Chapter 6. The Other
6. The Other
In the final section of this work comes perhaps the most important part of it, the notion of the Other. In “Being and Nothingness”, Sartre suggests that there are two types of being. There is the unconscious in-itself and the conscious for-itself. In the third section of his book however, he suggests that there is another, which he calls For-Others.
In Sartre’s concept of Freedom, it is claimed that the for-itself is free. It is also claimed that the for-itself desires to be more than it is. In “Being and Nothingness”, Sartre claims that for-itself desires to become an in-itself-for-itself, a complete being, a God (SARTRE, JP. 2002. P566). As a result of the other, the for-itself is given not just the opportunity to become an object, an in-itself, but it is also given an outside influence that affects its identity and choices.
In “Being and Nothingness”, Sartre talks of performing an offensive gesture. This gesture has no affect on him; it is simply an action he has performed. After doing this action however, upon raising his head, Sartre is aware of someone watching. Instantly a sense of shame overcomes him. He does not feel shame because of the action itself, but more he is “ashamed of myself as I appear to the Other” (SARTRE, JP. 2002. P222). The appearance of another being has in effect turned Sartre into an object. He is being perceived by another for-itself and he is being perceived not as a for-itself, but as an in-itself.
In the world of politics, when a member of the British parliament performs a function on television, countless people are watching him and he is aware of this. This M.P. stands up in the House of Commons, and he performs. He portrays himself as being loyal and trusting and worthy of your vote. In his own time away from other people, he could do whatever he likes, but in the front of other people, he puts on an act.
At the same time as putting on a performance for another for-itself, we learn about ourselves through this. Assuming the politician views himself as an honest man, to prove this it is required that other people view him that way. Without the input of other people into who we are, our personal identity remains limited. The level of how we might be considered attractive can be measured on a form of social scale; the way we dress is the same. Ultimately, without other people it is very difficult to be fully aware of oneself.
When two people are communicating, Sartre feels that the two are in conflict. When others view us, we are automatically made into an in-itself. According to Sartre in every relationship there is an element of a master and a slave. When the politician is talking to one of his voters, he performs an act; he becomes an in-itself and in effect becomes a slave. In contrast to this, the voter has all the power. The voter has the power to remove the politician from office, and he can dominate the conversation and fast becomes the master. At this same moment however, whilst to the voter he is the master, the politician might look at the voter as someone who relies upon him. At this point it is the politician who becomes the for-itself and the master.
This conflict of for-itself is reflected perhaps at it’s best in the notion of love. When one for-itself categorises another, they limit the freedoms of the other and turn them into an in-itself. In love, Sartre showed where this conflict “is fierce and hopeless” (WARNOCK, M. 1970. P117). In love, it is the positioning of labels that defines us and presents us with our freedom. By being classified as someone’s lover, we are simultaneously turned into an in-itself whilst remaining a for-itself in that we are in control of the situation. In our love we find ourselves at war with our own choices. We are faced with the possibility of submitting fully to being an in-itself (a masochist) or fighting our fight and dominating our lover (a sadist). Whilst the second of the two options appears infinitely more appealing, by controlling our lover fully, we turn them into an object and as such alienate their love for us. In effect, by turning our lover into an object, we are destroying their love for us and we are once again alone. As Warnock states, “the lovers embark upon a hopeless struggle, each wanting wholly to limit the freedom of the other and yet to be loved by someone who is still free” (WARNOCK, M. 1970. P118).
The reasoning behind the idea of limiting another’s freedom is based upon the human obsession with predictability. When the politician sits on his bench in Parliament, he doesn’t expect the bench to miraculously change shape or to move, he will expect it to predictably remain how it is. In the case of the Other however, this predictability has disappeared. When the politician knocks on the door of the voter, he has no idea whether the voter will listen attentively or will shut the door on him. Not just the politician feels this lack of predictability however, but also so does the voter. When the voter answers the door, if he is going to listen, he is unsure whether the politician will talk about European policy or crime, or any other topic for that matter. As a result of this unpredictability both the politician and the voter desire to be able to control the other. They wish to be able to predict each other’s movements and to turn the other one into an object. Ultimately when two for-itselves meet, the only way they can communicate without conflict is by one being revealed to the other “both as subject and as object … which is in principle impossible” (CRANSTON, M. 1962. Sartre. P61).
In an attempt to escape the other therefore and remain a for-itself, we are presented with one basic option. The for-itself can only escape the other by not being aware of its presence. If a for-itself was to live on a deserted island there would be no other for-itselves to witness it, or even more simply, by watching a movie on television and thus being so absorbed by the screen that it is unaware of the other for-itself which has entered the room.
When considering this notion of being controlled by other for-itselves, Sartre talks about their influence upon us. Where he goes wrong however is that he fails to fully consider just how much the other affects our choices. In the fundamental project that was mentioned earlier, it was pointed out that each person possesses an original choice. This choice, whilst limiting in our later choices, was designed by Sartre to explain how it was that particular aspects of our lives could affect us without appearing to be our choice. By challenging this original choice, it was apparent that we would be destroying our entire view on life. What Sartre failed to mention though was how much the Other influenced this original project. In making our original choice, we are going to be heavily influenced by perhaps the two most important for-itselves of our lives, in other words, our parents. By choosing our names, our parents are instantaneously labelling us as a person and as an object. In the way they act around us as we grow up, they influence all our decisions and in effect make us who we are. Added to this the impact our friends, other family members, and other acquaintances have upon us, and other for-itselves play a crucial part in developing as whom we are.
Sartre realised this to a degree in later years as he developed more in favour of Marxism. According to Sartre, in every age there is a dominant philosophy and countless ideologies that develop under its wing. According to Sartre, Marxism was the philosophy of the twentieth century and “existentialism is an ideology conceived within its framework. The Existentialist view of the world may… have some contributions to make to philosophy, but only in so far as it succeeds in illuminating some aspect of Marxist theory (WARNOCK, M. 1970. P127). Sartre slowly developed the notion that whilst the individual possessed some freedoms, it was as a social grouping where change was most likely. In effect, it is through our involvement with the Other that we experience ultimate freedom. Whilst in some respect we possess some element of choice in our lives, buying a particular type of beer from an Off-license for example, it is through our involvement with other for-itselves in our society where the greater changes come about. The politician from before is allowed to make his minor choices, but without the voting power of the voter and his friends, the politician will not be able to help to change the social grouping of Great Britain for the better.
In our challenge against other for-itselves, we seek to limit their unpredictability and regain control. Throughout our lives however, so many for-itselves influence us, both in our first original choice and in all other choices after it, that ultimately our freedom is dependent upon the Other considerably more than Sartre will give it credit for.