Sunday, November 1, 2009


In our discussion of Kafka the other day, we dissected his work, "Before the Law."  I personally found it interesting to view existentialism through a purely fictional lens, as opposed to the finite and seemingly instructional essays of the other philosophers that we've read.  In this story, the protagonist is arrested and tried for a crime without ever learning of what exactly he was convicted of.  He is sentenced to death and in a very existential fashion, his last words are "like a dog."  He was failed by his dependency on the law.  He thought that it represented objective truth, the embodiment of justice, and that it would save him, but he ended up dying while waiting for it to reach him.  As we discussed, this has higher implications and can be observed through a broader scope and tell us some things about what exactly law is and how it functions.  Kafka talks about the "force" of the law, what fuels it, in other words.  It is obviously not inherent, law does not exist outside of humanity (with the exception of natural laws, gravity, etc.).  It has no foundation in humankind other than that it is a creation.  So one must ask, how does law rule our lives without any objective force behind it?  Who gives law this power?  Kafka says that by simply recognizing and abiding by the law, the individual willingly gives it authority.  So it is the citizens (or victims) under the law that empower it.  It is safe to say that this logic is reasonable and, at least to some extent, true.  Under this logic, however, an argument can be made that the law is powerless if one doesn't recognize or abide by it.  This is, of course, flawed logic because one can still fall victim to the punishments of the law, even if they don't believe in it.  My lingering question then, is what exactly does this say about Kafka's theory.


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  2. I think it says pretty same thing about Kafka that it says about Sartre. Both more or less give us a freedom of intention: we are free to intend to do things like try to escape from an inescapeable prison. The law is powerless over us in this respect. But we are not free to necessariy obtain what we intend to do. Yet, practically speaking, I think in our day to day lives we care a lot more about obtaining what we freely want. So, yes, Sartre might be right that I am still free when I get robbed at a gas station and someone says "give me your wallet or I'll blow your head off." After all, I still could intend not to give him my robber hasn't coerced me from being capable to intend to do something contrary to what he says. That possibility is still open to me. Yet I imagine I would care a lot more in that kind of situation that, almost certainly, if I pursue my intent to not hand over my wallet I'm going to die.

    Though I would imagine both Kafka and Sartre would point out that we can still do a lot more things than we give ourselves credit for. For example, I might not be able to climb Mt. Everest today, but if I train myself enough over a certain period of time and maybe do other things like hire some capable climbers to assist me I will eventually be able to climb Everest.

    The law, literally speaking, is interesting though in that it oftentimes has a systematic influence on individual freedoms. I've been trying to, b/c things like racism or misogyny, which frequently find themselves encoded into a systematic structures like laws, do appear like they may affect/shape freedom to a greater extent than it seems like many existential thinkers, like Sartre, seem to give them credit for.

  3. This may be a little off topic, but I think it is interesting that the law in relation with freedom is a huge paradox. Freedom is what allows humanity to make and also break laws--we made laws to be how we opperate. Either way, we either follow or break the law, because that is what we know and that is the system we created. I almost think the law is like das man, or the they in that it is a sort of ambiguous and universal idea--we may not know exactly how and why certain laws originated and who made them, but we know they (the laws) are there.

  4. Laws don't work unless we give them authority, thus we must treat them accordingly and not view them as a salvation. We must recognize that like all other human inventions, they are subject to error. However, we must also recognize the intentions of the law and understand why giving laws authority is collectively more beneficial to us as a society and also individually than doing our own thing.


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