Sartre’s philosophies versus Young’s philosophies on Freedom



Sartre’s philosophies versus Young’s philosophies on Freedom

Sartre believed that human beings are free and that there is no specific design of how they should be in life. Thus, the onus of defining themselves and by extension humanity falls entirely on the shoulders of human beings. With nothing to restrict people, they have the choice to take actions and make decisions that will shape their lives, determine who they want to be and love the lives they want to live. However, in as much it is true that people have freedom to become who they want to be, there are social objectifications in the society that undermine the exercise or exploitation of that freedom, particularly for the female gender as Young reveals. Thus, Sartre’s assertions regarding freedom and its exploitation by both genders are more motivational rather than practical in a society that has various physical and social norms and restrictions that limit the complete actualization of that freedom. However, Sartre’s arguments are not in conflict with Young’s philosophies.

Sartre’s philosophies versus Young’s philosophies on Freedom

Sartre always harbored a healthy anarchist or libertarian perception of things and as such, he never accepted the Marxist view that social and economic realities define freedom and consciousness; rather, he incessantly argued that people are always essentially free. Even his political sentiments leaned towards espousing a political struggle that not allowed but also affirmed individual freedom for all human beings. Sartre was of the opinion that in as much as there is immense objectification in the society, the gifts of consciousness and freedom meant that people have the opportunity to make something out of their lives and circumstances of objectification (Sartre, 2007, p. 12). In other words, Sartre felt that the individual freedom of consciousness was both humanity’s gift and curse since in as much as an individual is presented with the freedom to shape his or her own life, this freedom also came with the responsibility of shaping one’s life that lied wholly on a person’s shoulder.Sartre’s philosophies versus Young’s philosophies on Freedom

There is no disputing the fact that Sartre believed in the essential freedom of people. Nonetheless, he was also of the opinion that individuals, irrespective of their gender, are responsible for all the elements of their consciousness, actions and lives in general. Basically, with complete freedom comes complete responsibility. Sartre believed that even in situations whereby people wished not to be responsible and declared themselves free from responsibility or not responsible for themselves and their actions, they still made a conscious choice and as such, were responsible for anything that occurred as a result or as a consequence of their inaction. Based on this understanding, the moral philosophy held by Sartre stated that ethics are essentially a matter of individual conscience. This means that Sartre did not believe in the existence of universal ethics that defined or determined the trajectory of people’s lives; instead, he believed that people ideally interact with each other to formulate and affirm their respective humanities despite the existence of oppressive societal structures.

Humans experience difficulty when determining and knowing the “self”. However, Sartre is quick to dismiss the acceptance of the self as “that is just the way I am” as mere self-deception (Sartre, 2007, p. 8). The point that Sartre puts across is that when individuals internalize and imbue the objectified identity dictated to them by other individuals or by the society, for instance a dutiful worker or submissive woman, they are in fact guilty of self-deception. Every person is his or her own version or self and does not subscribe to a particular nature. What people possess is a consciousness that is accompanied by self-consciousness. Thus, Sartre reiterates that whenever individuals tell themselves that they cannot change their nature, opinions or the identity the society prefers for them, or that their social position or identity completely determines their sense of self, such individuals are deceiving themselves. In essence, it is always possible for people to make something out of the life they have already forged or one that society has influenced them to lead. Nonetheless, this task of self-actualization entails an intricate process of acknowledging the factual realities outside of a person’s self that act on or influence the self and how these realities operate, as well as, having in mind that one has a consciousness that is independent of these factors. This is what Sartre refers to as facticity (Sartre, 2007, p. 10). However, in as much as people are responsible for their own consciousness, the consciousness of the self is not the same as consciousness itself. The paradox lies in the fact that people are responsible for their consciousness and self-consciousness even though this objective is almost unattainable due to societal realities.Sartre’s philosophies versus Young’s philosophies on Freedom

In Throwing like a girl, Iris Marion Young argues that by exploring the discordant ways women and men “embody” their bodies, that is, the way they move them, live in them, discern them, sit in them and how they occupy space, people can get valuable insights regarding the way gendered differences manifest in the society to the detriment of the female gender. “Typically, the feminine body underuses its real capacity, both as the potentiality of its physical size and strength and as the real skills and coordination that are available to it” (Young, 1980, p. 146). Nonetheless, it is not just the inadequate physical training that results in women underusing their bodies. Young is of the opinion that the underutilization of the female body is also manifested in the manner in which women sit and occupy space. This is evident in the way men tend to take up more space when sitting and take longer strides when walking while women tend to sit with their legs crossed and hold their arms close to their bodies. This difference in the modes of locomotion and utilization of space exhibited by men and women can be attributed to various factors.

For instance, Young argues that women are conditioned by the sexist society to restrict their use of space or bodily capacity. She gives the example of enclosing and sedentary games played by girls, with the society discouraging them from developing bodily skills in a similar manner to boys. Notwithstanding, Young’s key argument is that women are trained into self-consciousness and fragility due to the objectification they face from the society. As a result, women in modern society face incessant tension and contradiction between their existence and subjectivity as objects for people to look at, passive bodily objects and sexual objects. In this regard, just like Sartre, Young draws from philosophical concepts of being-in-itself (immanence) and being-for-itself (transcendence) discussed by Simone de Beauvoir. In other words, the way women throw a ball can be linked to and explained by the tension between immanence and transcendence, as well as, “subjectivity and being a mere object” (Young, 1980, p. 141).Sartre’s philosophies versus Young’s philosophies on Freedom

It is imperative to note that apart from the threat of objectification faced by women, they also live with the threat of invasion of their body space, with the most extreme form being the threat of rape. According to Young (1980, p. 154), women are daily subjects of bodily invasion in many subtle ways. Young gives the example of women being touched in ways and in certain circumstances that are otherwise not acceptable for men to be touched and by individuals, that is, men whom it is not acceptable for them to touch. It is because of such constant threats of objectification and invasion of personal space and body that women have resorted to occupying enclosed space in an attempt to protect themselves from such invasion. Young describes the enclosed space as a modality of feminine spatiality which they utilize in part as a defense against invasion. The point that Young drives across is that the female gender is in constant conflict between its immanence and transcendence attributes, that is, becoming cognizant of their own existence through their own lens or only when they see themselves as being perceived by other people due to societal realities that objectify women rather than let them enjoy the freedom of expression. Thus, in as much as both men and women have freedom, the freedom of the latter to form their own identities and develop their self has been restricted by societal realities that hinder them from fully exploiting that freedom so as to lead the lives they want and be the people they want to be.

Both Sartre and Young recognize the existence of freedom. In as much as they differ to some point regarding the exercise of this freedom to develop the self or formulate independent identities, none of the authors deny the existence of freedom. Sartre and Young also acknowledge the existence of social objectification that hinders people from enjoying complete freedom. Both authors draw from the philosophical concepts of being-in-itself (immanence) and being-for-itself (transcendence) discussed by Simone de Beauvoir in order to explain the conflict and tension that exists between people forging their identities and developing their “self” based on personal ambitions and beliefs or conforming to the norms, beliefs and perceptions of the society that influence the trajectory of their lives.  As a result, Sartre thought and wrote about systems of social objectification such as racism, colonialism and sexism that make certain individuals to be viewed as objects and definable “being-in-itself” rather than free people, that is, “being-for-itself” who possess their own conscious and indefinable state of being. Young shares the same opinion when she talks about the training of women into self-consciousness and fragility due to the objectification they face from the society. The only difference in the philosophies between the two authors lies in the fact that Sartre refuses to believe that people can allow themselves to conform to the norms of the society and fail to exercise their freedom and instead succumb to social objectification when determining the trajectory of their lives while Young explains how such societal realities can restrict one’s freedom and make them not to live to their full potential. It is for this reason that Sartre’s philosophies about freedom may appear motivational rather than practical as is the case for Young’s philosophies. Otherwise, the philosophies of the authors complement rather than contradict each other.Sartre’s philosophies versus Young’s philosophies on Freedom














Works Cited

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism Is A Humanism. Yale University Press, 2007.

Young, Iris Marion. “Throwing Like A Girl: A Phenomenology Of Feminine Body Comportment Motility And Spatiality”. Human Studies, vol 3, no. 1, 1980, pp. 137-156. Springer Nature, doi:10.1007/bf02331805.