E. Libertarianism

Philosophical, scientific and psychological libertarianism

There are many different types of argument for libertarianism. Eduqas focuses specifically on three.

Philosophical Libertarianism - Sartre

Sartre was an existentialist philosopher. He famously said "Existence precedes essence". Sartre was an atheist, and he didn't believe we were "made in God's image" and given a specific purpose. When you make something, you know what it's for. If I made a pencil, the pencil would be for writing. Humans are different for two reasons. Firstly, we weren't made for something. Secondly, we are self-conscious, so we can choose our essence.

Sartre believed there was only one thing we couldn't choose. We are condemned to be free, and cannot choose not to be free.

Bad faith 

You might presume Libertarianism would be liberating! Sartre found it nauseating. It's a horrible responsibility, and as a result, some people try to escape it. There are lots of examples. Many Nazis claimed that they were 'only following orders' when they played their part in exterminating 6 million Jews. However, Sartre thought that they were acting in 'bad faith'.

He actually wrote an essay about anti-semites befoe the war had even finished. In it, he described how Nazis use humour to deflect and disctract from what they were doing.  He said they 'choose to reason falsely':

"They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert... The anti-Semite is impervious to reason and to experience... not because his conviction is strong. Rather his conviction is strong because he has chosen first of all to be impervious..." Anti-Semite and Jew, Jean-Paul Sartre 1944

Eduqas expects you to know the example of a waiter who 'acts like a waiter' using exaggerated gestures. He is making himself into an object, and denying his own freedom. Sartre is saying that when we do this, we are actually acting freely, but in bad faith. We are choosing to behave as though we are a thing, with no freedom, but in doing so, we are freely choosing this. That's why it's bad faith.

Sartre is making a general point here about any line of work, and is criticising our own behaviour as well as the way others treat us. When we behave like a thing, or we objectify other people, that's bad faith. Sartre is saying that we are always being ourselves, so Dave the waiter can't stop being Dave by trying to act the part of a waiter. Dave needs to be authentic, rather than trying to be 'The Waiter' by acting in the way a waiter acts. Sartre is also criticising those restaurants that expect the waiter to be invisible and inhuman.

"Let us consider this waiter in the café. His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He comes toward the patrons with a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly... All his behavior seems to us a game. He applies himself to chaining his movements as if they were mechanisms... he is playing at being a waiter in a café...

"This obligation is not different from that which is imposed on all tradesmen. Their condition is wholly one of ceremony. The public demands of them that they realize it as a ceremony... A grocer who dreams is offensive to the buyer, because such a grocer is not wholly a grocer. Society demands that he limit himself to his function as a grocer..." Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness 1942, Chapter Two, II

Sartre sees two levels of bad faith. Firstly, we are a 'being-for-itself', but we can reduce ourselves to just a 'being-in-itself'. For example, someone who behaves like an animal, giving in to desires by over-indulging, may claim that they 'had no choice'. However, they are in bad faith, as they were choosing to give up their freedom. The alcoholic stops acting for himself, and just as a being in itself, claiming that he had no freedom to resist a drink.

Secondly, we can allow others to use us. A waiter falls in this second category, by deciding to behave as society expects a waiter to behave. He is still a transcendent being-for-itself, but acts as if he is not, and as such is in bad faith.

The answer is clear - Sartre believes we should recognise our freedom in every situation, and not pretend that we have no choice.

Scientific Libertarianism - Sirigu

There is not much to say here, so I doubt Eduqas would ask a question exclusively about the science behind Libertarianism. As part of a question on why people hold Libtertarian views, or a (b) question evaluating whether people are right to hold such views, you could refer to the work of Angela Sirigu. Sirigu claimed to have identified the part of the brain that makes choices.

Recently, Sirigu has made headlines waking a patient who'd spent 15 years in a vegetative state, and in 2016 she wrote an article called 'Reward and decision processes in the brains of humans and nonhuman primates'. It is more likely that Eduqas is refering to her earlier work, explained in a New Scientist article from 2009. Below is a quote from Sirigu in that article. New Scientist describes how poking the brain in the parietal cortex causes the desire to wiggle your finger or move a limb.

“What it tells us is there are specific brain regions that are involved in the consciousness of your movement.”

The abstract to the research article in Science that this is taken from states:

"Conscious intention and motor awareness thus arise from increased parietal activity before movement execution."

They describe two main findings:

"(i) Stimulation of the posterior parietal cortex caused human participants to intend to move and to report having moved, even in the absence of actual motor responses. (ii) Stimulation of the premotor cortex triggered limb and mouth movements that were not consciously detected by the patients."

Sirigu's research hardly proves we are free. Others have argued against free will, as they had measured brain activity occuring before someone has the conscious intent to do something. It looked like our unconscious brain had caused our behaviour, we had then become aware of this and mistakenly believed we had free chosen the action. One example of this is from Patrick Haggard.

Sirigu's article says:

"It has been reported that stimulation of the SMA triggers an urge to move that resembles an irrepressible desire to move going beyond patients’ will. This suggests a potential role of SMA in generating motor intentions. However, intentions evoked by stimulation of SMA stand in contrast with what was described by our patients, who reported experiencing an endogenously generated wish to move."

Sirigu may have identified part of the brain that is involved in decision making, but she has hardly proved that our choices are undetermined simply because we are aware of our choices. This is because the awareness of our choices might come after our decision has been made, not before.

Have a look at the discussion questions from the exm board, which include these points:

  • For Libertarianism - Sirigu has offered the first significant piece of scientific evidence to support free will. Until now all the evidence had been on the side of determinism. Her evidence is consistent with our human experience and so is compelling.
  • Against Libertarianism - Sirigu’s research only tells us where the event of choice takes place, it does not tell us that the choice we make is free. Just because she has not yet found a cause for why people choose A over B, does not mean there is no cause. The urge to act was still caused in Sirigu’s experiments and so we may still be determined.

Psychological Determinism - Rogers

Please note, Carl Rogers' approach is humanistic, not humanist as suggested by the syllabus. This is a psychological approach that emphasises the drive in humans towards self-actualisation. Whilst optimistic, Rogers is not saying that we are all free, but that we have the potential to be free.

Rogers describes a fully-functioning person as follows:

  1. Open to experiences
  2. Living in the moment (existential)
  3. Trusting their own judgment
  4. Feeling free to make choices
  5. Creative
  6. Reliable and constructive
  7. Living a rich, full life

Rogers accepts that many people don't live freely in this way. He would accept that people can be infuenced by their genetic dispositions or upbringing. As a psychologist, he knows about operant conditioning. However, Rogers is providing a response to determinism, showing that nature and nurture can affect us, but that a fully-functioning person can go beyond these and make their own choices:

"This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life." On becoming a person: A therapist's view of psychotherapy.

The concept of self-actualisation really means just being yourself. Rogers says:

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” ibid.

AO1 (a)

You should be able to:

  • Explain Sartre's existentialism, refering to the waiter example and the concept of 'bad faith'.
  • Describe Sirigu's experiment with the parietal cortex, and say what it might mean for free will.
  • Explain Rogers' idea of self-actualisation, and how it is a rebuttal to determinism.


AO2 (b)

Be ready to discuss the following:

  • Does Sirigu or Roger’s work conclusively prove that we are free?
  • What strengths or weaknesses are apparent in the idea that we are born a ‘blank slate’ and ‘make ourselves’?
  • Does it take ‘faith’ to believe in Sartre’s position?
  • What assumptions are made by libertarians?