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Being and Nothingness Is a Book About the Fact That Each Person Must Determine the Purpose of His Life

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Jean-Paul Sartre is known for his book Being and Nothingness where he gives his opinion about how each person views himself and the surrounding actions. Throughout his book, Sartre explains that each person must determine for himself how to value his fundamental project, the purpose of one’s life. Opposing Sartre’s views are essentialists who believe that each person has an essential self, meaning that they assume that each person has an constant facet in their lives that distinguishes who you are as a person. Sartre disagrees with this view because he believes that each person is free to determine how to live his life. As our lives change, our fundamental project can also change. A person does not have to be tied down to one project, if an obstacle occurs according to Sartre that person is allowed to change his task.

The definition of being is not having any definite properties while nothingness carves up being into objects with properties (class notes). According to Sartre’s book the first step each person must do is to “make man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him” (Being and Nothingness, 258). Each person faces nothingness, and thus must decide for himself how to determine meaning in their own lives. One philosopher who disagrees with Sartre is Heidegger. He believes that Das Man delineates each person, while Sartre deems that each person makes his own decisions which guide him down his own path. This idea of choosing our own path and decisions is what makes up a fundamental project. As our lives continuously change so do our tasks. Sartre believes that we do not just have one fundamental project but he believes that we have infinite possibilities, meaning we can choose from an infinite of fundamental projects.

Essentialists believe that one’s decisions and actions are predefined meaning that one’s decisions have been made for them. Whereas Sartre believes that there is no such thing as an essential self and that we are the only ones who can control our actions and decisions meaning we are solely in control of our lives. Basically what Sartre is saying is that we should not let those around us influence our decisions and actions. Everyone is unique and therefore their decision in choosing a fundamental task should be what makes him happy. At the time of our birth, we have been given a tabula rosa, and we alone have the ability to stick with our fundamental project or change projects at any time. For example, take a young man who decides to go to college to play football. He plays football for four years and is satisfied with his fundamental project.

However, after graduating from college he decides not to pursue his football career but to use his business degree and get a job working for a private equity firm. According to Sartre’s interpretation of the fundamental project, this young man is able to change his fundamental project if he is unhappy or an obstacle gets in his way. This young college man’s new fundamental project is a business man, and now defines himself as a businessman.

Some quarrel that there is an essential self that characterizes who we are. Basically, these people believe that we have a predetermined path that has already been determined. One philosopher who disagrees with Sartre is Nietzsche. Nietzsche believes that a person should “become who you are” (142). Each person must go through self-realization and accept his fate and there is no such thing as a higher power that can influence one’s decisions. He explains the journey is not the task but rather accepting what decisions you have made. All have an essential self-according to Nietzsche, and we must learn to accept it. However, Nietzsche’s view, those who do not conform to these ideas will never be happy with their lives.

Sartre believes that no person should be forced to live a life that they hate, which is why he not only believes that a person has freedom to change their mind, but that person has unlimited freedom meaning that he can change his task whenever he is not satisfied with his life. Sartre’s being-for-itself theory is about being active, giving meaning to the world, and interpreting itself and the world (glossary from class). Each person must determine for himself how he wishes to see the world and what he wants to do with his life. Each day is precious, so we should think of it as a gift, not wasting time on something that does not make us happy. As we develop throughout life, we have the opportunity to change our fundamental project and find new meaning in life. Take the young college football player as an example.

Even though he graduated college with a business degree, he can always change his fundamental project and go back to school for another profession. Say he decides he wants to go into medicine, he can change his project and become a doctor as long as he is completely satisfied with his decision to change his fundamental task. He has the freedom to change his fundamental project at any time if he so chooses. Just like the young businessman, each of us have the opportunity to choose a new fundamental project. We are not defined by one essential thing or project. We have the capability to choose how we live our lives.

Sartre believes that each person has the ability to choose his or her fundamental project and we can change projects whenever we choose. Our lives are constantly changing and there is nothing we can do to stop our world from changing. He believes that each person has unlimited freedom and that if obstacles arise, we can choose how to respond. We alone are the only ones who can decide our fundamental projects. As our lives change, we realize that time is limited. Each day is a gift and we should not waste time on a fundamental project that is not enjoyable.

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