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Notes and Fragments THE IMPASSE OF NO EXIT by Konstantin Kolenda Sartre's philosophy contains a truly original contribution to Western thought. He is die first philosopher to regard die human way of being as wholly independent of any other reality. Not Nietzsche, not even Heidegger, can claim to have put an end to metaphysics in such a radical way. All Western philosophers up to Sartre wanted to relate human reality to some other type or mode of being: the World of Forms, God, Substance, Noumenon, Spirit, Will, Will to Power, élan vital, Being. Sartre rejected all candidates for such relata and put nothing in their place. The slogan "existence precedes essence" means to put an end to the hitherto irresistible tendency to define human nature in terms of something other than freedom, which, in Sartrian vocabulary, resulted in the contamination of the for-itself by some kind of in-itself. This tendency Sartre deemed unwarranted and he proceeded to develop a philosophy which would preserve the immaculate purity of the for-itself, undistorted by any in-itself. To keep a sense of special distinction as a for-itself, human consciousness should resist any encroachment on its own mode ofbeing by any in-itself. True, in practice a complete purity of the for-itself is not attainable, and the resulting self-deception not easily avoidable. Even ordinary perception ofphysical objects is possible because consciousness mingles with sensuous bodily material. There is no such thing as "immaculate perception," and to make diis point Sartre describes our consciousness of material objects as "slimy." But to realize its own special ontological status, consciousness must differentiate itself, phenomenologically, from its objects. To avoid bad faith, we must not submit to dictates of a moral code, or embrace a religious faith, or excuse ourselves by postulating unconscious motives. Otherwise, we are accepting some form of determinism which abrogates our freedom. In conceiving of human consciousness in this radical way, Sartre makes a clear break with all attempts to represent human reality as conditioned on 261 262Philosophy and Literature somediing nonhuman, be that somediing natural or divine. Here we have a position which, for the first time in the history of philosophy, separates consciousness , the for-itself, from whatever may dilute its purity and views human existence as literally making itself, ab novo, in every free choice. The notion of absolute freedom is a logical consequence of diis metaphysical purity of the foritself . Freedom is die ability to say no to any external determining force — moral, political, or theological — and to reject the promptings ofconvention , habit, or precept. Even emotions and moods are somediing we fashion voluntarily. IfI am sad orjealous, I make myself sad orjealous. My free choices control my reasons for action. Something becomes a reason for me only if I decide to give it a justifying status. At any time I can reject or revise a commitment made previously. Furthermore, my will never merges with the will of others. My loyalty to a group is always maintained at my discretion; an oath is a device to bind my will, but tiiis can be done only temporarily — die resulting intersubjectivity is always provisional and does not generate a true solidarity of the we.1 In trudi diere cannot be such solidarity; the subjects are always separated from each other by the wall of freedom. And yet, when Sartre portrays the relations among human beings in his fictional works, the story about freedom does not cohere witii his philosophical theory. If we take No Exit as expressing Sartre's philosophical views, we cannot escape some troublesome questions. Why is Garcin, for instance, agonizing over the question whether or not he is a coward? For some reason he is almost obsessively preoccupied widi this question and resents being labeled a coward. In his mind, the matter is far from being setded. Indeed, die whole play revolves around Garcin's rejection of diis label. So far, Garcin's attitude supports Sartre's philosophical view; to accept from others a label for oneself would be to acquiesce in being demoted to an in-itself— an act of bad faith. Similarly, he is quite Sartrian in refusing to accept...


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pp. 261-265
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