Be yourself?

Discussion in 'General Chat' started by gregory, Apr 28, 2004.

  1. gregory

    gregory Senior member

    Likes Received:
    Feb 6, 2004
    Sometimes people tell us: "Be yourself. Don't be someone you're not." The problem is that this entity 'yourself' is being continually defined and exists only through the sum of actions and choosing. Every choice I make is a redefinition of myself, and hence I cannot 'aspire to be myself' since 'myself' does not exist as a complete entity until I am dead. And who among us can truly say that we have not been influenced by some people we look up to and choose to aspire to be more like them? If by "being oneself" one means looking back at one's past, this is a poor guide for life because it implies repeating the history of choices and actions that one has made in the past. It is better to look outside, and combine the best parts of the best people, to better oneself. To put my liberal arts education to good use, let me quote Jean Paul-Sartre. Read it in full--it may change your life. I am not an atheist, but I find this philosophy a very good guide for navigating life. "If one considers an article of manufacture as, for example, a book or a paper-knife "” one sees that it has been made by an artisan who had a conception of it; and he has paid attention, equally, to the conception of a paper-knife and to the pre-existent technique of production which is a part of that conception and is, at bottom, a formula. Thus the paper-knife is at the same time an article producible in a certain manner and one which, on the other hand, serve a definite purpose, for one cannot suppose that a man would produce a paper-knife without knowing what it was for. Let us say, then, of the paperknife that its essence that is to say the sum of the formulae and the qualities which made its production and its definition possible "” precedes its existence. The presence of such "” and "” such a paper-knife or book is thus determined before my eyes. Here, then, we are viewing the world from a technical standpoint, and we can say that production precedes existence. When we think of God as the creator, we are thinking of him, most of the time, as a supernal artisan. Whatever doctrine we may be considering, whether it be a doctrine like that of Descartes, or of Leibnitz himself, we always imply that the will follows, more or less, from the understanding or at least accompanies it, so that when God creates he knows precisely what he is creating. Thus, the conception of man in the mind of God is comparable to that of the paper-knife in the mind of the artisan: God makes man according to a procedure and a conception, exactly as the artisan manufactures a paper-knife, following a definition and a formula. Thus each individual man is the realisation of a certain conception which dwells in the divine understanding. In the philosophic atheism of the eighteenth century, the notion of God is suppressed, but not, for all that, the idea that essence is prior to existence; something of that idea we still find everywhere, in Diderot, in Voltaire and even in Kant. Man possesses a human nature; that "human nature," which is the conception of human being, is found in every man; which means that each man is a particular example of a universal conception, the conception of Man. In Kant, this universality goes so far that the wild man of the woods, man in the state of nature and the bourgeois are all contained in the same definition and have the same fundamental qualities. Here again, the essence of man precedes that historic existence which we confront in experience. Atheistic existentialism, of which I am a representative, declares with greater consistency that if God does not exist there is at least one being whose existence comes before its essence, a being which exists before it can be defined by any conception of it. That being is man or, as Heidegger has it, the human reality. What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world "” and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist sees him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. Thus, there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it. Man simply is. Not that he is simply what he conceives himself to be, but he is what he wills, and as he conceives himself after already existing "” as he wills to be after that leap towards existence. Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself. That is the first principle of existentialism. ... Quietism is the attitude of people who say, "let others do what I cannot do." The doctrine I am presenting before you is precisely the opposite of this, since it declares that there is no reality except in action. It goes further, indeed, and adds, "Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realises himself, he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is." Hence we can well understand why some people are horrified by our teaching. For many have but one resource to sustain them in their misery, and that is to think, "Circumstances have been against me, I was worthy to be something much better than I have been. I admit I have never had a great love or a great friendship; but that is because I never met a man or a woman who were worthy of it; if I have not written any very good books, it is because I had not the leisure to do so; or, if I have had no children to whom X could devote myself it is because I did not find the man I could have lived with. So there remains within me a wide range of abilities, inclinations and potentialities, unused but perfectly viable, which endow me with a worthiness that could never be inferred from the mere history of my actions." But in reality and for the existentialist, there is no love apart from the deeds of love; no potentiality of love other than that which is manifested in loving; there is no genius other than that which is expressed in works of art. The genius of Proust is the totality of the works of Proust; the genius of Racine is the series of his tragedies, outside of which there is nothing. Why should we attribute to Racine the capacity to write yet another tragedy when that is precisely what he "” did not write? In life, a man commits himself, draws his own portrait and there is nothing but that portrait. No doubt this thought may seem comfortless to one who has not made a success of his life. On the other hand, it puts everyone in a position to understand that reality alone is reliable; that dreams, expectations and hopes serve to define a man only as deceptive dreams abortive hopes, expectations unfulfilled; that is to say, they define him negatively, not positively. Nevertheless, when one says, "You are nothing else but what you live," it does not imply that an artist is to be judged solely by his works of art, for a thousand other things contribute no less to his definition as a man. What we mean to say is that a man is no other than a series of undertakings, that he is the sum, the organisation, the set of relations that constitute these undertakings." Full text (lovely reading)
  2. TheeTRI-RcR

    TheeTRI-RcR Member

    Likes Received:
    Mar 19, 2004

    Sartre does have some alternative works they do, however, get old quick. The great majority of Sartre's work is well outside the realm of what most would define as normal human reality. He is simply to abstract and far out to even begin to put his thinking into context in our world. Sartre worked as a revolutionary during WWII; so for us to even begin to try to understand what/how/why he wrote is just beyond our ability. What Sartre pushed more than any other is to live "authentically" (think stream of consciousness) which brings up a funny point. Sartre had a serious problem with "˜the other.' Sartre had such an issue with the other because, your person, "˜for itself' cannot be understood by another 'for itself' being so, your "˜thou' to steal from Martin Buber does not exist, the other puts you in a box and confines your "˜thou' in their terms to understand you. Sartre also makes clear that the past does not determine the future; Sartre is a propionate of freewill. This is why I must respectively disagree with your statement:

    "It is better to look outside, and combine the best parts of the best people, to better oneself."

    This is not an item you can claim if you're talking about Sartre. However, you would have no problem claiming this if you were talking about Buber. Buber works to rectify the problem of the other, he does this by espousing that one should work to see others as "˜thou' or "˜for itself' in this sense one works to see all others as a "˜thou' not as an object or an "˜it.'  What Buber is claiming about working to see the other, as "˜thou' is what I feel is the closest one will ever get to leading an  "˜authentic' life.



Share This Page

Styleforum is proudly sponsored by