This chapter will help to understand how the concepts of Sartre and Camus helped in the development of the Existential Dualism
This chapter will help to understand how the concepts of Sartre and Camus helped in the development of the Existential Dualism. In order to understand Dualism in the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus’, it is very important to understand few major concepts like ‘Being-in-the-world’, ‘Being-for-itself’, ‘Being-in-itself’, ‘Being-for-Others’, ‘The pure Being’, and ‘Being-There’. While we understand the importance of these concepts within existentialist philosophy, it is also pertinent to see the diverging and converging stance of Sartre and Camus.
There are two distinct dimensions to Sartre’s thinking, which is projected in his two philosophical works, i.e., Being and Nothingness and Critique of Dialectical Reason. As the former deals with the human freedom, authenticity, bad faith etc. the latter deals with the social nature of man, where he should create his own history and in the making of it, he will create the history of mankind. According to Sartre, the essence is, when an individual says, ‘I am a man’; ‘I am’ denotes the kind of attribute the ‘one’ has. ‘I’ comes from what a person makes of himself, or how he defines himself. In his writings, the major focus remains on being and nothingness. His famous slogan, though first given by Soren Kierkegaard but best explained by Sartre, ‘existence precedes essence’, is his major theme in his great works like Nausea. He believes that if a person is living a life and is alive, it means that he exists most of the characters of Sartre, specially Roquentin in Nausea, keeps repeating to himself, “I exist, I exist, I exist”, because the issue is whether they exist or not, as he next says, “My thought is me: that’s why I can’t stop. I exist because I think … and I can’t prevent myself from thinking”. (Sartre, 2000: 145) Through this reassurance he tries to support his view that he exists and what he makes of himself or how he defines himself, i.e., his characteristics is his essence. Sartre explains the idea of ‘existence precedes essence’ in Existentialism is a Humanism, which also serves as the core of Sartre’s existential philosophy, where he states, “We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards… Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.” (Sartre, 1946: 23)
Whereas, essence is not idealised or restricted by the society, rather, it is what an individual makes of himself. In fact, essence is not fixed, it keeps on changing along with the time and the decisions and actions taken by an individual and its repercussions. Therefore, Sartre divides the being into two parts, i.e., ‘Being-in-itself’ and ‘Being-for-itself’ and he rejected the philosophy of things-in-itself, i.e., the things which are not known to the individual or the things which are not in an individual’s knowledge. He differentiates the two beings as, ‘being-in-itself’, which is the unconscious being and ‘being-for-itself’, which is the conscious being. The being-in-itself is the being which is not conscious of its existence but is conscious of its essence, i.e., the characteristics of it, whereas, being-for-itself is the being which is conscious of its existence but is not conscious of its essence, which also keeps on changing with the period of time and also along with the situations and conditions. Sartre believes that being-for-itself is nothing in its own and does not have any particular or concrete characteristics or traits in itself but it is absolutely free and have pure consciousness of itself. Along with these two beings, Sartre also gave the third type of being, i.e., being-for-others, where the being depends over others to validate his existence and find his essence through others. It is the pure nihilation of ‘in-itself’. As Sartre states in Being and Nothingness, “The For-itself, in fact, is nothing but the pure nihilation of the in-itself; it is like a hole of being at the heart of Being.”
Therefore, for Sartre, man is a pure existence, which is pure consciousness and it has no determinants. This pure being could be said as the Being-for-itself, where an individual is like a blank sheet of paper and he fills it with his actions. As Locke says, “Mind is Tabula Rasa”, which means a blank slate, or black sheet of paper, which means it does not have any a-priori qualities, which Sartre calls as nothingness, but this nothingness can be filled with meaning by individuals through finding a purpose or the ultimate goal in life. An individual can define himself from his own actions rather than being judged or acting according to the wishes of the others. The person needs to break the chains of restrictions that others create for a person. As ‘Being-for-itself, has the consciousness of his being and not a proper outlined essence, but the things which have the essence but are not conscious of their existence are not the pure beings, they are being-in-itself. For Plato, essence is the ‘ideas’, and the ‘ideas’ are real and are beyond physical existence, time and change. According to Plato, existence is like the pale shadow of the essence.
So according to Sartre, to be an authentic being, one needs to take the full responsibility of the actions, decisions and choices he makes in his life and the anxiety and angst an individual feels when he realises that he cannot escape from his own freedom, plays an important part in the authentic living of an individual. The freedom of an individual is restricted or constrained by the nature, society and the limitations of man himself, which Sartre calls ‘facticity’. Equally, Heidegger believes that anxiety in Dasein manifest him to live an authentic life, because he realises that the crowd of the ‘others’, i.e., ‘they’ cannot help Dasein to console for the confusing and meaningless existence of an individual. Inwood rightly refers to Heidegger’s concept of authenticity as, “To be authentic is to be true to one?s own self, to be one’s own person, to do one’s own thing…Eccentricity can be inauthentic, while conformity to standard practices can be authentically chosen” (Inwood, 26).
On the other hand, the view of Camus remains the same on the concept of pure being, or the authentic life of an individual, where he claims that an individual should be aware that the universe does not provide any salvation to the individual, but the path to freedom gives way to the authentic living of an individual. To be authentic, individual should be aware of the absurdities of life with no apparent meaning, purpose or morality and try to make his life meaningful by rebelling against the absurdities.
Camus constructed his own philosophy of absurd in order to resolve the key issues of life and death of an individual, which motivated and interested him. The central paradox arising from the philosophy of Camus is the central idea of absurdity. He believes that every individual has a question: what is the meaning or purpose of his existence, but Camus claims that there is no answer to this question and he rejects all the scientific, metaphysical or human created sources which can provide an adequate answer. Since there is no given meaning or purpose to an individual’s existence, therefore, he lives in emptiness. According to Camus, this paradoxical situation of an individual to ask question and the impossibility of receiving an answer is called the absurd. Camus’ concept of absurdity could be understood through the mythical figure of Sisyphus, which Camus employed in his philosophical essay Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus try to push the rock up the mountain, and the moment it climbs up the mountain, the rock rolls back to the ground. Each time the rock rolls down, Sisyphus descends to roll up the rock again. This endless cycle of an individual’s life is what Camus calls, the absurd and in order to find meaning and purpose in life, the individual needs to rebel against the absurdities of life.
According to Camus, revolt should be considered as one of the most essential dimension of an individual, which is seen as the principle of an individual’s existence as he yearns for the unity and clarity of order and ideas in his life. Camus in his works use the word rebellion to mean resistance. He believes that the political measures and freedom in the world for the values and morals should be able to respect the dignity of an individual.
Camus in The Fall tries to exemplify the ‘aesthetic rebellion’. In The Fall, Camus develops absurdity in literary form because he does not affirm in literary concepts but in the form of art. Through The Fall, Camus explains the increase in suffering of an individual is because of wrong attitude, violent and immoderate actions, danger in the way of thinking of an individual, etc. Camus tries to warn the humans against crossing the limits of political life and judgements over others and us. The reason for explaining the outcomes of the wrong is because he believes that this kind of attitude, thinking and behaviour encourages suffering. Therefore, Camus tries to elaborate on the resistance against violent attitude, actions, behaviour which stimulates suffering.
Camus explains that an individual should realise that an authentic being lives in an exile, isolation, alienated from the society, world and universe. The only valid and authentic solution according to Camus is not only to accept the absurdity of life but to embrace the absurdity and continue to live the life. Camus constructed his own philosophy of absurdity in order to resolve the key issues of life and death of an individual, which motivated and interested him. The central paradox arising from the philosophy of Camus is the central idea of absurdity. He believes that every individual has a question: what is the meaning or purpose of his existence, but Camus claims that there is no answer to this question and he rejects all the scientific, metaphysical or human created sources which can provide an adequate answer. Since there is no given meaning or purpose to an individual’s existence, therefore, he lives in emptiness. According to Camus, this paradoxical situation of an individual to ask question and the impossibility of receiving an answer is called the absurd. Camus’ concept of absurdity could be understood through the mythical figure of Sisyphus, which Camus employed in his philosophical essay Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus tries to push the rock up the mountain, and the moment it climbs up the mountain, the rock rolls back to the base. Each time the rock rolls down, Sisyphus descends to roll up the rock again. This endless cycle of an individual’s life is what Camus calls as absurd. He believes that absurdity is inevitable and rather it represents the characteristic of the human condition. The only response to absurdity is to courageously accept it fully.
In The Stranger, Albert Camus’ character, Meursault shows the authentic self, as he has the power to cut apart himself from the situations around him, and examine himself in the light of meaning and understand what the future will bring. He experiences different emotions at the same point, specially fear and anxiety, which according to Heidegger is the most important of all moods for an individual to isolate himself from the society and people around him to understand and find meaning in his life, the individuality and the authentic self. Meursault becomes an outsider and an absurd for the society because of his uniqueness and being outcast in the society, punished for the crimes, which are both ridiculous and bizarre yet, norm of the society. Camus shows the absurdities of life and the misconceptions of the society by giving the insight in the ideals and beliefs of an existentialist, Meursault.
The society and the rules set by society plays an important part in the life of an individual, because they can make an individual feel misplaced in the society. Meursault in The Stranger is inhibited with this aspect in the end of the novel when he is charged with the crime of murdering an Arab. Camus here ridicules the ways of legal system and the misconceptions of the society. The trial made it very clear that the protagonist of the novel is considered as an outsider, a stranger. Camus tries to convey this through his character who feels himself being misplaced in the situation. As the trial against him was regarding the murder of the Arab, which he confessed, but he was being charged for being emotionally indifferent on his mother’s funeral. Being in right emotion in particular situation makes a person fit to stay in society, otherwise the society makes the person feel out of place in the society, they make him alienated.
Albert Camus’ Meursault (The Stranger) is seen as an existential anti-hero. Just like Sartre’s Roquentin (Nausea), he is also stuck in his daily routine existence. His life has become like a shapeless void, without any purpose, meaning, idea, goal, preference, priority or emotions. He acts and responds like a robot, automatically to different situations in his life, without any emotions or feelings for anyone, not even for his near ones, like his mother on her funeral. He lacks response, when he was offered a job proposal in Paris, he said he does not care where he works, still he