Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Butchering of Jean-Paul Sartre


I was browsing the articles at Christian Cadre, and saw the latest from Joe Hinman, which purports to answer the objection that atheists sometimes raise to the Teleological Argument for God: if the complexity of the universe requires an intelligent and purposeful creator, then why shouldn't God?  And who is that creator?  His answer is the usual theistic pablum: God is love, and that explains everything.  Well, it really doesn't, but this is the kind of meaningless starry-eyed theistic drivel we have come to expect from people like Hinman.  I was about to move on to other articles that might prove to be more worthy of my time, but then I came to the end of Hinman's piece, where he wraps up by quoting from the SEP on Jean-Paul Sartre to drive his point home.  Hinman was using Sartre's ontological duality of in-itself/for-itself as an example of the difference between things that exist apart from God, and God's loving and purposeful act of creation.  What?  That can't be what Sartre meant, can it?

Here's the passage that Joe quoted:
Being-in-itself and being-for-itself have mutually exclusive characteristics and yet we (human reality) are entities that combine both, which is the ontological root of our ambiguity. The in-itself is solid, self-identical, passive and inert. It simply “is.” The for-itself is fluid, nonself-identical, and dynamic. It is the internal negation or “nihilation” of the in-itself, on which it depends. Viewed more concretely, this duality is cast as “facticity” and “transcendence.” The “givens” of our situation such as our language, our environment, our previous choices and our very selves in their function as in-itself constitute our facticity. As conscious individuals, we transcend (surpass) this facticity in what constitutes our “situation.” In other words, we are always beings “in situation,” but the precise mixture of transcendence and facticity that forms any situation remains indeterminable, at least while we are engaged in it. Hence Sartre concludes that we are always “more” than our situation and that this is the ontological foundation of our freedom. We are “condemned” to be free, in his hyperbolic phrase.
Of course it doesn't mean what Joe thinks.  I'm not sure he is aware of it, but Sartre was an atheist.  As I understand it, he believed that we make our own meaning in life, not that our purpose derives from God.  But it's easy enough to find some basic information about what Sartre is saying.  First, the SEP article explains that the distinction between in-itself and for-itself is "roughly the nonconscious and consciousness respectively".  This is not dualism in a Cartesian sense, but it draws a distinction between the former - that which just "is" as static and passive (as a rock or a table), and the latter - that which is dynamic and self-driven (as a conscious person). 

In this article, Rob Harle provides an explanation of what Sartre means by the statement "Man is condemned to be free", along with further discussion of his ontology.  Basically, the essence of something in-itself is externally determined (and this would apply to man as created by God, with his purpose and meaning provided by God), while the essence of something for-itself is to be self-determined.  Being "condemned to be free" means that man is responsible for creating his own meaning.  This is in opposition to the notion of meaning being derived from God.  In fact, in Sartre's view, it is a consequence of the non-existence of God.  If there is a God, man is not free to define himself.  It is because there is no God that man is responsible for creating his own meaning.  That's the way I read it.

So what Sartre was actually saying stands in stark contrast to the interpretation that Hinman makes of it.  He seems to think that God exemplifies being for-itself.
That in itself is the tie breaker, the universe by itself apart from God is merely being-in-itself, God is being-for-itself. That entails purpose which is creative love. The eternal necessary foundation of all being has a volition and a purpose which to create beings to love. Thus God and a hypothetical accidental universe are on different ontological levels.
But Sartre's ontology  wasn't about God at all.  It was about things that exist in our world.  He was talking about the self-determination of man, and the meaning and purpose that we create for ourselves.  Oops.  Epic blunder.

I had to ask myself why Joe would have chosen to quote this SEP passage instead of something from a fellow theist that would probably have made his point more effectively.  Then, I realized that his quotation contains the words "transcendence" and "being".  As in being for-itself transcends being in-itself.  That's not the same thing as the "transcendental being" that Joe thinks God is.  But if you're doing an internet search based on certain keywords, looking for quotes you can use in your article, you might come up with something like this.  And without bothering to read more and understand what your quote actually means, you might decide that this looks like something you can use.  And I think that's exactly what happened here.

This kind of scholarship is typical of Hinman.  I have seen before that he has a tendency to find quotations from scientists that appear to support his point, but he really doesn't understand what they're saying.  And then when someone (like myself) points out that he is wrong, he starts spouting about how he is right, because he has the quote right there to prove it.  And after all, he's a real scholar (in a PhD program, no less), so no stupid atheist can challenge what he says.  Facts be damned.

Joe strikes me as being similar to Donald Trump, who said that he doesn't want to hear daily intelligence briefings because he's a smart guy, and he can figure things out on his own.  He doesn't need that same old crap day after day.  Right.  There's a smart guy for you.  And Joe, if you're reading this, I think you're just as smart as he is.
There are some so full of pride that they cannot suffer anyone to say what they really are. They want to be preferred to everyone, and they esteem themselves more learned and erudite than any other, and it seems to them they never need a teacher.  Actually, such people are usually extremely ignorant, but no one dares tell them that, for they suppose themselves to be veritable marvels. - St. Francis de Sales  [h/t Bob Prokop]

13 comments:

  1. Truth be told, I have never been able to read and understand Sarte. I always have to read some commentator who relates what Sarte means to get anything like a handle on his points. Even knowing what he is intending, I still find his words incomprehensible. "Existential Angst" or "nausea" as used by Sarte just don't match up with anything I experience.

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    1. I haven't read his works myself. On the other hand, there are references that explain what he's talking about, and it's possible to have at least a minimal understanding of his philosophy on that basis. The SEP article is not particularly easy to understand, either. That's why it might be useful to check another source if you want to write something about what Sartre is saying.

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    2. Hinman's rendition is little more than word salad. If this is an example of the level of erudition illustrative of his PhD candidacy I suspect he will remain a PhD candidate in perpetuity because there is nothing to date that I have read indicative of a successful completion. Then I hear that PhDs conferred at many if not most religious institutions in the US are not worth the paper they are printed on.

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    3. Joe has been conspicuously silent on this. And I specifically pointed it out to him.

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    4. Pampillion is such a punctilious mucilaginous puffer,I he shall ever indulge himself in buffoonery. It makes me sound so brilliantly brilliant to say things in haughty air especially when I'm not saying anything.

      O I say old bean where did you do your ph,D work>

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  2. I am biased against the likes of Sartre. Having taken an Existentialism class, and specifically focusing on Sartre's Being and Nothingness, I would say any person relying on Sartre in any way is probably not advancing an argument worth considering. Sartre and his ilk advocated gibberish, and they were simply not very intelligent. Many undergraduate students in philosophy probably think Sartre and other Existentialists were paid by the word and specifically asked to mask dumb views with word salad. Sartre and anyone like him ought to be considered no different than Deepak Chopra.

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    1. I can't disagree with you on that. I don't buy the ontology of in-itself/for-itself either. But as with theistic arguments, we should at least understand something about what they mean before using them to advance our own position in some way, as Hinman has done.

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    3. what I expect from the analytic side, it's a shame because you are just putting mind in a straight jacket, not that I think so much of Sartre now although a friend recently convinced me that Being and nothingness is a lot better book than being and time.

      50 years from now the climate of opinion will be laughing at the stupidity of this age and the little illusion of technique the abandonment of reason.

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  3. You are so fucking stupid, you can't even read. Ordinarily pliant philosophizing leads you to conclusions that are totally off the bloody wall.

    I've studies Sartre since 1975. He was a mainstay of my atheism in those days. Noway I would ever confuses him with belief in God, Thinking that I suggest he believed in God merely because I use his categories of being just beyond stupid,Trump like!

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  4. Joe strikes me as being similar to Donald Trump, who said that he doesn't want to hear daily intelligence briefings because he's a smart guy, and he can figure things out on his own. He doesn't need that same old crap day after day. Right. There's a smart guy for you. And Joe, if you're reading this, I think you're just as smart as he is.

    I have 0 respect for you

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    1. don't ever come back to my blog or the CADRE blog

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    2. None of this changes the point of my critique. You think that without God there is only being "in itself". But Sartre says that man is an example of being "for itself" precisely because there is no God. I really don't think you understand him at all.

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