement that ultimately addresses the question of the Other states, “The for-itself is not the in-itself and can not be it. But it is a relation to the in-itself. It is even the sole relation possible to the in-itself...The for-itself is relation” (original emphasis) (Being 472).
The two incredibly informative paragraphs that begin “Concrete Relations with Others” seem to tell us that, while Sartre’s linchpin question (“What are the relations of the for-itself and the in-itself?” (Being 472)) can still be applied to existence in general, but we must be made aware of a special case of this situation, one involving two ontologically equal humans confronting the question in each other. Existence among other people is basically the same as existence among objects, but now the target of our quandaries has the capability to impact our freedom in potentially severe ways.
If in the Gaze of the Other, we conclude there is no defense against the Other’s anti-my-freedom, we become what the Other has seen us as en-soi, that is, an object with no freedom, only essence. Sartre assigns this eventuality “masochism.” Along with the masochist’s initial collapse into radical in-itselfhood, Sartre notes the guilt that comes with one’s objectification and with the withdrawal from the Other the gift of one’s freedom. “But masochism is and must be itself a failure” (Being 492). Sartre claims that the true masochist must manipulate the Other into treating him like an object; this manipulation would suggest a negation of some sort, and thus pour-soi. Also, the masochist’s subjectivity is exercised “[t]he more he tries to taste his objectivity” (Being 493). He will end up transcending more than he is transcended, leaving him with a positive transcendence net gain, and confirming his freedom of Being. This method of dealing with the Other places the masochist in bad faith of the first kind: essentialism. Not only is this method a poor means of answering Sartre’s linchpin question, but the attempt is inherently self-defeating.
If in the Gaze of the Other, we assert our freedom with such vigor as to cripple the constitution if the Other’s for-itself, we have taken the first steps toward demanding total freedom in the relation. Sartre dubs this “sadism.” The sadist refuses to be incarnated in any way, and instead pushes incarnation upon the Other. Sadism is “...a flight from all facticity and at the same time an effort to get hold of the Other’s facticity” (Being 518). Sartre allows that the flight from facticity is in good faith, for we must all attempt to transcend the en-soi, but the sadist “seeks to utilize the Other’s body as a tool to make the Other realize an incarnated existence” (Being 518).The obscenity of these school of thought comes from its use of pain to enforce facticity upon the Other.
Until this point, sadism would seem to be the natural order of being in relation to objects, for Sartre mentions nothing about the goodness or badness of faith of reducing others to objects, only oneself. But on pages five hundred nineteen and five hundred twenty of Being and Nothingness, we have for us outlined the bad faith of sadism. Since the sadist seeks to make the Other conscious of his freedom-trapped-in-flesh, the sadist uses pain to push facticity upon the Other’s consciousness. Unfortunately for the sadist, since the source of pain must be facticity, an object, “[t]he body of the torturing For-itself is no longer anything more than an instrument for giving pain” (Being 519).Thus the sadist has turned himself into an object, regardless of his attempts to bestow this fate upon the Other.
And in addition to the uselessness of the sadist’s endeavor, the Other retains his weapon of the Gaze, by which he can freeze the sadist into the object that he works so hard to avoid. By attempting to wield total freedom, the sadist places himself in bad faith of the third kind: the denial of the conditions of the en-soi. What the sadist must learn is that the pour-soi must at all times be engaged with the en-soi, and that includes the pour-soi of the Other.
The concepts of sadism and masochism tie into Hegel’s theory of the Master and Slave. Sartre based much of his concept of the Other on Hegel’s theory of self-consciousness, which help to define our relations with other people (Hayim 32). Hegel believed very strongly in the necessary place of the Other in one’s awareness of self. “The Other mediates my self-awareness, and one would risk his very life ... in order to gain the Other’s recognition” (Hayim 32), for through that recognition, we define what it means to be ourselves. Part of this recognition is the recognition of the potential conflicts of interest of the two freedoms, and occasionally the conflict results in the annihilation of one of the freedoms. The possessor of the annihilated freedom becomes the Slave, the producer for the benefit of the Master.
As the Slave toils, he achieves independence because, since he is recognized by the Master, he has self-consciousness as well as a good-faith relation to the in-itself. He has also learned to sublimate his desires, and has thus become civilized (Hayim 35). The Master, however, has become dependent on the Slave, and consumes only the products of the Slave. One can easily see how Hegel’s theory could fit into Sartre’s breakdown of sadism and masochism, but Hegel believes that the Master and Slave relation must inevitably arise upon the meeting of two freedoms, like the subduction phenomena of plate tectonics. The application of Hegel’s theory to everyday interaction between humans speaks volumes about our relation to the Other. It affirms that conflict is a natural by-product of human interchange, just as Sartre suggested. It further suggests that we can be placed into a role of dominance or submission even though we do not seek one. This application capsulizes many of Sartre’s more difficult and sometimes rambling philosophies into a form that we immediately recognize from our study of the history of the liberation of the oppressed.
As many before and since have already postulated, Sartre presents Love as something of a goal, an ultimate desired end in relations with the Other. Love is not, however, exempt from the label of “conflict,” nor is there a single, easy way to get there. Love can be path to true Being, because it involves a sort of possession of the Other that does not result in in-itselfhood. This unique relationship to the recognizing Other is what makes love so desirable. “To be other to oneself...is the primary value of my relations with the Other” (Being 476).
In the relations discussed above, this goal has been grossly missed due to the implementation of bad faith. Love provides an avenue to an ideal relation with the Other, while staying within the bounds of good faith and Grace. “It would therefore be necessary...to act upon the internal negation by which the Other transcends my transcendence and makes me exist for the Other; that is, to act upon the Other’s freedom” (original emphasis) (Being 477). “Acting upon the Other’s freedom” means to use our consciousness to acknowledge and interact with the Other as a pour-soi, instead of the usual option of Gazing, freezing, and interacting with the object. Love depends on the mutual respect of freedoms and on the choice of each freedom for the Other made freely, without constraint or obligation.
Throughout Sartre’s section on love in Being and Nothingness, he speaks of love as the desire to possess the Other’s freedom. The possessing body, however, cannot be absolved of the quasi-sadistic quality of possession; this reduces the freedom of the Other to an object to be possessed, and thus reduces the Other-as-Subject as well. Through this line of reasoning, we see Sartre's point that an ideal subject-subject relationship is not totally realizable. Similarly, Sartre deplores phrases such as “made for each other” and “soul mate” because they represent the institution of determinism in the existentialism of the relation. If the lovers could maneuver around these hurdles, each may save both their freedom and their facticity, but according to Sartre, this is not possible in the realm of human existence.
In the normal flow of life, as we exercise our freedoms on the voyage to Being, we encounter conflict with others on the same voyage. We cannot skirt the issue of this conflict any more than we can avoid the proper exercising of our freedoms. So we must learn of ways and modes for exercising our freedom within the bounds of the en-soi and the Other. The works of Sartre and Hegel contain much of the information and analysis necessary to glean one’s proper position within society, within the world, and within oneself.
Anthology. Our “Being-for-Others” and their “Gaze”.
Braddon-Mitchell, David, and Frank Jackson. Philosophy of Mind and Cognition. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.
Hayim, Gila J. Existentialism & Sociology. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers,1996.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Trans. Hazel E. Barnes. New York: Pocket Books, 1984
---. Existentialism and Human Emotions. New York: Citadel Press, 1985