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Month: March, 2012

Sartre Argument for Freedom

… and why it’s bullshit.

Sartre Argument for Freedom is one of philosophy’s most influential argument against Determinism; the depressing idea that despite feeling in control about the daily choices we make in life, we do not have free will. But like all ideas, determinism isn’t accepted by everyone and consequentially, the problem of Free Will becomes one of, if not the most perturbing head scratcher in metaphysical philosophy.

As the name would suggest, metaphysical arguments is often unyielding since philosophers are the only ones that can be keenly involved through gedankenexperiment, neither the mathematician nor the scientist can have a profound say by drawing graphs or fiddling with test tubes.

In the relentless war of semantics on free will, philosophers had recognized themselves into two main groups. The Determinist and the Compatibilist. The Determinist believes that free will is nothing more than an illusion, and everything that happens inevitably does(Eg. Harry likes Sally and not Peter because he is biologically determined to do so). The Compatibilist believes that despite it being true that our lives are highly determined by uncontrollable factors, Free Will and Determinism are still compatible ideas.

Although they do it in varying degrees, which dichotomizes them accordingly into the two groups as mentioned, almost all philosophers admit to the influence of determinism – but not Sartre.

Sartre specialized in existentialism philosophy, who popularized the then heretical idea of Existence Precedes Essence, extended his ideas from Existentialism into the problem of Free Will. “Man is Freedom”, claims Sartre, treating freedom to be an essential characteristic of human consciousness as opposed to a property or capacity of consciousness. In simpler words, only existence is true and essence on all objects is interpreted through the consciousness from freedom. According to Sartre, the world has no intrinsic meaning, and whatever meaning it has can only be putative and interpreted from an agent. When it is so, it is up to the agent to interiorize and be bounded by his interpretation and therefore, for determinism to work, it requires a concrete essence in things themselves, and has no real efficacy and can only work around the agent’s interpretation. So between the world and our interpretation of it, our freedom to choose is a definite, allowing us free will.

Sartre’s argument is comforting and sound. But for it to be justified there are two questions that it must first overcome. Firstly, must we recognize X rules for us to be constrained by X? Secondly, how well does freedom, that gives us the platform of consciousness to find meaning in things, associate itself free will?

Is the apple fresh just because I think it is? Will I suffer from a tummy ache by thinking the rotten apple that I just had as a fresh one? This isn’t an epistemic question but a question against Sartre’s idealistic surmise that the essence and properties in things is absolutely dependent on an agent’s interpretation of it. This is true in some circumstances and false in some. On the example above, which I will call B circumstance, it is the latter. Assuming there are no in betweens, an apple can only either be fresh or rotten. Although it is my freedom to interpret it to be either way, if it’s rotten, I will inevitably suffer a tummy ache from eating it.

But if I were an African American aspiring to be a naval diver before the 1950s(a reference from “Men of Honor”), whose odds would pile against me due to the racial discrimination then, my pursuit can only be deterred through the understanding of my bleak circumstances. If I am oblivious to hatred or bigotry, although it does not increase the odds of my success, my pursuit to be a naval diver will remain the same; for determinism to have any efficacy, my consciousness must first develop a relationship with the world; this is what I call A circumstance.

The conclusion of Sartre works on false premises. He assumes that we live in a world where only A circumstances happens and ignores all B circumstances. Although the essence or properties we find in things are extrinsic and up to our own interpretation, we don’t have to be aware of them to be affected by it. We do not need to recognize X rules to be constrained by X.

Consciousness, freedom, and free will, these are terms terribly hard to define, and Sartre, being notorious as a man of abstract semantics doesn’t ease the problem. Sartre believes that only through freedom there can be consciousness. Consciousness has no properties at all and only through freedom, we can relate to the world around us, which makes us conscious. In short, freedom is the a priori for consciousness(Eg. It it not because of consciousness that I am conscious of the shoes I am wearing. But the freedom of being able to look at my shoes to realize my consciousness of wearing shoes).

It is understandable why Sartre claims that freedom is a prerequisite for consciousness to function, but I am not sure if he’s expressing his idea most lucidly; it sounds suspicious. It’s true that I am typing what I am on my laptop because I have the freedom of doing so and thus my awareness on my typing but does that say anything about my free will on choosing to type instead of knitting?

The problem lies in the word freedom and how we would directly associate it with free will. But these two words aren’t siblings, not even distant relatives or that eccentric classmate you never once spoke to; they are very different ideas. I may have the freedom of swatting the mosquito that has been buzzing around my ears for the past hour and I will do it but that alone doesn’t give me the free will that most philosophers refer to; an action devoid of constraints. In fact, by swatting the mosquito, I become a victim of social determinism since it is through society that I know mosquitos are carriers of malaria and dengue fever, and therefore, although it’s my freedom to swat it, the act of swatting it does not necessarily make me free.

To avoid the confusion, the word that Sartre could have better used to substitute freedom was volition, the faculty or power or willing to do something. Having the volition to know we are conscious and relate to objects around us, still doesn’t give us free will.

Humans do not have free will and Sartre Argument for Freedom is invalid because of the bolded texts.



I was half way writing an lengthy essay delineating the problems of free will until I lost confidence in the lucidity of my thoughts. Stumped in face of my stupidity, my hands become idle and my thoughts are wild, which compels me even more violently to write. So I will on something smaller and simpler: my life.

My weekdays are the same. Tanks and tools surround me and I occupy myself with them when instructed. Spanners weigh much less now, but pen, paper, and responsibility that I hope I can shed like how a snake molts, feels like an incredible dumbbell. “Out of the workshop and into the office”, the despotic dumbbell implies, and the air conditioning – that’s strangely ordered to be precisely adjusted at 24 celsius – couldn’t spare me from the heat.

I dislike responsibilities. Not just when it’s imposed on me like a dead weight but more so as a concept; it’s against what I think the natural order of life is, but I shall not elaborate on that. Especially so when my passion for what I do is practically naught. But against the turbulence of fate, pessimism is probably the worse weapon anyone could wield. If responsibility is what I can’t shed than pessimism is what I must. I should be satisfied for what I do now is a micro simulation of life which is dissatisfaction.

By higher order, for the better of the organization, the depot is experiencing some reshuffling. Regulars and NSFs alike are being manhandled all around the company. It is not yet official to how manpower will be delegated but being quidnucs – which is what most of us are after being moulded under the pressure of joyless sound and fury – we know where we will end up. “We” includes me and I remain ambivalent about my life in a different platoon.

My weekends are a little more different now. The thrill of outdoor is no longer and I spend most my time obsessed with the glamour of movies – thank you my dearest seeders. Ever since Hong Kong, the addiction of novelty has never been stronger and there’s no better way to saving for my next trip than staying home. It is not bad at all for a socially awkward guy like me.

Speaking of movies, my spilling adoration for Woody Allen had goaded me to ship 3 of his movies – that I can’t find from any local video stores – from Amazon which burned a sizable hole in my wallet. While processing my debit card details, I just couldn’t resist the urge of dropping another vinyl in the basket and my akrasia enlarged the hole by almost a fold. I should be ashamed.

Books occupy the remaining of my weekends. After experiencing several letdowns with some of my favourite japanese novelist, I stopped with fiction and moved on to non fiction. Mainly, if not, entirely on philosophy. Unlike stories, which can be criticized on endless facets, I can never go wrong with philosophy. There is so much to learn, seemingly learn, not learn anything, enjoy, and suffer from philosophy. It might sound semantical but only through semantics can I express my love for the subject.

Nothing else here. I lead a boring life and that is all and I can’t wait to spend time with my family in Penang during next weekend.



NS is a terrible period where you can’t watch 20movies per week 😦

Hugo – A badly written review.

In the eye of a crippled falcon, we see a metropolis covered in snow and dripping with vigor. We loom over an old fashioned yet futuristic train station – an alternate reality that I will love to call sentimental steam punk – before the camera weaves between the excitements and ennuis of several key characters. We finally reach our young protagonist that could use some acting classes, hiding behind a clock, his home. The camera zooms to capture a special moment, his countenance, a pitiful one which you will be seeing throughout the movie. Abruptly, the audiences’ empathy was interrupted as he races through the clockwork of the clock that he lives in, not to progress the story, but to boast the stunning vision of the cinematographers and our beloved director. Wearing an invisible leash to his neck that’s tied to the tracking camera, the child labor executes their agenda successfully.

These are the opening scenes of Hugo. Despite what the critics says and having 11 Oscars nominations, I struggled to be occupied with its painful 120 minutes.

For most parts, if not all, the film is alike with its protagonist, astray and helpless. To downplay its offense, it’s just a careless attempt to romanticize the film making industry; it’s well intended. But its good intentions are swept under the rag under the orchestra of Martin Scorcese, who brought to us contrasting and amazing films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. If anything, I can only applaud his 5 seconds of cameo for being cute. And to have Marty, C3P0, and Chaplin to be in same film, you wonder if Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the mercenaries of Hollywood, are once again plotting to de-evolutionize humanity. But no, it’s not a parody, it’s a real and self important film that takes itself seriously all the way to the Oscars.

The bad acting, absurb casting and feeble story are just some of its many vices. From the awkward confrontation between Ben Kingsley and Hugo to the pubescent semantics of Chloe Mortez, its dialogues cripples the film as well. In which, triggered me to search for the screenwriter that crafted this disaster. He is John Logan, who also wrote Gladiator, Aviator and Rango, which all are brilliant films with dialogues that will make one cringe in passion. On one hand we talented director, and on the other, a splendid screenwriter. So what made the imbroglio happen on screen? A conspiracy theorist would declare that this is a collaboration between Marty and Logan to sink their career not knowing how to profess that the flames to their love for films have long been extinguished.

But let’s not be labeled as cynics and pay some attention to many of its beautiful frames. Particularly on the chases between Sacha Cohen Baron, his dog and Hugo. Thrilling and cinematic isn’t it? Not! Well, maybe yes if not for the forced Borat quip in view of the actor, but so what? Movies aren’t montages and conversely. If it is, Woody Allen’s iconic montages would not just open his films but fill it entirely. A movie is a story and Hugo doesn’t have one to tell. It’s an intrinsically inert film praying to have its flaws covered by the production crew.

In a HugoHuge nutshell, imagine an epic tale written by a peanut butter enthusiast on an adventure of a young boy that slays dragon to collect their turd as an ingredient to create the ultimate can of peanut butter in honor of his dead father who was once a dragon slayer too and upon his conquest, he lives happily ever after with his merry friends that aided him to create the ultimate recipe. That is what Hugo is all about except that it’s written and directed by movie enthusiasts.