Abandonment

Jean Paul Sartre says you can't trust God to tell you what's the right thing to do - for he doesn't believe in God; nor can you trust in an universal law - which he thinks is just a compromise intellectuals arrived at to reject God, and yet keep His laws. For him existence came before essence.

So, is there anything called moral authority at all? Nothing beyond us, he says.

This realisation, that you can't depend on God or universal value to act morally, is he says abandonment. You are in effect abandoned by the two valid sources of moral authority. It's not that they existed before. He uses the term the way Friedrich Nietzsche said, God is dead. He didn't believe God existed, but just that the illusion got shattered.

Reading Sartre's arguments against critics of existentialists is a bit like being listening to a person who mistook you for someone else. (And if you are not sure who you are, you might even think you are that 'other' person. A lamb, which is not sure if it's a lamb or a wolf, getting lectured about not killing and eating other lambs, might start thinking of itself as a wolf.)

Reading a couple of pieces on abandonment, I found myself agreeing to some parts of his argument. Yes, I also believe that the source of moral authority is within - conscience. I remember a conversation with my master.

His question: 'what's bad?'.

My answer wasn't exactly insightful, or deep or well thought out, for I replied, 'Whatever is not good is bad'?

Then, what's good?

Whatever our conscience says is good?

That's true. But, there are is also true and false conscience. False conscience might mislead you.

How to differentiate between the two?

When your heart tells you go to a temple, or go to college or home, do you feel afraid?

No.

When you heart tells you, go to a bazaar or to a movie (when you should be in the university), do you feel afraid?

Yes, I do.

That's how you differentiate. True conscience is clear, it's not accompanied by fear. False conscience on the other hand, is accompanied by fear.

I nodded my head, and he threw one more sentence, before moving on to another topic: "There is also one more thing, guilty consciousness."

Those words led me to some kind of existential angst. For, even signals from true conscience can be distorted by guilt. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that knowing what's right is not a easy matter. But, this much I could figure out, the responsibility of distinguishing signal from the noise is mine and mine alone.

That's what Sartre seemed to be saying.  "For the decipherment of the sign, however, he bears the entire responsibility. That is what “abandonment” implies, that we ourselves decide our being." - Existentialism Is a Humanism.

The despair - "It merely means that we limit ourselves to a reliance upon that which is within our wills, or within the sum of the probabilities which render our action feasible" -  that's supposed to follow abandonment seems to have nishkamya karma ring to it.  I might be wrong, but I haven't come to that point yet.

In any case, I am personally able to reconcile existence of God and conscience as a source of moral authority. Why can't Sartre do it? I can see he came to this position starting somewhere else, but still I wonder. 


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