The existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and social networks

0


Through David K. Johnson, Ph.D., the college king

Something that has bothered existentialist philosophers – a concern first expressed by Jean-Paul Sartre and which has been exemplified and amplified by the ubiquitous use of social media – centers on something Sartre called ‘the gaze’ . Indeed, in Sartre’s play No Exit, Garcin’s reply, “Hell is the others”, is an argument for that.

Existentialist philosophers are concerned with the nature of the human condition. (Image: BanWombat / Shutterstock)

Existentialist philosopher? I do not know what it is

To understand what this means, it is important to understand Jean-Paul Sartre a little. Sartre dominated French philosophy between the 1940s and the 1960s, and he is considered by most to be the central figure of existentialist philosophy.

It is important to say “most” because Sartre himself once exclaimed: “Existentialism? I do not know what it is. Indeed, trying to put all the philosophers who are usually identified as existentialists – like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus – all into one category broadens things up a bit.

In general, however, existentialists are concerned with the nature of the human condition – things like anxiety over death, the meaning or absurdity of life, and the extent and nature of freedom.

And what they say about these things can be notoriously difficult to explain. Indeed, unlike analytical philosophers, who specifically aim to present logically precise and clear arguments, existentialists often make their case in lengthy lectures with undefined terms, or even by telling stories or writing plays.

This is a transcript of the video series Sci-Phi: science fiction as philosophy. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

The objectifying “gaze”

To illustrate “the gaze”, Sartre asks someone to imagine themselves peering jealously through a keyhole to find out what is going on in the next room. They focus on who is in the other room, rather oblivious to themselves and their own actions. The people in the other room are the objects of their perception.

But the moment they hear footsteps behind them and realize that someone is watching them, their perception changes. They are suddenly aware of themselves as the object of someone else’s perception and are now preoccupied with how “the other” sees them, possibly as a voyeur or a voyeur. In this way, Sartre argues, other’s “gaze” focuses someone, even changing the way they see themselves.

Perhaps smokers know the “look” best. There is a look that a person has outside an office building as people pass by when they are smoking. The person is seen not only as someone who smokes, but as “a smoker”. Not as a father, or mother, or a humanitarian, just a dirty, filthy smoker. And the person is directly aware of this dehumanizing objectification.

Of course, the person can deny their assessment, but Sartre is saying, in a way, that they cannot. In what he calls their “facticity”, they are smokers; it is a fact about them that they smoke. But they can also transcend that; they are not just a smoker, but a father or a mother, a musician, a humanitarian. But “the gaze” of “the other” threatens to lock them up in this box and reduce them to an object.

Learn more about Starship Troopers, Doctor Who, and just war.

The “appearance” of social media

Tomb of Sartre in Paris.
Sartre believed that almost all relationships are a showdown of people objecting to each other. (Image: henry14lb / Shutterstock)

Of course, “gazing” can happen anywhere: at work, at home, in relationships, during sex. And, especially nowadays, someone doesn’t even have to be physically with others to feel the gaze.

And this is where social media comes in, because you could say that Facebook and Twitter exist only to facilitate someone’s attempts to “watch” and be watched by others.

People try to make others look at them the way they want to be looked at, to define how others objectify them. That’s why they post smart comments, share certain memes, and criticize particular views.

And people want to shape others as they see them. For Sartre, that’s what almost all relationships are: a constant back and forth of people trying to objectify themselves. It does not interfere with anyone’s freedom; people are not bound or forced to be who others think they are.

Learn more about good against evil in Star wars.

Hell is other people

Sign that says: NO EXIT — SARTRE One Act.
In Sartre’s play No Exit, the three characters realize that their torture is to be locked in a room with each other for eternity. (Image: Noel V. Baebler / Shutterstock)

Sartre believed that people have radical freedom, literally the ability to do or be whatever they want. But this constant struggle for someone to be themselves, not to succumb to the expectations of others and to do what they expect of others, is a miserable process of dehumanization. This is why “Hell is other people”.

Sartre illustrated it in his play No Exit, in which three people find themselves locked in a living room in Hell, awaiting the arrival of their executioner. As the play unfolds, we learn what each of them did to deserve hell.

One abused his wife, another seduced a friend’s wife, and another murdered his own daughter. But they slowly realize that there is no torturer. Their torture is to be locked in a room with each other for eternity. And it is torture because of the “objectifying glances” that each gives to the other.

Garcin, for example, who did not fight in the war, considers himself a pacifist in principle, but Inez only sees him as a coward. As one of only two people he’ll ever see again, Garcin needs his approval so badly; he swears to devote an eternity to convincing her otherwise.

And, of course, the implication is that the condition of these three poor souls in hell is essentially the same condition that everyone finds themselves in, here in the real world: people are surrounded by others, “watching” them. , trying to get their approval.

Common questions about existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and social media

Q: What do existentialist philosophers have in common?

In fgeneral, existentialist philosophers are concerned with the nature of the human condition – things like anxiety over death, the meaning or absurdity of life, and the extent and nature of freedom.

Q: What is Sartre doing?

Sartre argues that other’s “gaze” makes someone objective, even changing the way they see themselves. However, do not think that this hinders anyone’s freedom – people are not bound or forced to be who others think they are.

Q: What did Sartre mean in his play No Exit by the line: “Hell is other people”?

Sartre believed that the constant struggle for someone to be themselves, not to succumb to the expectations of others and to do what they expect of others, is a miserable dehumanization process. That is why “Hell is other people”. For the three characters in the play, their torture is to be locked in a room with each other for eternity.

Keep reading
Alternative Universes and Paradoxes of Time Travel in Science Fiction
How to go back in time and kill your grandfather without provoking a paradox
The philosophical complications of time travel and how to resolve them


Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.