So, Dev’s post on the “scarier implications” of existentialism suggests that ultimate freedom undermines the value of meaningful relationships. I, too, have apprehensions that stem from this notion of absolute freedom, however my fears take on a different form. In Existentialism Is a Humanism, Sartre states that values are not so serious because you are given the freedom to choose them for yourself. He argues that your values should be reflected in your actions, and should ultimately aim to make yourself happy. Period.
Although I am obviously in favor of happiness and enjoying life, choosing values on the basis of benefiting yourself seems like a selfish aspect of existentialism. Shouldn’t everyone have some set of morals to keep from acting completely out of line? What about caring for others and not just yourself…and the golden rule? I feel like existentialism focuses too much on the satisfaction of the individual, and because everyone cannot be happy all the time, focusing on the greater happiness for the greater good may be more beneficial.
Sartre illustrates this principle of using freedom to attain happiness, even if it hurts others in the process, through his Maggie Tulliver example. Maggie is in love with Stephen, who is engaged to another woman. Maggie forfeits her own happiness and decides not to intervene, letting Stephen and the other woman follow through on their plans to get married. However, Sartre mentions Maggie’s alternative option, to disregard Stephen’s fiancée and pursue a relationship with him to make herself happy, and claims that this is an equivalent choice to the one she actually makes. The only thing that matters to Sartre is that she made a choice (home wrecker or not).
Again, I understand that happiness is the aim of life, but I just can’t get on board with something that denies any sense of morality altogether. If everyone was operating to benefit themselves, the world would be a chaotic and mistrustful place.
Ultimately, I like that existentialism gives individuals the freedom to decide their own fate, but considering the flaws of the human condition, I find this freedom simultaneously scary.