Asking themselves the sorts of questions philosophers

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asking themselves the sorts of questions philosophers ask, like ‘What is the point of living?’, ‘Is there a God?’, ‘Must I always do what others expect me to do?’ Sartre had already written a long and difficult book called Being and Nothingness (1943) which was published during the war. The central theme of the book was freedom. Human beings are free. This was an odd message in occupied France when most French people felt like – or really were – prisoners in their own country. What he meant, though, was that, unlike, say, a penknife, a human being wasn’t designed to do anything in particular. Sartre didn’t believe there was a God who could have designed us, so he rejected the idea that God had a purpose for us. The penknife was designed to cut. That was its essence, what made it what it is. But what was a human being designed to do? Human beings don’t have an essence. We aren’t here for a reason, he thought. There is no particular way we have to be to
198 a lit tle history of philosophy be human. A human being can choose what to do, what to become. We are all free. No one but you can decide what you make of your life. If you let other people decide how you live, that is, again, a choice. It would be a choice to be the kind of person other people expect you to be. Obviously if you make a choice to do something, you might not always succeed in doing it. And the reasons why you don’t succeed may be completely outside your control. But you are responsible for wanting to do that thing, for trying to do it, and for how you respond to your failure to be able to do it. Freedom is hard to handle and many of us run away from it. One of the ways to hide is to pretend that you aren’t really free at all. If Sartre is right, we can’t make excuses: we are completely responsible for what we do every day and how we feel about what we do. Right down to the emotions we have. If you’re sad right now, that’s your choice, according to Sartre. You don’t have to be sad. If you are sad, you are responsible for it. That is fright- ening and some people would rather not face up to it because it is so painful. He talks about us being ‘condemned to be free’. We’re stuck with this freedom whether we like it or not. Sartre described a waiter in a café. This café waiter moves in a very stylized way, acting as if he is a kind of puppet. Everything about him suggests that he thinks of himself as completely defined by his role as a waiter, as if he has no choice about anything. The way he holds the tray, the way he moves between the tables, are all part of a kind of dance – a dance that is chore- ographed by his job as a waiter, not by the human being performing it. Sartre says this man is in ‘bad faith’. Bad faith is running away from freedom. It is a kind of lie you tell yourself and almost believe: the lie that you aren’t really free to choose what to do with your life, when, according to Sartre, whether you like it or not, you are.
the anguish of freed om 199 In a lecture he gave just after the war, ‘Existentialism is a

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