Consciousness: Are We All In This Together?

1270 words - 5 pages

A question that continues to puzzle scholars (and Honors students, alike) is that of what defines human consciousness. It would be simple to say that it is defined by one’s awareness of itself and of its surroundings. What makes the question so difficult to answer, though, is that consciousness is much more than an acute awareness; it is the process of becoming aware, finding the purpose of our consciousness, and building morals and intelligence from that awareness that entangles those who search for answers in a web of utter confusion.
In beginning my search for the understanding of consciousness, I chose to look into the thoughts and beliefs of Karl Marx and Jean-Paul Sartre. Marx and Sartre are similar in their philosophy in that they both agree that our existence defines the essence(s) of our consciousness, but they differ when discussing their ways of achieving consciousness. For Marx, consciousness is sought through the materials we, humans, produce through our labor and social and religious practices. Sartre, on the other hand, thinks that consciousness is a “nothing” and must be defined by the individual rather than a class or group, as Marx suggests. Ultimately, both agree that humans have the ability to change and control the essence of existence, which is important in understanding the power humans have in their mortal lives. My interest and search for consciousness begins with the empowering thought of control over all essences and humans’ ability to freely define them. I believe that Marx and Sartre capture the image of human ability in excellent and similar ways. Their differences, though, call into question how we are to live our mortal lives: are we destined to discover and fulfill our purpose individually or collectively?
In asking this question, let’s first examine the two philosophers theories about consciousness and how it is achieved. Starting with Sartre’s existentialist point of view, consciousness is defined as being-for-itself. When we are for-itself, we recognize our consciousness, but also understand that we are incomplete (SparkNotes Editors, 2005). This notion of being-for-itself is what makes clear Sartre’s belief that existence proceeds essence; we aren’t born with innate traits, but rather, we create our consciousness. We are free to choose how we will interpret our surroundings, what we will believe, and what type of personality we wish to have in accordance to those beliefs and interpretations. Sartre further explains that this freedom comes with heavy responsibility. Once we make a choice, we cannot make excuses for ourselves or put the blame on someone or something else if the choice turns sour or ends up being faulty; when we accept the freedom, we accept the full responsibility, too. If we fail to take up this responsibility and live dishonestly about inevitabilities, such as death, or possibilities, we are living in “bad faith”, as Sartre says. On the other hand, to live in good faith is to understand...

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