Give an account of the existentialist emphasis on the freedom and responsibility of the individual, and explain how this relates to any trends you have studied in the 20th century.
The concepts of freedom and responsibility are very much intertwined within existentialism which can lead to the interdependent ideas being misunderstood and confused. Whilst existentialism bleakly declares a worlddevoid of rationality and morality; this does not mean that humans are entirely free to do anything. The ideas of “good” and “bad” may not exist outside of humanity, but they certainly exist within it. Since humans are alive they must live by life’s restrictions.
Sartre explains this by describing how each individual must rely on their own immutable values and morality to become alive and givemeaning to life, to deny this is to live in what he calls “bad faith”. Once man becomes aware of this state then he is not only responsible for his own actions as an individual, but for all men, and so humans become condemned to make choices. “Condemned to be free. Condemned, because he didn't create himself yet, in other respects is free; because, once thrown in the world, he is responsible foreverything he does”. (Sartre, 1947).
It is important that this is not misinterpreted to mean that humans live in some kind of unobstructed liberty. In der Wille zur Macht, Nietzsche describes how this responsibility means that humans have autonomy over their own lives and so he put great emphasis on the power of the individual. It is common for this concept of power to be mistaken for freedom,whilst humans have the power to do anything, they are bound by circumstance and values so are therefore not entirely free. Existential thinking questions the concept of freedom of action by taking into account both the individual and the world in which they live. Existentialists believe that humans are not determined and therefore have free will, facticity plays a part, but to claim that it controlsyou is deception. External circumstances may determine the environment but the individual controls how the various components are put together into a coherent picture. The individual can choose to see the world anyway that they want. To use an example; a child who is abused does not necessarily have to grow up with behavioural difficulties, the individual has the ability to change the light in whichthey see the experience and draw positive lessons from it. “Our freedom does not consist of our ability to control or determine the stimuli that meet us everyday. But the significance and the meaning we give to the stimuli and the interpretation of the event and how we experience it is a matter of choice”. (Spinelli, 1989)
Whether humans are free from religion in existentialism varies dependingon the philosopher and so there are two different schools of freedom; theistic freedom, in which humans are ultimately answerable to God for their moral choices and atheistic freedom where humans are answerable only to themselves. Whilst Nietzsche would insist that “Gott ist tot”, other existentialists such as Kierkegaard believed that whilst organised religion only does a diservice to theindividual, the morality of religion is in part useful. Sartre too expressed mixed sentiments about religion and the topic of abandonment, he said that “radicalists believe that God is a useless and costly hypothesis, so we will do without it. However, if we are to have morality, a society, and a law-abiding world, it is essential that certain values should be taken seriously”.
Nevertheless, itshould be clearly stressed that it was mostly an atheistic movement making it rather controversial and therefore inexplicably intriguing.
Unsuprisingly this popular philosophical current had an impact on many different trends of art, literature and film during the 20th century. It is perhaps particularly noticeable in La Nouvelle Vague trend of French film (a term which was coined by Giroud 1958,...
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