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A Comparison of Sartre and De Beauvoir's Ethics

Autor:   •  May 6, 2014  •  Essay  •  2,311 Words (10 Pages)  •  514 Views

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One of the primary concerns of philosophical thought is that of ethics. Namely, why should human beings behave in a particular way and not another, and under what circumstances do these "should" claims apply? However, less attention is given to why humans should act ethically in the first place. In this essay I aim to explore why humans seem to have such a responsibility to act ethically as an intrinsic part of their being, yet why such ethical considerations should be limited to arising from what is "primoridial" about humans. More specifically, I will explore the idea that this "primordial" starting point, from which "ethics" should arise, is freedom. I will explore these themes through comparing the views given by Jean-Paul Sartre and his contemporary Simone de Beauvoir, two figures who endorse this foundational approach through their respective ideas of freedom. Since any system of ethics, even one that arises from a "primordial" foundation, attempts to guide people as to how they should act, their value must be measured in terms of applicability to situations in which such ethics are needed. Consequently, I will express my reasons for contending that de Beauvoir offers a more coherent system of ethics than Sartre, based on an apparently more accurate account of the nature of human freedom.

Ethics, by its very definition, is concerned with directing one as to how they should act, in relation to other beings. Rather than simply making observations about the world in a "descriptive" sense, ethics is "prescriptive"- what should one do? The necessity of ethics, it could be argued, is an intrinsic part of being, as relating to the Other on some level is unavoidable, and thus we are forced to make such decisions, constantly. As Sartre puts it, "…and from the moment that he [man] is thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does" (KR 71). Whether or not we as human beings are free, the fact remains that "action" and "choice" are intertwined. Even If we are pre-determined, i.e. if some other entity has knowledge of what is going to happen to us before it happens, we still have no option but to make the choice that was pre-determined for us. To omit from acting based on the belief that we are pre-determined is still a choice, thus omitting from acting doesn't escape determinism. Similarly, if we are not determined, acting in a particular way is a choice; just as choosing not to act is a choice, In short, choosing not to choose, is still a choice. The way in which we relate to the Other is similar. Making choices directly related to other humans has an effect, however minor, on that other human. Similarly, avoiding other humans has an effect, however minor, on other humans, regardless of whether or not we intend this omission from interaction with them to have an effect. Thus, if we can't escape choice,


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