A little problem with Sarte

by phil on Friday May 2, 2003 12:39 AM
Sartre, existentialism

I have a little bit of a problem with Sartre's Existentialism is a Humanism

In the example of the youth deciding whether to stay with his mother or fight for country, Sartre states:
If values are uncertain, if they are still too abstract to determine the particular, concrete case under consideration, nothing remains but to trust in our instincts. That is what this young man tried to do; and when I saw him he said, β€œIn the end, it is feeling that counts; the direction in which it is really pushing me is the one I ought to choose. If I feel that I love my mother enough to sacrifice everything else for her β€” my will to be avenged, all my longings for action and adventure then I stay with her. If, on the contrary, I feel that my love for her is not enough, I go.” But how does one estimate the strength of a feeling? The value of his feeling for his mother was determined precisely by the fact that he was standing by her.

The problem I have with this is But how does one estimate the strength of a feeling?. Just because it's difficult to estimate the strength of one's feelings does that mean one should abandon estimating one's feelings? Sure, everything is permitted, but there have got to be good and bad decisions. Sure, technically, every decision is good in the existentialist world because everything was you inventing good along the way. But, this is a different kind of good, a good in the sense that yes, congratulations, you invented, or you applied your freedom as everybody else does. But dumbing down this a bit, there are beneficial decisions and unbeneficial decisions. Of course, one could retort, all your decisions have to be the best of your decisions. Then what's the point of deliberation? You deliberate to consider a wide range of options. Now, you could short-cut, maybe to cut down your range of options. Then in that case, cutting down was good? You see there's a problem with Sartre's thinking because it is good for painting a conception of all your past actions, but it doesn't give you an effective way to make decisions for the future.

I'm weary of the strength of my argument there, but let's return back to the jump from But how does one estimate the strength of a feeling? to "let's invent everything." I'm not sure that our will, the thing that makes an action, truly acts in accordance with the strength of all our feelings. We have all sorts of feelings, some that are automatic and some that are deliberate. In addition, we have some feelings that tyrannize and take over the other feelings, and others that permit other feelings to be accomodated. When I make an action, sure, whatever bubbles up ahead will become my action... hmm... in which case, the tyranny of one feeling, or the unity of other feelings, would be what was important? But there, there's the crux, what determines what is "important"? Well, hmm, I guess existentialist makes that completely empty and then says that by existing and fashioning our own "essence" we then determine what exactly it is that was important. It's a little bit of a retroactive determination of importance.

Man, I can't win with Sartre.

This will require more thought.

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