Announcement: Your votes are in! The January 2019 Philosophy Book of the Month is The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World by David Eagleman and Anthony Brandt.

Motivation in (Sartre's) atheist existentialism: Proposal

Discuss philosophical questions regarding theism (and atheism), and discuss religion as it relates to philosophy. This includes any philosophical discussions that happen to be about god, gods, or a 'higher power' or the belief of them. This also generally includes philosophical topics about organized or ritualistic mysticism or about organized, common or ritualistic beliefs in the existence of supernatural phenomenon.
Post Reply
Posts: 3
Joined: November 10th, 2008, 11:18 pm

Motivation in (Sartre's) atheist existentialism: Proposal

Post by Panoptimist » November 10th, 2008, 11:26 pm

So I've written a proposal for a thesis in my contemporary continental philosophy class. This proposal has since been reviewed and I have not made any edits.

I would like to ask a couple of questions that some of you might be able to help answer.

My main question is, does atheism affect the nature of an ontological concept of motivation? I have not read really any kierkegaard so i dont know what he has to say on the matter. i feel like frankl would say that it does not, as religion can be a source of motivation (but then i fail to be able to reconcile a pure existentialism in that individual)

If any of you could provide any insight, critiques, comments, would be much obliged

The purpose of this paper will be to address some of the concerns surrounding the concept of motivation in atheist existentialism through application of Sartre’s model of an atheist existentialist philosophy.

It is argued that Sartre’s philosophy ultimately renders all choice “groundless.” Why then, would one act at all? I will attempt to make a relation between an act that is intended and the concept of motivation. Here will be compared (and contrasted) some of the psychological definitions and explanations for motivation to the concept of freedom and choice that Sartre presents in his philosophy.

It is the intention of this paper to redefine our concept motivation, and in fact use Sartre’s existentialism to prove the very existence of a “concrete” motivation (a human condition of sorts). It has been argued that Sartre’s philosophy discourages and in fact leaves no room for the concept of motivation, that any idea of motivation occurs after-the-fact and has no influence on any particular choice of the free individual. This argument is based solely on a psychological concept of motivation. This paper will refute this idea based on claims that the idea of “motivation” is contained within the for-itself precisely because the for-itself will never be in-itself. Though a strict psychological approach to our concept of motivation may appear to occur as a result of bad faith, this paper will serve to contextualize motivation in Sartrian existentialism, or how motivation can be reconciled in terms of existentialism rather than a psychology applied to existentialism.

However, it is not the purpose of this paper to solely critique notions of psychological motivation, but rather how those notions are applied to an existentialist philosophy by both psychologists and philosophers. The paper will also discuss the psychotherapy known logotherapy presented by Viktor Frankl, and how this philosophical/psychological hybrid therapy can make sense of an existential concept of motivation. The paper will also explore Sartre’s idea of the original project and how it applies to an existential motivation.

Ultimately, as stated above, this paper hopes to redefine the concept of motivation in a sense that adheres to, and is in fact, an essential characteristic of Sartre’s freedom. The purpose here is not to redefine Sartre’s existentialism, but rather redefine motivation in terms of Sartre. What is to be attained is the establishment of a fundamental basis on which Sartre’s philosophy can coincide with the act of living.

Posts: 13760
Joined: July 10th, 2008, 7:02 pm
Location: UK

Post by Belinda » November 14th, 2008, 4:25 pm

What is 'an ontological concept of motivation'?

The only concept of motivation I know of is psychological.

If an ontological concept of motivation is about the differences between Free Will and determinism, then I don't know of any proof that Sartre ever produced that Free Will exists. I know of no proof ,either rational or empirical, by anyone that Free Will exists. Indeed 'Les Jeux Sont Faits'by Sartre is deterministic in its illustration of how events are necessitated by causes .

True, we all choose most of the time that we are conscious. But choice is not Free Will; Free Will is impossible unless there is an originator inside each individual, and there isn't.

One psychological theory of motivation is that of Spinoza. Spinoza's notion of conatus I may, I think ,explain as every individual trying to maintain its integrity. Add to this, the passions so aptly described by Spinoza, the role of reason as governor of passions in the procuring of optimum freedom,and modern experience of psychoanalysis, and you have an adequate theory of motivation.

However, Sartre's idea about the value of authenticity is good because we all know the downside of authoritarian secular institutions and authoritarian religions.

I think that you have studied this in much depth and if you care to comment on the little that I can add I would appreciate it.

Posts: 3
Joined: November 10th, 2008, 11:18 pm

Post by Panoptimist » November 17th, 2008, 12:50 am

But I can't read Sartre as determinist in any way. I see his existence precedes essence concept as providing the framework for establishing a "free will." This will is precisely what I want to define in terms of Sartre and existentialism. I think that in some way freedom of choice entails free will. But that's what this paper is about. What motivates action. Why do we act?

It's defining this freedom that becomes hard for me.

I want to come up with a theory that describes choice, specifically why we choose, in an existentialist context. If anything, I will argue against determinism.

I will read Spinoza.

mark black
Posts: 175
Joined: July 19th, 2008, 8:12 am

Post by mark black » November 17th, 2008, 5:24 am


I've copied this from another thread, on another forum. It's my own work, and my own ideas - insofar as anything is. The latter part was produced in reply to a scientologist and the references left in. While it does not specifically address your question, I think it has significant bearing on the subject. I hope it helps.

The simplest of organisms is crafted, in relation to reality, by the function or die algorithm of evolution. Atom by atom, its physical form is judged worthy or unworthy of existence. Judged worthy, the organism replicates and passes on its worthiness to subsequent generations.

So, we can describe an organism, like a plant, that survives merely as a function of its pysical form as having functional intelligence. All organisms possess this trait - for if they did not thier bodies would not function and the orgaism would die, and the species die out. But animal life-forms particularly are characterised by a second kind of intelligence.

All life, in the beginning was merely functionally intelligent - but by a process of random mutations that favoured or disfavoured continued existence, limbs and sensory organs developed. This led to a new kind of intelligence. Behaviours, however nominally chosen were now the subject to the function or die algorithm of evolution. Behaviours conducive to survival were promoted, and those non-conducive discouraged by death and extinction.

For many hundreds of millions of years, behaviorally intelligent animals fought and flew, hid and hibernated, built nests and bred on instinct - but acting in the course of the ingrained avoidance of threat and harm, seeking food and breeding opportunity within the spatial and temporal reality of the environment - one animal developed a new form of intelligence.

Very gradually, acting in relation to the spatial and temporal reality of the evironment, judged always by the function or die algorithm of evolution - the potential for revelation built up in homo sapiens. It may have been nothing more than a footprint in the mud that triggered the realization, but one day dawned in which it occured to man to ask: 'Who made this?'

Once that question occured it could be applied to anything. Who made me? Who made the world? Perhaps more importantly, it raised another question: What can I make?

About 35,000 years ago in Europe, suddenly, and without any gallery of clumsy attempts to serve as precedents, art appears to flourish as if from nowhere. Described by writers such as Shreeve and Pfieffer as a 'creative explosion' - this sudden occurance of art marks the dawn of intellectual intelligence.

So, we have three kinds of intelligence, functional, behavioural and intellectual - all of which are embodied by human beings, and only by human beings. In much the same way that a plant must be functionally intelligent, and an animal both functionally and behaviourally intelligent, we human beings must be intelligent in all three senses in order to survive and prosper.

Scientifically valid knowledge has a spiritual value that is not at all magical, but follows from the dynamics laid out below. In much the same way that the simplest of organisms had to be physically correct in relation to reality in order to function, and the behaviours of animals in relation to reality was either conducive to survival or not, I believe we intellectually aware animals must accept and act in relation to scientifically valid knowledge of reality in order to survive and prosper.

I'm sorry for seeming so wary, but I can't tell you how dangerous and distasteful I find religion in general. I think it the root cause of the world's ills. I don't know much about scientology - but what I have heard can't be right, can it? Alien overlords, volcanoes and migrating spirits.

I think we should put aside ideas like religion, nation and capitalist economics - that are not scientifically justified, not valid of reality, and thus direct our actions at odds with reality. It's because we act in the course of such false ideas that the world is in the mess it is. The human species is divided into groups defined by thier own sacred lies - each grabbing as much as they can for themselves, ignorant to the fact that we are all the same species inhabiting the same planet.

I think we should have a global government constitutionally bound to scientific understanding, using scientific knowledge and cutting edge technology to balance human welfare and environmental sustanability.

I note that what I've heard about scientology retains many of the features of traditional religions - a God figure, immortal spirits, and presumably therefore a purpose in life bearing upon an afterlife of some kind.

Even if scientology quietly accepts evolution, for me, this is inimical to the spiritual connotations of accepting scientifically valid knowledge of reality.

In scientific terms, it seems, the individual dies and the species lives on. In life therefore, it is the rational purpose of the individual to ensure the continued existence of the species. It is via the species - thousands of generations struggling to survive and breed and know, that we enjoy our ability to think and feel, that we enjoy reading, writing, architecture and art. In short, it is the species that's eternal and the individual is temporary, it is the species that develops knowledge and technology - it is to the species we make our incremental individual contribution, and the species that carries forth our legacy.

Spiritually, this perspective both honours and humbles the individual, binding the individual to the species. We have worth, but not too much, we are showered with gifts - and return them in kind. We have purpose, truth, reasonable expectations that follow from accepting the scientifically defined reality.

Further, there is a sane and legitimate purpose for government. It is to discover and employ knowledge and technology to provide for human welfare and secure the continued existence of the species.

I find this more spiritually profound than any religion I've encountered. There are no articles of belief, no God or immortal souls, and yet it is a better answer to all the spiritual questions - and also political and economic questions, to which we have so many answers, and none of them true.



Posts: 13760
Joined: July 10th, 2008, 7:02 pm
Location: UK

Post by Belinda » November 17th, 2008, 9:06 pm

Why do we act?
Because 1.we can originate our choices,

2. we choose at random i.e. for no reason at all

or 3. our choices are necessary effects of causal chains, 'laws of nature', and causal circumstance.

Sartre , as far as I know, had a lot to say about our unremitting responsibility to choose freely and authentically, but Sartre had nothing to say about any mysterious originator of metaphysical Free Will which is not at all the same as the everyday need to choose. Because we may feel that we are choosing freely isn't a sufficient reason to believe that we can avoid necessity.

The Originator of choices, if it is not necessity, has to be a Godlike agent. Now is this Originator not essence?

Posts: 98
Joined: February 20th, 2009, 6:17 pm

Re: Motivation in (Sartre's) atheist existentialism: Proposa

Post by df544 » February 20th, 2009, 11:06 pm

Panoptimist wrote:
My main question is, does atheism affect the nature of an ontological concept of motivation?

Post Reply