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Part A: Gabriel Marcel’s Philosophy on Problem and Mystery Part B: Simone De Beauvoir’s Philosophy on why there is a moral obligation to overcome oppression (our own and that of others) and why is an existentialist ethics an ethics of freedom
Gabriel Marcel is known to be one of the more religious philosophers who was a French Existentialist. He was a committed Catholic Philosopher and he believed that by being connected to others he will be connected to god. He believed that philosophy should be about hope and wanted to portray the more positive aspects of human characteristics through his writings and thoughts. Marcel has a belief that problems and mysteries were two separate ideas where problems exist outside and apart from ourselves and mysteries were unsolved queries that were more internal to one’s self. For example determining what a body is, is a problem and determining what my body is, is a mystery. He believes that we can use primary and secondary reflections in order to seek a solution to the problem or mystery being faced with. Primary reflections use analytical skills to separate the thinker from the problematic object in order to find a resolution. Separating the thinker from the problem is important in order to effectively reflect and create intellectual and moral means to a solution.
Primary reflections use means of abstracting data and using it in order to manipulate the world and deal with the problem that is not always black and white or a right or wrong answer. Primary reflection approaches problems from an objective standpoint where the thinker is separate from the problem while the secondary reflection begins with the experience of existence within the problem and is used with reflection of a mystery. The secondary reflection is open to contemplation by looking at it as a unique presence. The existence within the world is not a problem that needs to be solved because humans and their bodies are intrinsically related to the world and they are in relation to each other, not objects or problems that can be manipulated. Marcel believed that Philosophy is a part of reflecting on a mystery and the mystery requires participation of the person reflecting because it is an experience of presence itself. A mystery involves you as an intrinsical part of the question which is a question of yourself and requires a solution by secondary reflection. A question becomes a mystery when it takes itself into the subject.
Marcel believes that humans are increasingly becoming defined by their problems which cause alienation of themselves from themselves and also causing separation from others. The questions of “being” and humans are mysteries within the Marcel philosophies. When something is recognized as “not being” it cannot be a mystery. As humans we have a need for “being” with “ontological exigence” which consumes “being” upsurges of joy, happiness, hopefulness, expectations and desires. “Being” as a human means existing and experiencing the world and the subjects within it. Having something means exercising power over that thing by possession and rights to those possessions. By having rights over a possession can also enables that person to have the ability of disposal of that subject as well. Having something is different from experiencing that thing, for example having a body is different form experiencing your body because you cannot rid yourself of your body without ceasing to be.
Life is not identical to a person’s “being” because “being” is the whole self which is more than life and it is what a person aspires to be. Humans can only evoke the fullness of “being” by engaging with others and coming together as a community. Marcel promotes the idea of living I-Thou which opens up and enhances a person’s “being” which God being the ultimate Thou. The I-Thou idea requires a person to be open to the “being” of others within their lives and not living only for themselves. Marcel has an interesting stance on the subject of love and how it should be defined. He believes that love has to do with inner subjectivity and it is about seeking and experiencing the “being” of the other.
Love is not about possession or having another person which is commonly thought to be the main definition of what love means. Marcel believes that a self does not love, but it is the self that is constituted by love. When we attach predicates to a thou we limit our love for another and it’s trust and faith which constitutes love in the “being” of the other. I always thought that love had to do with possessing and labeling a person or subject as yours. However, Marcel’s philosophy on love has changed my point of view into believing that love is about fully accepting a person as who they are instead of trying to possess them and changing them into being an object of your desire and control.
In Simone Beauvoir’s writing of The Ethics of Ambiguity she begins to elaborate on ethics and the importance of a moral obligation to overcome oppression. Moral acts and willing one’s self free is an obligation of a person in order to become a moral person. With moral freedom a person is not free unless they can deal with free individuals. We all should strive for our freedom as well as the freedom of others and the freedom of all. The freedom to choose is shaped by social and political freedom of people. Beauvoir believes that in order to free all we must take a stand for justice especially in the political sense. We ought to respect freedom when it serves freedom, but not when freedom distances itself from itself.
For example when freedom is used in the oppression and the abuse of others, we ought not to respect it in cases such as a dictatorship oppressing the freedom of its people. Oppressing an oppressor is justified even when it requires violence and in cases of people rising up and rebelling the person or the system that has been oppressing them it is justifiable. In such cases casualties of war with sacrifices is justified when fighting for freedom because it makes it a just war.
Simone Beauvoir states “the truth is that if division and violence define war, the world has always been at war and will always be; if man is waiting for universal peace in order to establish his existence validly, he will wait indefinitely: there will never be any other future.” (Beauvoir ) With this she means that if the only reasons for war are for violence to annihilate the other opponent because of division then war will never end and people will never reach complete liberation. However, oppressing and oppressor should never be driven by blind faith. The actions must be considered fully well and deliberate over choice. Each circumstance should be considered on a case by case basis and analyzed by practical problems.
Ethics emphasize physical and social interaction in relation to other human beings because of freedom. Authentic morality involves engagement with the world that is not abstract intellectualism. People who sit by and talk about the problems and the circumstances that accustom the world are not engaging with the world directly. Beauvoir stresses that in order to achieve authentic morality people must do something to engage with the world not intellectualize the problems within it.
Humans have a moral commitment to liberate the oppressed individuals because it causes limited liberation of their own freedom. Oppressed individuals may not even know that they are being oppressed and this why it is important for others to enlighten them and help them become liberated from their situation. With an oppressed individual, their own judgment that they are oppressed is what counts and this is why it’s an obligation of others who recognize the oppression to give them knowledge of their situation. Oppressed people are cut off from the future without the power of liberation to decide what is next for them in their lives.
With liberation a person must be able to question values and oppressed individuals are not able to do this. Being oppressed does not gain moral character because character is not built by suffering. A person cannot say that they are a strong person because they have been accepting oppression and the suffering that comes with it. A person is strong when they take a stand for their liberation and fight for their own values as well as the liberation of others. However, power is limited within liberation, Beauvoir enforces this by stating that “to be free is not to have the power to do anything you like; it is to be able to surpass the given toward an open future; the existence of others as a freedom defines my situation and is even the condition of my own freedom.” (Beauvoir )
Power is a foundation of moral freedom and in order to engage the world a person must have power, but it is a limited power. Not only individuals of the world, but state also has an obligation to ensure that it’s people have a minimum level of well-being because this is necessary to freely act within the world. External help is needed in order to alleviate oppression and once an oppressed individual is placed within the presence of freedom they must pursue freedom for themselves and one cannot force freedom upon them or it would not be recognized as freedom at all.
Beauvoir, S. D. The Works of Simone de Beauvoir. Zuubooks.com, 2010. Print.
Marcel, Gabriel. A Gabriel Marcel Reader. 1st edition. St. Augustines Press, 2011. Print.