A Contradiction in Sartre’s View of Love

Sartre has said that since we are free, there is no human nature.  Human nature means that you’re confined to a certain essence.  But if that’s the case, then we wouldn’t be free.  Basically, Sartre is pulling a Modes Tollens argument:

  1. If there is a human nature, then we would not be free.
  2. We are free.
  3. Therefore, there is no human nature. (Modes Tollens 2, 3)

We can choose to do (and therefore, be) anything we want because of our choices.

So far so good, except when we get to his view of love.  Sartre states that the nature of human relationships are always conflictual.  Sartre states that conflict is the original meaning of human relationships (Being and Nothingness, 474-5).  If I’m interpreting this right, it seems like Sartre is saying that the nature of relationships is conflict.  So all human relationships will always be in some sort of struggle.

But hold on there, if all relationships are based on conflict, doesn’t that suggest that human beings are by nature conflictual creatures?  Thus, human are, by nature, combative creatures.  That would imply that we are not, by nature, cooperative creatures.  If we were cooperative, then that is just an anomaly.

So if conflict is the nature of human relationships, doesn’t that imply that human beings are, by nature, combative creatures?

Are there any other interpretions of “original meaning” as Sartre states?  Is there a way out of this contradiction?

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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4 Responses to A Contradiction in Sartre’s View of Love

  1. aubreycierra says:

    Could it be that when looking at relationships the reason they are conflicting by ‘nature’ is not so much that we are by naturally combative, and there for being less free when confined by our very ‘nature’. So much as because we are all free to make our choices then there is an enormously large risk for our will or choices to conflict in that my decision might not be what the other would have done so it creates tension? I’m not familiar enough with the theory but I could see that being a reply. Its our very freedoms that conflicts with one another not necessarily our nature.

    • shaunmiller says:

      Yes, that’s what Sartre tries to say about why the nature of relationships is filled with conflict. Our freedoms clash with other people and so thus the conflict. But let’s try this: if our freedoms clash, doesn’t this automatically entail that we will be duking it out in order to win? Sartre picks this up from Hegel’s view of self-consciousness and so this is why all relationships are conflictual. I think I can almost see what Sartre is getting at when our freedoms clash. I’ll have to think about it some more.

  2. charleyjk4 says:

    Man is condemned to be free.Condemned because he has no choice in his creation,but once thrown into the world he becomes responsible for his actions.
    This makes perfect sense to me.It might be correct to say that all’relationships’ conflict.But such ‘conflict’ can be resolved by reason and common sense.There is no modes Tollens argument.The act of ‘freedom’ gives an ethos to Man,thus molding a personality and nature.
    Great blog,though.

    • shaunmiller says:

      Charleyjk4, how can conflict be resolved by reason and common sense when our freedoms, by our very nature of our relationships, conflict? Sartre specifically states that all relationships come down to conflict because of our freedom. “Resolving” a conflict, for Sartre, is just a form of control, what he calls sadomasochism.

      Why isn’t there a modes tollens argument? What’s wrong with the argument? The freedoms come with a burden, for Sartre, as he states in his Existentialism and Human Emotions.

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