Determinism and Existentialism differ on a person's responsibility. In Determinism we don't have free will, but in Existentialism we can't avoid free will. Even when we try to avoid making a choice, isn't this a choice?

So can we say that the statement "I don't have a choice" is itself a form of choice --at least according to Jean Paul Sartre's version of Existentialism, under his notion of bad faith?

  • 3
    Welcome to Philosophy.SE! There are lots of questions here about free-will and determinism: can you make your question more specific about what you're trying to understand? Oct 30, 2015 at 4:24
  • I think the question just seemed unclear because of the language issues. I have edited for clarity (following JohnAm's lead) and nominated for reopening. Oct 30, 2015 at 13:58
  • I voted to re-open. Oct 30, 2015 at 14:26
  • 2
    I'd have to reword your question for this to be an answer, but: It is common English usage to say "I don't have a choice" when what is actually meant is "None of the choices I can make will have an empirically observable effect on the outcome." The contrary argument, leading to "You always have a choice" stems from the argument that, while others may be only looking at things you cannot control, the most important things to "yourself" are always under your control (which, itself leads to some interesting circular patterns in the logic)
    – Cort Ammon
    Oct 30, 2015 at 18:16
  • @CortAmmon From some kind of positivist point of view, that should be what they mean. But in reality, very few people mean that, when they say this. They usually mean that the effect upon them of acting otherwise would be too negative -- that all choices are foreclosed by forces they dare not oppose. The counterargument just means that measure of the effect is subjective and often wrong. Not accepting the bias implicit in overestimating the cost to oneself is the "bad faith".
    – user9166
    Nov 2, 2015 at 20:58

3 Answers 3


Yes, Sartre explicitly says as much. Consider his lecture: Existentialism is a Humanism

In one sense choice is possible, but what is not possible is not to choose. I can always choose, but I must know that if I do not choose, that is still a choice...

Since we have defined the situation of man as one of free choice, without excuse and without help, any man who takes refuge behind the excuse of his passions, or by inventing some deterministic doctrine, is a self-deceiver...

I believe Sartre once said you still have a choice even if someone holds a gun to your head. You can choose freely and die. However, I haven't been able to find a primary source citation for that yet.

  • Thank you.. I'm sorry for my question... I just don't know how to elaborate it...
    – Vanessa
    Oct 31, 2015 at 12:49

Determinism and Existentialism differ on a persons responsibility

I'm not sure that this is right; one should distinguish between actual moral practice, and philosophical or scholarly disputations; Determinism, as you point out, suggests the denial of free-will; but this argument - even if it proves true and is irrefutable - isn't a mitigating plea if you were in a court of law being suspected of some crime or misdemeanour.

In Determinism we don't have free will

It's closer to noting that the motion of physical bodies is determined - and we are, to be reductive, also physical bodies; but Sartre is pointing out that we are not merely and only physical bodies. Thus there is a gap - compatibilists will say that this gap can be bridged; hard 'determinists' might say it can only be bridged by denying free will altogether.

Even when I avoid making a choice, isn't this a choice?

Until you are forced by force of circumstance or by an other to make a choice.

We can't live, in actual fact, many and multiple lives - though we can vicariously - through novels, films and narratives; and life presents us with situations where choices are to be made, paths to be taken and retaken.

To avoid making a choice, is to avoid authenticity; and far from being a choice in a positive sense; sometimes though ones choices are constrained by circumstance, and one is positively choosing to not to choose: to take a petty example, if one is asked what is your favourite colour - the actual form of the question suggests that there can be one; I might suggest that they have a suspect relationship to colour.

So can we say that the statement 'I don't have a choice' a form of choice in Sartres Existentialism?

Sartre wrote 'we are condemned to be free', therefore affirming our will; this I don't think means a man condemned to live in solitary confinement by a court of law has choice on any meaningful way, but that his will is frustrated, brick'd up, block'd.

But his will still remains, in potentia; like the air in his cell which acts pressurefully against the walls of cell - though we don't notice it; and were the walls to fall, the air would rush out and escape.

Or one could endow, this prisoner, as did Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo, a kind of supernatural endurance, persistence and canniness that allowed his prisoner to escape ...


Making the statement, "I don't have a choice," is not a choice.
Making a choice involves taking (or avoid taking) an action! You can make all the statements you want, but they are not choices.

  • Inaction is an action. So is speaking (to someone else). So speaking so as not to be expected to act, is definitely making a choice.
    – user9166
    Nov 2, 2015 at 20:52

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .