Welcome

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. Everything has been figured out, except how to live. One always dies too soon or too late. And yet, life is there, finished. The line is drawn, and it must all be added up. You are nothing other than your life. There is only one day left, always starting over. It is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk. We do not know what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are, that is the fact. When you live alone you no longer know what it is to tell a story: the plausible disappears at the same time as the friends. You let events flow by too.Suddenly you see people appear who speak and then go away; you plunge into stories of which you can't make head or tail. You'd make a terrible witness. It is true that people who live in society have learned how to see themselves in mirrors as they appear to their friends. Luckily, I only have a few...

Dr Shaw is a lecturer in Further Education at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk. She also offers philosophy courses at the School of Continuing Education, Lifelong learning, at the University of Liverpool. In 2015, she has completed her Doctorate in philosophy with a focus on existentialism, the equilibrium doctrine and narrative. She has worked as a teacher of English and Comparative literature and Philosophy at The American University in Cairo, Egypt where she also obtained her BA (Hons). Dr Shaw has an MA in Philosophy and Literature from the University of East Anglia where she also taught on a number of humanities subjects. Whilst working in North Wales in Further education, she gained a PGCE aimed at teaching in FE and HE sectors. Dr Shaw moved to Liverpool in 2010 where she now resides.

Interests: Existentialism, Narrative, Comparative Literature, Feminist Thought, Public Speaking, Arab Existentialism, Philosophy of Education, Art, Music, Film and Theatre, Greek Mythology, Existential counsellor and psychotherapist.

https://liverpool.academia.edu/ShereenHamedShaw

Friday, 3 December 2010

Human, All Too Human (BBC) - Jean Paul Sartre: Part 1

Thoughts on Ethics

Have you ever wondered in a specific incident if your action was right or wrong?

A fundamental question that comes up daily for various reasons in one's mind is how can actions be ethical

Are we all aware of what is right or wrong
Different books on Ethics present us with two kinds of ethics, normative ethics in which one looks for a principal or a system of morality that can be the basis of all ethics, and virtue ethics which is associated with having a good character. In simple terms all ethics deal with our actions and behavior, yet there are no certain rules for morality, but rather guidelines in which we are free to choose whether to abide by or not. 

Someone may ask What is a good action?
Many people would say that a good action is what brings you satisfaction. Others would say it is an action that has a positive consequence or an effect on another individual or the community in general. But can we really know what is good without having to talk about evil and what is bad? I doubt it...
The social perspective here is that society dictates what is good and what is bad which forms the unspoken rules of judgements which every individual abides by, or at least try to follow to avoid social rejection. 
A thought experiment: if a man was born on an island and have never met any other being in his whole life, will he know what is wrong and what is right?  Again, I doubt it...

So what makes us, human beings, obliged to obey a law or go by a certain rule?
It is said that rules and laws have no value if they are not followed, not acknowledge at all. This means that the man on the island will feel no remorse killing another being for food, taking some other being or animal's shed or possessions. In fact the concept of one's own possession will not exist at all...

There are two kinds of laws in our world, divine law and civil law. The first law is based on a total submission and obedience of a divine being/power that determines what is good and bad. We have an understanding of this kind of law only through sacred scriptures- We shall call this religion.
The second kind of law is man made. Throughout history we have shown our love for rules and laws that govern our every aspect of life. Some people believe that they follow only divine law as an ultimate form of authority which is inert in their psyche, but unfortunately one is bound by society and civil law from birth till death- unless one becomes a hermit and lives in a secluded island.
I have always wondered why the Pharaohs where seen both as kings and Gods. People felt fear but also obligation to present their best offering to secure a better future, a reward, fulfillment of a wish or need.

One answer to the problem of Ethics is to claim that in the case of a divine law, ethics is whatever the divine makes it out to be. Ethics is meaningless otherwise. While on the other hand, Ethics can be what every human being makes it out to be, it does not apply to physical objects. It is man-made and hence can be mistaken.

A strange thought: Many people claim that every person is genuinely aware of his/her own action whether it is right or wrong. For instance, a child tying a stone to a frog knows the consequence of the action. It is a situation in which there is no repair.

School teaches children to act good, do they really? I have wondered how meaningful are certificates and rewards given for acting good... Funny enough Derrida and prophet Mohamed said that one will never know if his/her life was good or bad until the last breath... what a coincidence.

Links:
Images by John Picton
http://www.flickr.com/photos/arthurjohnpicton/



Monday, 29 November 2010

The UK Sartre Society's 17th Annual Conference

21st June 1905-15th April 1980

The UK Sartre Society's 17th Annual Conference took place on Friday 24th Sept, 2010 at the Institut Française [1]. The UK Sartre Society has been supported by the Institut Française which holds academic events on a regular basis in both, English and French. The society is organised by Ben O’Donohoe, the University of Sussex, along with Angela Kershaw, the University of Birmingham, as the society’s secretary.

“Sartre in Dialogues” by Alfred Betschart, an independent researcher into Sartre and Adler. Betschart’s paper entitled “Individual Psychology and Existential Psychoanalysis” highlights the influence of psychoanalysts on Sartre and his works. According to Betschart, Sartre’s psychology 
rejects Freud’s notion of the unconsciousness and the development of sexual drives, eros and pathos, which shape one’s life and determines all actions. Unlike Freud, Sartre did not consider one’s early years of development, between the age of 7 and 17, as important. The paper argues, therefore, that Sartre’s psychoanalysis shares more in common with Adler’s psychology than Freuds’ as both, Sartre and Adler, stresses on the importance of understanding human actions rather than claiming that they are consequences of past life events. Adler’s works present what he calls a ‘master plan’ where one’s choices determine his/her present decisions influenced by society and nature. Sartre shares this notion with Adler as it is in line with his Existential psychoanalysis where the Id, Ego, and Super Ego are not in conflict but rather committing life choices, which Adler calls in his works ‘life plan’. Betschart states that Adler’s concept of choices is not carried out by a rational thing but rather by a reflexive intercultural man, he says “man wants to be by God” therefore, he commits “life lies” in the form of every day choices. But Sartre took the idea even further in his notion of bad faith and says “man is God”. For Adler, man strives over superiority, while Sartre’s man claims that “hell is other people” and constantly competes with the other. “Did Adler influence Sartre?” is one of the questions raised by Betschart. In 1912, The Neurotic Character presented a fundamental plan of life, “to insist that human character and actions must be explained teleologically, separate goals coming under the dominance of, and oriented towards, the final purpose. This guiding fiction or purpose, developed by the age of 5 years, was to move feelings of inferiority to those of superiority—under the direction of the individual's unconscious but uniquely created self-ideal—as a constellation of wishful thoughts and imaginings of being and becoming strong and powerful; or, if overcompensation was present, in fantasies of godlike immutable supremacy”[2]. And between 1913 and 1914, Adler wrote The Practice and theory of Psychology where he mentioned an ‘inferiority complex’ as a consequence of man having to commit life lies as part of his life plan.

 “A primary inferiority feeling is said to be rooted in the young child's original experience of weakness, helplessness and dependency. It can then be intensified by comparisons to siblings and adults. A secondary inferiority feeling relates to an adult's experience of being unable to reach an unconscious, fictional final goal of subjective security and success to compensate for the inferiority feelings”.
However, Betschart mentioned that scholars and critics argue that there is no evidence that Sartre have read any of Adler’s works. In 1954, Sartre has read Malraux during the War which influenced his Existential psychoanalysis apparent in his works. The concept of normality has been the highlight of psychology at the time. Adler states that what is normal is what the community determine, while Sartre rejected the bourgeoisie life and deemed it abnormal. Finally, Betschart concluded that in 21st Century today Sartre would have not only been a philosopher or a writer but also a psychologist and sociologist.

“Sartre and Levinas: On Subjectivity”  by Anu Selvaraj from the National University of Singapore. Selvaraj presented her paper as a work in progress. She noted that Sartre have been considered by many to be a selfish philosopher while Levinas a doormat for others, simply due to their conception of the self and its relationship to others. For Sartre, one cares for oneself first and should not interfere with self freedom, while Levinas believes in the care of others before oneself.  Both Sartre and Levinas acknowledge that one is limited by the physical constraints in the world, yet Levinas believes that embracing those limitations lead to freedom. However, living on things we love is not enough to aid the formation of the self, Sartre thereby presents self mastery over the other as a solution, transcending biological needs and encountering others in a struggle unlike Levinas’s view of the world as a gift from the other. In Sartre’s works, the self sees the other but not vice versa, hence the self’s existence is disrupted by the presence of the other. The self becomes the object and the other is the subject. Notions like shame and pride are results of the power struggle and the realisation of the self as a being in itself leading to feeling alienation. Example is the relationship between the author and the reader, each require one another to bring itself into existence. The author requires the reader to create a freedom by a sense of appeal. This mutual recognition brings with it anxiety because there is a possibility of rejection. For the early Sartre, the self rejects the other hence struggles, while for the late Sartre, there is a sense of acceptance. Care and concern is important says Levinas, “responsibility comes before freedom”- subjectivity comes into being. The idea of the self is routed in others and is inescapable. The self is held hostage by the other’s encounter- similar to early Sartre. For example, the door bell encounter is a good example of an unmediated other that shatters one’s ego at the act of opening the door. Hence, the self struggles to accept the other’s world.

“Sartre and Women”: focusing on his relationship with Lena Zorina in 1967.
Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Lena Zorina
Sartre has witnessed his mother’s remarriage at the age of 11. And even though he lived close to her, he only visited on weekends from time to time. This may or may not have influenced, according to critics, his relationships with women and the struggle between the self and the other on a sexual level. In his 1940s war diaries, he talked about obscure and drowned women relations. Sartre expressed that he is bound to desire to write, he says “I write therefore I am”. He wrote that “by writing, I existed, the me who wrote”- he believed in living to narrate. Sartre’s women were mostly Jewish- perhaps he thought they have more sensitivity- free spirits, dependant on him financially and very beautiful. Sartre says he navigates himself on the sea of life without going under. He takes pleasure in women’s company, yet he says “passion scares me”. Many psychoanalysts related his lack of passion to his relation with his mother and the inability to make physical contact. Sartre, as the child king, the contingent of women were not enough for him, he couldn’t be satisfied with his female encounters because they were not motherly figures. He took a rather father like figure as they seemed to need him and be financially independent on him. For example, after having a relationship with a younger woman, he adopted her.

In 1962-1967, Sartre started a relationship with Lena Zorina who was a secretary and official interpreter in the USSR in line with communism. Lena said that Sartre saw communism through idealistic rosy glasses. In 1964, he refused a Nobel Prize and she thought he was naive to do so. She was not one of those drowning women Sartre writes about in his works, but rather a Jewish woman surviving under a totalitarian regime. She was very pretty. She had long dark hair, dark eyes and a deep voice- her sense of fashion was similar to that of Madame de Beauvoir [3] who was almost treating Sartre as her “baby” and was allowed to see the real him, he says in his memoirs. Sartre proposed marriage to both Lena Zorina and Madame de Beauvoir . He had a relationship with both women who appeared to be equal to him. Madame de Beauvoir said in one of her letters to Sartre that Lena is the only one worth of him if something happens to her. They had an intellectual relationship that could have been affected by Sartre’s relation with Lena fuelled by jealousy. In one of Sartre’s memoir he admits he is in love. In Moscow, he said she looked after him and he surrendered himself to the other. He repeats he had doubts about her love and fear of abandonment. He learned that he can be alienated. He obliged her not to worry about other women in his life and that his other encounters do not mean that he doesn’t love her- but naturally, promises are made to be broken. Even though Sartre claims that Lena gave him back his old fire, and that it is an authentic love, they have separated, yet he continued paying her a living allowance. Sartre associated Lena’s work as an interpreter as though she communicated with the world on his behalf. Lena refused to be the embodiment of a modern Russia but rather she wanted to be his lover. Sartre said that Lena was his refuge and he needed her to feel himself- unfortunately he said that also to Madame de Beauvoir - some critics say he was torn between child and man.

Finally, in 1973, in Paris, Lena visited Sartre but he hardly communicated due to his ill health. He said he only felt whole with her and Madame de Beauvoir . He enjoyed a sexual relationship with Lena and an existential fusion with de Beauvoir , with Lena he felt “happy, free and content”. After Sartre spent three weeks with Madame de Beauvoir in Spain, Lena broke up with him and he expressed that he will not be going back to the USSR....

[1] Institute Française, 17 Queensberry Palace, London, SW7
http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/
[2] Adler, A. (1929). Individual Psychology (rev. edn.).
http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/670/Alfred-Adler.html
[3] Sutkus, Antanas. Sartre & Bouvoir.
http://www.birkenfelds.lv/eng/page/182/