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A Useless Passion, Condemned to be Free – Sartre’s Definition of Man

Jean Paul Sartre has said a lot. So much so that I do not know if I will ever be able to read him enough. However, in bits and piees every now and then, his words have enough power to attract you, defying gravity. Under those laws of attraction, there are two sentenes of his whih have stuck to me and I have had a tough time figuring out their meaning for myself. This post is an attempt to share those two of his most qouted statements and my perception of them.

The first one is “Man is condemned to be free“. Reading without context, these words are open to a thousand interpretations. I have never read it in the exat ontext as Sartre used it. However, in light of Sartre’s philosophy in general, I have come to understand it as this – It is human nature that man desires transcendence. Transendence, even if not rejected as a fiction, is not an achievable goal in this form of human existene. That’s why he is condemned to immanence. However, within immanent reality (meaning to remain within the boundaries of possible experience), man has endless possibilities, unlimited choices – complete freedom. Combining the two – Man is condemned to be free.

The second one is “Man is a useless passion“. This is a phrase that Sartre uses in a very difficult passage in Being and Nothingness (which I have not yet been able to read completely). This also emanates from man’s passion with transcendental goals and the impossibility of the fulfillment of that passion. To conclude, in Sartre’s own words:

It is as if the world, man, and man-in-the-world express an abortive attempt to become God. It is as if the in-itself and the for-itself reveal themselves in a state of disintegration with respect to an ideal synthesis. Not that the integration has ever taken place, but precisely on the contrary because it is permanently suggested and permanently impossible. … the idea of God is contradictory and we lose ourselves in vain: man is a useless passion.