Chapter 5. The Original/Fundamental Project
5. The Original/Fundamental Project
If man is indeed born without any sort of essence, then it stands to reason that at some point we will develop those values which we base our lives upon. The desire to reproduce, the desire to survive, all the primary values which might be defined as a form of human nature, these values must appear from somewhere. Sartre referred to this one original choice as a person’s Fundamental (or Original) Project.
In Sartre’s quest for freedom, the Fundamental Project appears to be his way of answering those physical boundaries that seem to limit our choices. Hazel Barnes in her essay “Sartre’s Ontology” in The Cambridge Companion To Sartre describes the Project itself as “the for-itself’s chosen orientation toward being, its way of making itself be, its nonreflective creation and pursuit of values, the process whereby it chooses to make itself” (BARNES, H. 1992. P32). By this she seems to imply that by adding original meaning and value to things in its life, the for-itself creates who it is.
Perhaps the best way of describing the Project itself is through an example. Sartre himself suggests the idea of a backpacking expedition with friends (SARTRE, JP. 1943. P453). During the walk, Sartre suddenly finds himself exhausted and unable to go on. Putting his knapsack on the ground, Sartre gives in to this sense of fatigue and rests. His friends continue on without him and he asks himself why it is that they are able to continue to progress whilst he has been forced to give up. Sartre eventually talks to one of these companions and the friend inform him that whilst he is also fatigued, he “loves his fatigue; he gives himself up to it as to a bath; it appears to him in some way as the privileged instrument for discovering the world which surrounds him, for adapting himself to the rocky roughness of the paths, for discovering the “mountainous” quality of the slopes” (SARTRE, JP. 2002. P455). In effect, by experiencing the same pain to which Sartre has surrendered himself, the friend is experiencing the world on another level. Sartre’s friend in effect experiences pain as a part of a larger picture and if something hurts, then it teaches him something new about the world. By experiencing this pain, Sartre’s friend is obeying his fundamental project of experience.
Every action that we choose, we are basing it on a larger picture. If two friends play together for a Sunday League Rugby Union team, how much they involve themselves in the game will depend upon how much it fits into their wider scheme of life. If one of the friends desires to one day marry and produce offspring and is only in effect playing to remain fit and to have a laugh, then whilst he will place himself in harms way occasionally, he won’t constantly put himself into positions where he is likely to get hurt. Other issues take priority over his performance on the field of play. In contrast however, if his friend is primarily devoted to experiencing the pain of an event, to play well and has no desire to reproduce, then he will gamble more. He might play without a jockstrap because he feels he can move faster without one, he might leap into the incredibly dangerous tackles and risk everything, he will push his body to the limits because the game and the experience it brings is everything to him. It is his desire, his will, and his project.
If every man has an original project, therefore, is there a sort of universal desire by which these separate projects might be linked? According to Sartre, one desire that all men wish is to basically become an in-itself-for-itself, or put another way, to become an ideal being or God. Therefore according to Sartre “man is the being whose project is to be God” (SARTRE, JP. 2002. P566). In effect, by becoming a god, man desires to become a contradictory being, a being by which has the substance of an in-itself and is complete, whilst simultaneously remaining a for-itself and possessing the ability of choice. If God is a non-linear being, then whilst possessing a choice, he is already aware of the outcome and the correct way to choose. God appears to have both choice and no choice at the same time. It is this idea of having a substance and an element of completion and yet remaining an individual with a choice and an identity which every for-itself desires, and which every for-itself may never possess.
If therefore every individual possesses this desire to become an in-itself-for-itself, this explains why it is that particular choices appear to be external. In the case of Sartre’s backpacking expedition, whilst experiencing his fatigue when Sartre’s friend keeps going, the fatigue appears not as a choice but as a force imposed upon him. By imposing the original choice upon itself by making it appear like an external force, the for-itself is turning a part of itself into an object and thus becoming partly an in-itself.
In our attempts to become for-itself-in-itself, the fundamental project allows us to attempt to fulfil this aim by giving us a direction in our life. In reference to the rugby playing friends again, it could be suggested that by desiring children, it is the case that when one of the friends dies and becomes an in-itself, an object, his decisions will be passed onto his children and in effect he is achieving part of this desire to become a for-itself-in-itself by remaining immortal in memory. In contrast with this player, his friend is keener to be remembered by his friends as an amazing player who placed himself into dangerous situations in an attempt to understand the world. In both men’s cases, through the involvement of the other, his desire to become an in-itself-for-itself takes a step closer to reality. Sartre refers to the persona we place upon ourselves in front of others as being for-others, and it is worth discussing later on.
The Fundamental, or Original, Project is one of Sartre’s biggest problems in regard to his work on freedom. If what Sartre put forward is true and the for-itself attempts to become a god by fulfilling this original project (SARTRE, JP. 2002. P566), then at what point does our project begin to exist, what influences our choice, and if it cannot be changed without in effect changing our entire life view, then can freedom technically exist?
When considering the Rugby playing friends, their projects are inherently different. If we possess in our lives this project which our lives abide by and which influences all our decisions, then aside from our freedom being limited, this project’s entire existence must have been influenced at an early stage. Basically, if the family orientated rugby player from earlier had grown up in an environment where his parents were the most important thing in his life, he’d be inclined on their input to try to copy their lifestyle. In contrast, his experience driven friend might have experienced a more negative view of parenting with a father who was nasty to him. Whatever happened to these men in their childhood is likely to affect their decision to raise children of their own. In the same respect, if one of the men feels an overwhelming urge to have a greater income and never be short of money, it could be down to the economic effects on his family as a child, or it could be down to what his parents generally told him. The point to be made here is that whilst Sartre points towards the fact that we are in possession of this project which influences our decisions and which makes us experience life a particular way, this project’s primary mission, on route to becoming God obviously, is going to be based on countless social conditions which the person experienced as a child. This suggests that whilst we might be free in our choices, as long as they run along with the project, these choices are originally going to have been affected by our facticity and by our history.
The Fundamental Project, irrelevant of where it came from and who influenced it’s creation, is also faced with the problem that it contravenes our freedoms. As Neil Levy states in his book “Sartre”, the for-itself cannot choose an option which counter-acts it’s project because if we were to choose an option outside of the project we would be “at the same time modifying my entire project” (LEVY, N. 2002. P103). If a person’s project imprints upon them a pain barrier for the reason of denying them harm, then by breaking that barrier, that person is cancelling out his entire project since he will then be able to experience life completely differently. If our rugby playing father-to-be for example was to one day decide, despite it being handily sat next to him, to not wear a jockstrap, he would be opening himself up to the risk that his project would be changed through outside interference. In effect, the project denies us certain choices in an attempt to protect our goal. Basically, “our life is already made [and]…. [Its] development is nothing but a pale repetition of the primordial choice” (DREYFUS, HL. & HOFFMAN, P. 1981. Sartre’s Changed Conception Of Consciousness: From Lucidity To Opacity. In. SCHILPP, PA. The Philosophy Of Jean-Paul Sartre. P237).
If, as appears to be the case, the Fundamental Project is in fact incapable of allowing ground for movement, then there must be an alternative way in which Sartre’s freedom can be restored. One way of doing this is perhaps to suggest that the fundamental project does control elements of our lives, but at the same time, different elements can be changed. This would allow a middle ground as it were to be formed in which our fundamental choices can be changed in favour of an alternative, but particular effects that appear as physical would remain the same.
In the works of Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900 – Present), Gadamer talks of an idea of historicity. According to Gadamer, during our lifetimes, we slowly change in our views as we experience new events. So in the case of our rugby playing friends for example, the man who does not want children might fall in love with a girl who convinces him that they are a good idea. In this respect, his fundamental project would change slightly since he would no longer take risks on the rugby field because he would be attempting to conceive. His way of thinking, his horizon, will have changed and part of his project will be changed, albeit the physical aspects of pain would remain the same.
Another suggestion for the alteration of the Fundamental Project as well is that rather than man’s freedom and choice being based on the project; it is replaced by a social structure or system. The reasoning is that, as Sartre changed his way of thinking to towards the end of his life, by creating a sort of social grouping, a man’s choices become free within the confines of a society. We are “born into a world that is already conferred with meaning, in which hodological paths have been carved out, in which certain enterprises count as meaningful and others as trivial, all independently of our choices” (LEVY, N. 2002. P113-114). This Marxist style view, adopted by Sartre later in life allowed for flexibility in our every day life, but simultaneously limited our choices in terms of the physical and the social sides. In the example of our rugby playing two friends, it would allow for their changes in heart depending upon feeling, but it would simultaneously not allow them to live outside the framework of their society and thus limit their options.
In the notion of the Fundamental Project, Sartre created an explanation for all those aspects of our lives that appear to limit our choices. He suggested that all those pains that limit the individual, the fatigue of his backpacking expedition for example, could be put down to our very first choice in our lives. Ultimately though, by suggesting this, Sartre not only considered where this choice would originally come from, but he also managed to limit the human freedom to an almost non-entity. Later in his life he changed his views to a more social standpoint, and this suggestion of a social framework and the role of the other, is perhaps the best analysis of human freedom.