Blindness to Parental Guilt

It is in Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness” that we encounter one of the most striking cases of blindness to parental guilt. Because, although it is a central thesis of Sartre’s that we are all of us “condemned to freedom”, he remains entirely blind to the fact that it is our parents that condemn us to what goes under this latter name. Indeed, instead of speaking of parental guilt, Sartre goes so far as to say that Man, being condemned to be free, “bears the weight of the entire world on his shoulders; he is, as his very way of being, responsible both for the world and for himself.” (Being and Nothingness) And that “it is specific to human reality that it is without excuse” (ibid.) Implied here is a vision whereby the person “landing up” in a war would have to accept this as his own fault inasmuch as it would always be open to him to kill himself and thus remove himself from all that might befall him. But we consider this to be àSuicide Cynicism and ask: how could Sartre ignore the fact that we human beings are not causes of our own selves – that we are not primordial products of our own freedom but rather the beginning of the life of every human being is subject to the action or omission of his or her own parents?

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