The three philosophers Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Hannah Arendt all have opinions and viewpoints about the ideas freedom and liberty. This paper will examine relevant passages from Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Sartre’s Existentialism and Human Emotions, and Arendt’s What is Freedom. Along with looking at the three texts, the philosopher’s views on freedom and liberty will be examined, as well as my own personal thoughts. Out of the three views of freedom, I would agree with Beauvoir’s theory because it addresses both the social and individual choice to be free.
Beauvoir’s view of freedom is that there is both a social and individual influence on our ability to be free. Beauvoir is against the idea of a natural essence, but instead believes that society creates a certain identity which influences people but does not limit people on one way to act. Everyone is free to choose his or her own actions. No one can rightfully choose an action for someone else, which is our freedom as human beings. Beauvoir mentions that, “along with the ethical urge of each individual to affirm his subjective existence, there is also the temptation to forgo liberty and become a thing.
This is an inauspicious road, and he who takes it…becomes henceforth the creature of another’s will…and deprived of every value” (xlv). This means that there are many temptations to give up one’s liberty, and those that choose to give up their liberty are controlled by others. Although it is easier to give up liberty than to affirm ones subjective existence, in doing so also denies ones free will. To deny ones free will is in “bad faith” and an inauthentic mode of existence (xlviii). The reason “bad faith” is seen as an inauthentic mode of existence is because when one gives up liberty, they are not fulfilling full capacities of themselves.
Those who give up liberty are not being who they truly are or what they potentially could be. Beauvoir wants everyone to fully accept their subjectivity and realize that they have liberty and freedom. In the text, she relates this to women becoming fully subjects instead of objects to men (liv). The idea of women being seen as only objects suggests that women do not have full subjectivity, which Beauvoir is strongly against. I agree with this view of freedom that it is not only a social or individual choice, but is a combination of the two.
Many sources try to influence people’s actions, but the individual ultimately decides their own choices. The individual choice to be free is a personal choice made by everyone on who he or she is and who he or she will become. The social choice to be free is one that is also individual, but has social influence. One is influenced by society’s values and norms, but still is independent in making the decision by his or her self. Although one may be influenced to conform to others in society, I believe that it is much more noble to be truthful to oneself and be ones own person.
Many of Beauvoir’s opinions are seen as an extension of Sartre’s. Sartre is an existentialist and also a strong believer in the idea that people are who they are because of the choices they make. For example, a coward is not born a coward, but becomes one through his or her actions (35). Beauvoir also agrees with this idea that people are in charge of their subjectivity. Humans are responsible for themselves and the choices they make because they are given the gift of free will. Every choice that one makes has a cause and effect outcome.
By choosing one option over another, one sets an example for others. Therefore, every choice made influences another’s choice. Although people are influenced by other people’s choices, they still have their own freedom and free will to choose what they please. Going against free will is an inauthentic mode of existence, because in doing so forgoes ones liberty. By denying ones free will, one is making a “dishonest” choice or acting in “bad faith”. Sartre believes that there is no God, essence or human nature, or values. Since there is no God, there is no determined idea of what is good or bad.
Therefore, everyone is free to choose their own decisions and whatever they choose is a good choice. Freedom is essential to humans, because it is the basis of value. Whatever one chooses is how the value of something is determined. Although there is a connection between Beauvoir and Sartre’s views on freedom, I do not agree with some of Sartre’s beliefs. The idea of Sartre’s that I disagree with the most would be the idea that there is no God. I am a strong believer in God, and find it extremely hard to believe that everything came to be without Him.
It is an interesting idea that whatever choice one makes is a good one due to the fact that there is no basis of good or bad, and one that I had never thought of before. For example, a man decides to deliberately kill another man. Sartre would say that the murderer would be making a good choice simply because the murderer chose to kill another. I believe that even if the first man wanted to kill another and did believe that murder was his best choice, there are still basic moral feelings inside all humans. I know Sartre would argue that there are no values, but I am a firm believer in them.
Like mentioned before, I would agree with both Beauvoir and Sartre with the idea that man makes himself. The idea of freedom being the basis of value shows that freedom means more than just the freedom to choose. Freedom places a value or worth to things. Arendt’s view of freedom is that freedom is inter-subjective and deals with action and politics. There are two types of freedom. The first type of freedom is the freedom to do things. These freedoms give people the ability to do actions and are positive. An example of a positive freedom would be free speech. The second type of freedom is negative freedoms, which exclude certain actions.
An example of a negative freedom would be freedom from violence. The philosophical view freedom is that freedom is an individual action, non political, and involves free will. Arendt believes that freedom is political and that politics would cease to be without freedom (145). She says when talking about politics, “…the problem of freedom is crucial, and no political theory can afford to remain unconcerned with…this problem…” (145). Politics need freedom because of the individual’s choice to choose certain candidates to represent their county, town, country, etc.
Arendt also believes that freedom is a human condition, something we are born with, and common to all human beings like being born and dieing. Freedom takes place in the world and is not just limited to an individual’s mind. There is no question that people have freedom in their thoughts and that there is no limit to one’s thoughts. Arendt says that freedom is not limited to just this freedom of the mind, but is also present in a public or worldly domain (147). According to Arendt, “we first become aware of freedom or its opposite in our intercourse with others, not in the intercourse with ourselves” (148).
This means that freedom cannot just be limited to our minds because an interaction with others is required. In order to have freedom, we have to have our basic life necessities met (148). Arendt focuses most of her work around political freedom, because she is strongly against Christian and philosophical thinking. Arendt argues against the ideas of political philosophy. These ideas are known as classical liberalism and libertarianism. Classical liberals believe that the government should be hands off when dealing with the business and home (149). Libertarianism is an extreme form of liberty, for example an extreme freedom of speech (149).
Arendt’s ideas about freedom and liberty are somewhat like my own. I agree that freedom involves politics. The example given in class about political freedom was one about the Greek polis, where the people would vote out in the public square. It is important to have this politically assured space of appearance to achieve freedom (146-149). The idea of freedom being something all humans are born with is another idea that I strongly agree with. All humans are born the same way and with the same basic instincts. Freedom comes naturally for humans, like the need to eat or breathe.
I agree with the idea that freedom needs to also involve interaction with others, because like Beauvoir said, there are many social influences. I would agree with Beauvoir’s theory of freedom because it addresses both the social and individual choice to be free. Beauvoir focuses her views of freedom specifically on women, while Sartre focuses more on individual freedom, and Arendt focuses more on political freedom. Although the three thinkers focus on different aspects of freedom, all three thinkers believe that freedom and liberty are essential and natural for humans. Arendt, Hannah. “What Is Freedom? ” Between Past and Future. pp. 143-171.