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503).1The question hence arises: How free are we from situations, particularly ones in which we are subject to collective identification?More exactly, how free are we from the situations—places, environments, histories, others—that we inevitably belong to, and which subject us to collective identities?This alternative, so I contend, puts the discussion of freedom on another plane—at least within the framework of phenomenology.“Much more than he appears to ‘make himself’ man seems ‘to be made’ by climate and the earth, race and class, language, the history of collectivity of which he is a part, heredity, the individual circumstances of his childhood, acquired habits, the great and small events of his life.”Sartre rejects both classical responses to the common-sense view—libertarianism and determinism.
In an attempt to address these questions, I offer as alternative to Sartre’s concept of the “facticity of freedom” what I would like to call the “freedom of facticity”.“The most decisive argument which is employed by common sense against freedom consists in reminding us of our powerlessness.
Far from being able to modify our situation at our whim, we seem to be unable to change ourselves.
How free are we to change the situations—places, environments, histories, others—that we inevitably belong to and which subject us to collective identities?
How free are we from identification in terms of others? These questions are of particular relevance given the harmful effects of collective ascriptions and the currently pressing demand to transform them.
Labels or badges, so Appiah points out, collectively shape the way people conceive of themselves and their projects (Appiah 2003, pp. Quoting Hacking (1992), Appiah shows how “…numerous kinds of human beings and human acts come into being hand in hand with our invention of the categories labelling them”.4 Labelling has the harmful effect of imposing a set of committed criteria, which perpetuate a prejudiced ascription of collective identity, and involuntarily shape people’s actions, plans, projects and lives altogether (Appiah 2003, pp. Indeed, as Sartre put it, such collective identification has the effect of defining me in my “being-for-others”—I am put in a situation in which I become the Other-as-object; I become something I have not chosen to be (BN p.
545).5 Sartre offers one of the most radical and challenging but also most sophisticated classical philosophical notions of freedom and its primacy over and above the facticity of situations.6 This pertains particularly to situations of collective identification.
What belongs to being conscious is to be free to turn what is given as mere thing, as non-conscious being, or what Sartre calls, “being-in-itself” ()—into what this being means to oneself as subject (BN p. Sartre follows Husserl’s phenomenological view of consciousness as being structurally intentional, as being about and directed to things that are not itself.
To be a subject means that, prior to any reflection or thetic decision, one is conscious of things, free to turn whatever thing one is conscious of into what this thing is not in-itself, thus into an object of consciousness (BN p. Sartre argues that consciousness is thus directed toward a thing in a way free to “nihilate” it, to make out of it a thing “for” consciousness, which is in effect “nothing”.
Sartre’s view of freedom has elicited a host of responses inside and outside philosophical literature, particularly within the framework of postcolonial discussions on ethics and politics, including contemporary scholars such as Taylor (1994), Appiah (2003), Alcoff (2006), Bernasconi (2007) and Gordon (1997, 2015), among others.
Less attention has been paid to Sartre’s phenomenological approach to freedom, and, actually, his key respondent still remains his own contemporary, Maurice Merleau-Ponty.7 My focus is on the phenomenological analysis of Sartre’s view of freedom.