Source: Philosophy: A Complete Introduction (2012) by Prof. Sharon Kaye MA PhD (in Philosophy, U. Toronto)

[ p 198: ] Despite its enthusiastic celebration of human freedom, there is a dark side to existentialism. Sartre memorably quipped that we are 'condemned to be free'. While freedom is intoxicating, it also produces the overwhelming sense of responsibility that Sartre calls nausea. You cannot blame anyone else for what you become. And, as it turns out, it's not at all easy to become something good.

[p 201:] 9. Which of the following could be an expression of nausea?
a. I did this   b. I want to do this   c. I hope this will happen   d. What happened?

The answer key on p 220 states the answer as (a), but I do not understand why (b) is incorrect?

I accept that one can feel overwhelming responsibility for a past action. But you can also feel this for a desire (especially if it is a lower-quality pleasure) that you wish to effect.

  • 1
    Wanting to do something does not exert any responsibility as said action has not yet occurred. 'I did this' however shows that an action has occurred and onus (responsibility or 'nausea') is thus applicable. Mar 25 '16 at 9:09

This relates to the irrevocable nature of the act. Once one acts, I cannot take it back--what's done is done. My actions gain a kind of force of the actual beyond the reach of reversible possibilities. We do not experience temporal reversibility. Past responsibilities are irreversible and, like a kick in the gut, you are likely to stew over the embarrassing or missed opportunities. It can eat at you and really make you "nauseous." This kind of fate and dread can be horrifying and exhaustive of one's freedom. In the case of "I want to do this," my need to make myself is still in place because my act is still within the mode of the non-actual or possible relations. We are condemned to be free because of the possible or non-determinate essence as existence.

If you connect this to Sartre's classic line "hell is other people," you will recall this is because they have a "tiny" or "distorted" image of you similar to the reflection produced of ourselves in the eyes of others. They render you with the impoverishment of possibilities and this narrows the esteem you are due. You are not granted your space or wiggle-room to be you, as you! Sartre was well aware that one of the common features of human nature is the need to have another ace up the sleeve, which comes with risk and insecurity, but it also offers the freedom of a wider world of auto-genesis.

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