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.