Monday, October 12, 2009

Jesus and other Role models

All arguments about God aside, I would like to take a minute and wonder about Sarte's view l on Jesus and other role models in general. Let's assume that Jesus was a good person (as most Christians do), and examine the claim that we should imitate Jesus in who we are so as to be better people. I think, for Sartre, this claim creates a variety of problems. First, when one uses someone or something as a model for one's behaviour, one can rid oneself of responsibility for one's actions by virtue of blaming the model. For example, to follow a model is to make certain, prescribed chioces in a given situation based on the actions of the model in that same situation. Then, the model holds primary responsibility for the action rather than the present actor, which is to hide from freedom altogether, which is inauthentic. Second, and more closely related to our recent readings on bad faith, to use Jesus as a role model (i.e. W.W.J.D?) is to attempt to fit into a mold; just as the waiter in the cafe attempts to be a waiter rather than himself, one who attempts to "do as Jesus does" attempts to define themself as an object, something that is completely defined for the situation and has no transcendent possibilities. Even so, just as the waiter will never be a waiter in the same way in which a table is a table, one who attempts to exemplify someone else, such as Jesus, as a role model will never be that role model in the same way an object is an object; we must not forget that a person's essence does not precede existence, as in the case of an object, but rather that a person exists in the mode of not being, as in the mode of having freedom over how one will define himself, in terms of not yet being what one is. Thus, one simply lies to oneself when one attempts to follow a role model, just as the waiter lies to himself by trying to be waiter in every way. One could say that we simply look to models for advice as to how to act, rather than try to be the model in the way the waiter tries to be a waiter, but I think even then we run into a problem in terms of responsibility- one who looks to a model assigns the reasoning for action to the model, and thus attempts to lack any responsibilty for the making of the chioce.

I would like to believe that Sarte would condemn role models just as he would blaming God or genetic predisposition for the result of man's free will, but I wonder how we come to recognize any sort of notion regarding responsibilty having a point of reference. If we view responsibility for our actions as a function of the consequences of our actions, how do we get a notion of what is a good consequence versus what is a bad consequence? It seems as if we must relate consequences for others back unto our own self, but we inevitably fall into making judgements on consequences which we undoubtedly have no way to relate to, such as a rich white kid thinking about consquences of his actions on the life of a poor black kid. What is good for the poor black kid might be such a culturally and demographically different event than what is good for the rich white kid. How, then, can the rich white kid make any judgement with regard to the consequences of his actions? Similarly, how can he make any judgement upon his own responsibility? I'd love some feedback here- as we read more Sarte I unfortunately find myself questioning things which I previously (thought I) understood.


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  3. I liked your interpretation of responsibility and bad faith through the example of Jesus and the principle W.W.J.D. It certainly seems like any attempt to ascribed oneself to an ideology or figure will make one in bad faith. A person will be responsible for their actions even if they attempt to pass the blame, so to speak. As to your second point (i.e., the white kid), attempting to put yourself into someone else's shoes definitely seems problematic according to Sartre. Doing so would make you in bad faith. So it seems the white kid could never make any judgement of his responsibility to the poor black kid. The white kid could only judge his own actions and his responsibility to himself. Maybe Sartre does away with the possibility of sympathy or responsibility in any circumstance outside of yourself or your experience?

  4. That's a really interesting point!

    The interesting thing about using Jesus (or any specific role model for that matter) is that he is free and can choose to be otherwise. (I guess this point is arguable, but for Sartre, insofar as Jesus is human he is free). Jesus can choose to ignore the poor or say "blessed is the strong..." but he chooses to help the poor and sick and say "blessed is the meek..."

    I think that for Sartre being a Christian like the waiter is a waiter is definately not being something in the mode of being it. The person acting to be Christian would perform a set of acts appropriate to being a Christian.

    However, I think that role models are somewhat different because they are freedoms, not objects or roles, that one is trying to model oneself after.

  5. I don't think that people lose responsibility for their actions just because the model did it. They were the one's that chose to act like that person in the first place. No one forced them to. It's their fault if people choose a bad person as a model. Also when it comes to the last point about responsibility. Maybe people should not interfere with other people's life and merely look at their own actions. YOur right the rich white kid probably knows nothing about the poor black kid, so maybe he should do nothing. If their is no afterlife or anything, why does it matter.


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