SARTRE WINS AND DECLINES NOBEL PRIZE – OCTOBER 22, 1964
On this day in 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, which he declines.
In his novels, essays, and plays, Sartre advanced the philosophy of existentialism, arguing that each individual must create meaning for his or her own life, because life itself had no innate meaning.
Sartre studied at the elite École Normale Supérieure between 1924 and 1929. He met Simone de Beauvoir, who became his lifelong companion, during this time. The pair spent countless hours in cafés, talking, writing, and drinking coffee. Sartre became a philosophy professor and taught in Le Havre, Laon, and Paris. In 1938, his first novel, Nausea,was published-the narrative took the form of a diary of a cafÉ-haunting intellectual. In 1939, he was drafted into World War II, taken prisoner, and held for about a year; he later fought with the French Resistance.
In 1943, he published one of his key works, Being and Nothingness,where he argued that man is condemned to freedom and has a social responsibility. Sartre and Beauvoir engaged in social movements, supporting communism and the radical student uprisings in Paris in 1968.
Also in 1943, he wrote one of his best-known plays, The Flies,followed by Huis Clos(No Exit) in 1945. In 1945, he began a four-volume novel called The Roads to Freedombut gave up the novel form after finishing the third volume in 1949. In 1946, he continued to develop his philosophy in Existentialism and Humanism.
In the 1950s and 60s, he devoted himself to studies of literary figures like Baudelaire, Jean Genet, and Flaubert. The Family Idiot,his work on Flaubert, was massive, but only three of four volumes were published. Sartre’s health and vision declined in his later years, and he died in 1980.
WHAT IS MAN? WHAT IS EXISTENCE?
What is man? The motivation for asking this question comes from a statement expressed in Sanskrit language, “Sarvesham Swastir Bhavatu”, which seeks the well-being of all humans, of all races, of all religions, of all cultures, and of all nations. Our efforts to support the well-being of man would be affected by our understanding the ‘real’ or ‘true’ nature of man. All human traditions, including religious, cultural, literary, philosophical, and scientific traditions make assumptions about human nature. The basic assumption about human nature is that of finding it displayed in thoughts, feelings, moods, and the actions and the behaviors that proceed from such mental states of the human individual.
Human nature could be discovered by understanding the biological basis for human existence. Human nature is a reflection of potency that keeps the human object existing. To describe human nature from mental life or mental states of an individual causes Subject-Object Dualism. I try to know human nature by knowing the characteristics of the substance that exists. The substance when it performs its functions, the characteristics of its behavior could be observed in biotic interactions; the interactions of the cells, the tissues, the organs, and the organ systems that constitute the human organism. I try to discover human nature of a Subject who objectively exists because of the functions of the cells, the tissues, organs, and organ systems that provide the basis for that existence.
EXISTENTIALISM – THE PHILOSOPHY OF HUMAN EXISTENCE :
Jean Paul Sartre ( 1905 – 1980 ), French novelist, playwright, and exponent of Existentialism.
The philosophical focus of Existentialism is concerned with the uniqueness of the individual human being, the meaning or purpose of human life as a subjective experience, and with the freedom of human individual. Sartre believed in the ability of every person to choose for himself his attitudes, purposes, values, and a way of life. Sartre’s thesis is that humans are essentially free, free to choose ( though not free not to choose ) and free to negate the given features of the world. In his novel, “Being and Nothingness” ( 1943 ), Sartre expresses an opinion that the only ‘authentic’ and genuine way of life is that freely chosen by each individual for himself. Sartre’s driving belief in Radical Freedom involves the ability to choose not only a course of action but also what one would become. According to Sartre, man is truly free, the world, whether material or social can place no constraints on him, not even to the extent of determining what would or would not be good reasons for following a given course of action. Sartre thought that there are no transcendent or objective values set for human beings and that there is no ultimate meaning or purpose inherent in human life. Sartre insists that the only foundation for values is human freedom and that there can be no external or objective justification for the values anyone chooses to adopt.
HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS AND HUMAN EXISTENCE :
Sartre divides the being, the existing realities into two categories;1. one category is called being – in – itself ( L’etre – en – soi ) which comprises inanimate things such as rocks, and 2. the second category is being – for – itself ( L’etre – pour – soi ) which comprises beings that have feelings such as human beings. Sartre has effectively excluded a vast majority of living organisms from the category that he called being – for – itself. Sartre understands consciousness as an ability to know or be aware of feelings. His view is only partly correct. The true function of consciousness is awareness of the state, condition, and the fact of living or of one’s own living condition called existence. Hence, this Amoeba proteus is a conscious entity while it is living in its given environment.
Sartre makes a radical distinction between consciousness ( L’etre – pour – soi, being – for – itself ) and non-conscious objects ( L’etre – en – soi, being – in – itself ). Though it is correct to claim that human beings have emotional feelings, thoughts, and moods, the nature of consciousness is the same in all living entities. The presence or absence of feelings is of no consideration to make the fundamental distinction between inanimate and animate beings.
Sartre focused on the opposition between objective things and human consciousness. This basic dualism is shown by the fact that consciousness necessarily has an object; it is always consciousness of something which is not itself. Consciousness makes the distinction between itself and its object. Sartre makes a conceptual connection between consciousness and nothingness. Human consciousness is a non-thing as its reality consists in standing back from things and taking a point of view on them. Because consciousness is a non-thing ( Sartre’s “neant” literally means “nothingness” ), it does not have any of the causal involvements that things have with other things. This means that consciousness and thus humans themselves are essentially free. In Sartre’s view, to pretend that we are not free is that of self-deception or bad faith ( mauvaise foi ). According to Sartre, the freedom of human consciousness is experienced by humans as a burden and it causes anguish. Sartre’s most basic point is that to be conscious is to be ‘free’.
Sartre’s concept of human freedom is a simple mental entity and it involves the freedom of imagination. However, man has a very limited freedom to convert his imagination into actuality. Man lacks total freedom and has no true freedom as he does not directly rule or govern even a single cell in his body which comprises of trillions of individual living cells which have functional autonomy and are independent entities while being part of a group.
HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS AND HUMAN FREEDOM :
Human Consciousness and Human Freedom – Sartre contends that we can never be just objects to be observed and accurately described. However, Biology describes man as a multicellular organism, man can view a cell from his own body and then the Subject viewing the Object and the Object that is viewed are the same and the Subject can accurately describe the Object. I observe cell structure and functions to understand human consciousness and human freedom.
I may have to disagree with the view shared by Sartre and various others about the nature of human consciousness. The problem involves the description of consciousness as a mental function. Consciousness is a neurobiological function, and more importantly it is the basic living function. The living cell is aware or conscious of the fact of its own existence, it is conscious of itself and its internal condition, and it is conscious of its external environment and objects found in its external environment. Hence, consciousness must be described as a biological characteristic of living cells and living organisms. Consciousness describes the nature of the substance that is living, the matter that lives and is known as living matter. The living matter is conscious of its internal condition, a condition that demands the supply of energy from an external source to keep its existence. The biological properties of motion, and nutrition come into play because of this biological characteristic called consciousness. Hence it is a vital, or animating principle of all living cells and living organisms. The living cell because of its consciousness knows its nature of energy dependent existence and uses its power of motion and nutrition to attract substances found in its external environment to perform all other living functions to support its growth and maintenance.
The fact of energy dependent existence and the consciousness of that conditioned existence speaks of the lack of human freedom in matters that pertain to human existence. A complex human living system exists because of harmonious interactions, partnership, relationship, and association between the cells, the tissues, the organs, and the organ systems that constitute the human individual. These biotic interactions display behavioral characteristics such as mutual assistance, mutual cooperation, mutual tolerance, mutual subservience or mutual functional subordination to provide benefits to each other to support the survival and reproductive success of each other. There is sympathy, compassion, and understanding for the needs of each other among the participants of a biotic or biological community or association of living cells that comprise the human person.
I observe the human organism and I describe Spirituality as the chief attribute of human existence and human nature. Man has no freedom and man has no choice other than that of existing as a Spiritual Being. It is ironic that man has no cortical or mental awareness of the spiritual nature of his own body and the substance that lives because of its spiritual nature. By seeking awareness of the underlying spiritual nature, man will be able to live in harmony and peace within himself and with others in his environment.
I agree with the view of Sartre and suggest that man’s existence precedes his essence. Sartre has failed to contemplate upon the biological basis of human existence and hence could not describe the reality of human essence and human nature. The Subjective Reality of physical existence precedes and defines essence or the nature of human being. Who you are ( your Essence ) is defined by what you do ( your Existence ). To know man’s essence, to describe human nature, we need a man who is existing. If there is no living, physical being called man, it would serve us no purpose to know its nature or essence. In Spirituality, man’s essence and existence come together to establish the purpose of man in Life.
THE ART OF RECEIVING AND THE ART OF GIVING :
Ecology is the Science that deals with the relations between living organisms and their environment. Humans as individuals and as social or national groups have to make adjustments to their geographical, social, and biotic environments to live in peace and harmony. The Art of Receiving and The Art of Giving is inescapable and is inevitable consequence of human living and human life.
Sir Winston Churchill said, “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” To add clarity to this quote, I would like to say that human existence depends upon receiving energy from an external source. Human nature involves sharing that energy with others. The human person comprises of about 100 trillion individual, living cells and at the same time there are about 10 times 100 trillion microorganisms that inhabit the human gastrointestinal tract. There is a mutually beneficial relationship between man the host and the microbes that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. These microbes receive a fair share of energy and material that man consumes as food and drink. This relationship persists during the entire course of man’s life. If receiving is inescapable, giving is inevitable consequence of human living and human life. Spirituality is the potency that gives the man the ability to Receive and to Give to others.
Rudranarasimham Rebbapragada, B.Sc., M.B.B.S.,
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