Copyright © Martin Welzel, Duesseldorf, Germany - This copyrighted work may not be copied, reproduced, distributed or publicly displayed without the consent of the author or copyright owner.
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Jean Paul Sartre's Philosophy in
"The Transcendence of the Ego" and
"Being and Nothingness"



Preliminary Remarks (1999) 
 Sartre's Text
The Transcendence of the Ego 
 Philosophy of Consciousness and Natural Science
 Formal Ego and Material Ego
 The Formal Ego is no Part of Consciousness
 The Material Ego is no Part of Consciousness
 States, Actions and Qualities
 The Ego
Being and Nothingness 
Introduction: In Search of Being 
 Dualism Outside / Inside
 Dualism Potency / Actuality
 Dualism Appearance / Essence
 Reduction of those Dualisms into the Dualism Finite / Unfinite
 Restoration of the Old Dualisms
 Excursion: Sartre's Ambiguous Concept of "Being"
 Transition to the Philosophy of Being
 Existence Precedes Essence
 The Spontaneity of Consciousness
 Being of Consciousness
 The Features of Being-in-itself
 The Problem of the two Areas of Being
The Problem of Nothing 
 The Step towards the Concrete
 Questioning-Behaviour as a Starting Point in the Concrete
 Explanation of Negation from Negative Propositions
 The Nothingness
 All Negation is Determination
 Heideggers Conception of Nothingness
 The Origin of Nothingness
 Causality and Negativity
 The Flight from Anguish
 Bad Faith
 Freud is Unable to Explain Bad Faith
 Bad Faith in Practice
 Non-Identity of Consciousness with Itself (Weak Variant)
 Man for Others and for Himself
 Sincerity towards Myself
 The Belief of Bad Faith
 Attendance at Itself
 Facticity: Existence
 Contingency and God as the Essential Being
 Facticity: Circumstances of Existence
 To Get out of the Cogito
 Lack and Desire
 The "Value"
 What Being-for-itself Lacks
 Some Remarks Concerning Sartre's Discussion of Time
 The Past
 Identity and Non-Identity of the Being-for-Itself with its Past
 The Present
 The Future
 The Totality of Time
 Some Remarks Subsequent to Sartre's Discussion of Time
 Reflection and the "Value"
 Impure Reflection
 Pure Reflection
 Some Aspects of Transcendence
 Beauty and the "Value"
 The Common Time
 Other Consciousnesses
 The Relation to the Other Consciousness as an Internal Negation
 Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger
 The "Look"
 The Ontology of Being-for-others
 The Problem of Solipsism
 The Struggle of Consciousnesses and their Totality
 The Body as Being-for-Itself
 The Body as an Object
 Sense Organs and Sensations
 Excursion: Sartre's Theory of Emotions
 The Concrete Relationships to Others
 The Ideal of Love and the Language
 The Failure of Love, the Benefit and the Hazard of Love
 Biological vs. Ontological Sexuality
 The Ontology of Sexual Desire
 Indifference and Hatred
 Community Awareness
 Class-Consciousness and Mass-Consciousness
Doing, Having and Being 
 Determinism of Motives
 Passions and Causality
 The Will and the Drives
 The Irrationality of Freedom
 Example: Inferiority Complex
 Example: Weariness
 Revision of the Original Choice
 The Coefficient of Adversity
 Living Past and Dead Past
 Being-for-Others - the Outer Border of Freedom
 Language as a "Technique"
 Situation and Responsibility
 Existential Psychoanalysis: Explanation through the Base Project
 Existential Psychoanalysis Versus Classical Psychoanalysis
 The Practice of Existential Psychoanalysis
 Desire for Being and Authenticity
 Psychoanalysis of Things
 Metaphysical Conclusions

 Preliminary Remarks (1999)

I've tried to work out the fundamental lines of thought in Sartre's magnus opus "Being and Nothingness", based on my personal excerpts/summaries of this work. I've tried to do this as clear as possible and to avoid Sartre's peculiar phraseology (I hope I use it only, where the meaning is clarified). I share the belief, that if one has reached a ideally clear understanding of a philosophical work, he is able to explain it to his grandmother (who is not senile, but without philosophical knowledge and maybe a little slow in grasping). By contrast, I believe there is no clear understanding if one just knows the relationships between the favourite phrases of the author, even then if he's able to connect his phrase-system with the phrase-systems used by other philosophers.

This text is no academical work (and not the preliminary stage of one). My personal goal has been to read and understand a well known older work dealing with the theory of consciousness, which ought not to be devoted to the analytical school of philosophical thought. (Personal context is - due to work-related reasons temporarily abandoned - my attempt to reach the PhD. My grade is Magister, which means Master of Arts, in German philology and Philosophy, and I'm working as a software engineer.) I publish the result of my Sartre-reading, supplemented with some kind of introduction, in my personal homepage, because there seems to be no detailed online-text about Sartre's early work in german language. So maybe it can be used as a stopgap.

If I utter critical remarks against Sartre's beliefs, which is especially the case, where I deal with his ontology in the narrower sense of the word, I don't pursue some destructive goal. I just try to outline my very own understanding of his beliefs. (Vice versa the absence of critical remarks does not mean that I support Sartre's views, but rather that I consider them as clear enough.) My understanding is of course strongly influenced by my personal philosophical background (Neopositivism, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Analytical philosophy). There's nothing original about it.

Because I lack a detailed knowledge of french language, my Sartre reading is handicapped by the fact that it is based on german translations of his work. Where I conceive suspicion, that there are differences between the use of french phrases and the use of their german counterparts, which are relevant for interpretation, I note it. - Please don't quote my Sartre-quotes. Don't forget, that they are translated from german translations (t.T.o.t.E: Uli Aumüller, Traugott König and Bernd Schuppener, B.a.N: Hans Schöneberg / Traugott König) of french originals.

Sartre makes it hard to concentrate - I will outline this immediately - whereas he is no hermetical writer. To understand Sartre, read his works. Even if I've followed this directive, I've read some other things too. The bibliographical reference is still very short, my list of secondary literature consists just of three entries - introductions in Sartre's philosophy. The most usable of them is Paul Vincent Spade's text. It is available on web:

 Sartre's Text

A common advice is to read "The Transcendence of the Ego" before reading "Being and Nothingness". If you heed the advice, you will undergo an experience, which resembles the experience of a restaurant-customer, who has consumed some kind of digestible and light appetizer and is now confronted with the main course: a bathtub filled with halfraw porkbelly. "The Transcendence of the Ego" is a soberly written philosophical essay, easily understood and free of literary ornaments. "Being and Nothingness" seems to be the exact opposite. But it is not totally inedible, just hard to digest.

More than thousand pages long it is populated by sentences like this one: "Human reality is being in so far as within its being and for its being it is the unique foundation of nothingness at the heart of being." (A quite harmless one! The translation is presumably correct, because I took it from Stephen Priest's "Sartre's basic writings".) Sartre likes the use of pictorial comparisions, which correspond to his poetic gift, but are indeed not suited to clarify the expressed thought, as for instance his famous dictum, that Nothingness sticks in the core of being like a worm in an apple. - Some other points are: passages of numerous pages without any break, redundant repetitions of his ontological main catchphrases, a non-resolvable ambiguity of his main concept "Being", and especially in the second half the outlandishness of the expressed theses (not very well known the one which states that sexuality of consciousness is causing the sexual organs and not vice versa).

His second major work, the "Critique of Dialectical Reason", where Sartre attempts to modernize his philosophy by means of Marxist additions (respectively, Marxism by means of Existentialist additions) is even more unfriendly to his readers. (Fortunately, the work has never gained much popularity.) - Because my reading of "The Transcendence of the Ego" has preceded the reading of "Being and Nothingness" (it is really advisable to do so), I have placed in front my summary of this work.

Sartre:  The Transcendence of the Ego. Sketch for a Phenomenological Description

 Philosophy of Consciousness and Natural Science

Whoever reads the following passages, and has never dealt with the philosophy of consciousness before, perhaps will be flabbergasted by the fact, that he'll find himself involved in a discussion of issues (e. g. consciousness, ego, perception, free will) he has heard about in the context of brain-researches and brain-theories, but never will meet any discussion about those theories. - On the contrary he will find, that Sartre, when he mentions the brain, does it with some contempt. Here and in "Being and Nothingness" Sartre implies, that knowledge about cerebral functions is not capable, to contribute to the solution of the problems, he is dealing with.

One might think, this is due to the fact, that brain research was just not evolved enough in Sartre's time. I caution against this kind of preconception. Indeed, the viewpoint taken by philosophy is really not the same as the viewpoint of brain science (or science of evolution as well). And this is not the case because of some compensation of the lack of fundamental empirical knowledge about the brain by figments, when people in prescientific ages mused about consciousness, as if they compensated their ignorance concerning the real facts of nature by magical-mythical constructs. - Philosophy is entitled to have its own point of view in those issues, which can be demonstrated by some little thought experiment (not a very groundbreaking one, you'll find many experiments of this kind in the scriptures of Wittgenstein and elsewhere).

Assumed, Erich von Daeniken was right: In biblical times aliens landed on earth and settled on it. These aliens (respectively their descendants) are still here. They live on a little island, hidden in the ocean, and have been recently discovered by some geologists, because they expect to find oil deposits on the island. - A team of scientists is sent to them, and they assert the following: The aliens are very similar to humans, not just by looks. They talk some language, they form social smallgroups, although they sometimes seem to conflict with each other; they are hospitable against the team of researchers, they express emotions, are capable of considerable intellectual performances, etc. Whereas the similarity disappears, when the aliens are examined by physicians: The inside of their bodies is composed in entirely other ways than the inside of the bodies of higher mammals on earth. There are no distinguishable organs, not even cells. And in their heads are no brains, the only thing inside is some water-filled bubble.

These facts give rise to the following sentences in the final report, written by the chief scientist: "Because of their lacking of brains those creatures have no cerebral cortex and no limbic system. It is very well known, that emotions and awareness are located in those regions, hence we can be shure, that the aliens are totally unconscious. There is no reason, to have regards for them, when the oil production starts. As unconscious beings the aliens have no right of possession and are not more entitled to fair treatement than the rocks on the surface. We recommend their extinction, if they disturb production."

This passage seems criminal. But why? The scientists draw no other conclusion than an allotgardener, when he is killing the snails on his ground without musing about their feelings, since snails are no conscious beings. But there is a crucial difference: The aliens behave and act in another way than snails usually do. And the cause of our presumption that they are conscious lies not in their physiology, but in the kind of behaviour, they have showed to the researchers, no matter, what their physical composition might be.

The major result of the thought experiment is: To ask for the consciousness of somebody doesn't mean in the first place to ask for his physiology. The "cerebral" point of view, which allows it the doctor, to state the unconsciousness of his patient due to the absence of certain brain functions is a derived point of view! It results, for instance, from the observation, that people, whose brains are in a special kind of state, do not respond or act any more and show no remembrance, if they are lucky enough to be awakened again.

After all, the conclusion goes from a special kind of behavior or acting to the presence of consciousness. Even the famous Turing-Test shares this presupposition: the test wants to prove, that a machine "thinks" (is conscious). It consists of a dialogue between a human and the tested machine. If the human after a certain time is not capable to distinguish the answers of the machine from the answers of a human being (and answers are a case of behaviour), the test results in the assertion, that the machine is in fact intelligent. - But why takes Turing it for ensured, that behaviour is the sole criterion for the consciousness of something or somebody? Isn't it conceivable, that seemingly conscious behaviour is in fact unconscious, automatic, even if it occurs for a long time?

Indeed, natural science is not a suitable tool to resolve the problem, whether those aliens are conscious beings. The problem leads us further to a philosophical question: which criteria do we use, if we acknowledge beeings as conscious? - But there is still another reason for the fact, that a specific philosophical account of consciousness is indispensable. This reason lies in something, which can be called "the subjective quality of experiences". When I'm in pain, it is possible to lead back this fact to particular neuronal processes (more precisely, it has become apparent, that you'll find those processes very often in the nervous systems of persons, who utter pain, and that persons usually don't utter pain, if there are no such processes in their nervous systems). But a description of neuronal processes - what has it to do with the pains of a person? Pains are unpleasent, nasty, inconvenient, they suck - but where do you find those aspects in a neuronal description?

There is one aspect of pain, that cannot be part of a physiological description from the start: The experience "pain", which seems to be the very own property of the one, who is in pain (other people can perceive this aspect just in their own cases). You can't infer this aspect from a reductionist scientific description. - Put another way: If you see a human being as a physical-chemical complex, in the way natural science usually does, it remains possible and conceivable, that this human is not conscious, although he behaves like everybody.

It was the subjective quality of experiences, which led modern philosophers to the opinion, that there must be a special realm, in which consciousness is located seperate from the rest of the world (many later philosophers have abandoned this kind of view). Descartes maintains a theory like this, and for a long time his successors were occupied with the question, how interactions between those two worlds are possible: There is undoubtedly no spatiality in the area of consciousness (thoughts, pains etc. are not extended), so it is impossible, to use mechanical causal relations, like they are common in the world of things, to explain e.g. how an act of volition causes my arm to move.

I want to emphasize the fact, that Sartre's thinking is rooted in this kind of tradition. The special detachedness, the isolation, which is attributed to consciousness, gives rise to the use of introspection as the most important procedure in the philosophy of consciousness (I am the only one who is able to find out, what is going on in my consciousness, and the way to do so is to "look inside"). Nevertheless the opinion is that knowledge, gained with this method, is generalizable. - Almost all of Sartre's reasonings, in "The Transcendence of Ego" as well as in "Being and Nothingness" rely on facts, which are ascertained mainly by introspection.

Maybe it's important to note, that Sartre's issue is exclusively the consciousness of humans. He never talks about animals (or aliens as well), and he also never explicitely discusses the problem of criteria (although it is touched where Sartre describes the "look"). - It's an interesting question, whether it is possible to applicate Sartre's philosophy in the case of higher nonhuman mammals (Are dogs free?).

 Formal Ego and Material Ego

"The Transcendence of the Ego" has been published 1936/1937 in a philosophical journal. It represents Sartre's philosophy of consciousness contrasted with other views, especially the one maintained by his teacher Husserl. The offered theory is an important prestage for the one which is presented in "Being and Nothingness". Main issue is the ego and its relations to consciousness. Sartre's major thesis conveys, that the ego is not part of consciousness. He distinguishes two ego-concepts, but he considers the thesis to be true for both of them.

What's the difference between the contents of my consciousness (my pains, my thoughts, etc.) and the contents of some other consciousness? What is responsible for the fact, that both consciousnesses are different? The answer is the reference to an ego. But in the first place the ego is nothing more than a point of reference, which ensures logically the unity of my consciousness (everything in my consciousness is related to this ego) as well as the individuation of my consciousness (everything in my consciousness is related to my ego, everything in another consciousness is related to another ego). So you can call it the "formal ego".

It is indispensable to presuppose a logical reference point like this, but that doesn't mean, that there is some kind of existing entity, which can be identified with the formal ego and acts as an initiator of the unity and individuation of my consciousness. It is possible that both are initiated without an initiator, and that's exactly Sartre's view. - The material ego on the other side can be defined easily: It is the kind of ego, which is the object of psychology, the psychic ego. The material ego (and never the formal ego) might be in a state of jealousy, anxiety or desire.

 The Formal Ego is no Part of Consciousness

Immanuel Kant was a philosopher, who did much work around the unity of consciousness. He drew the conclusion, that it is necessary, to assume a formal ego (he named it "transcendental unity of apperception"). - But Sartre emphasizes, that Kant never claimed, that the formal ego has some kind of equivalent in reality. For him it was nothing more than the entirety of the logical conditions required for the unity of the subject. - The view of Kant's followers (Neo-Kantianism) was different. Some of them maintained the reality of the formal ego as an existing thing, which they thought of as unconscious, because it makes consciousness possible. Others maintained, that the formal ego is an existing entity in consciousness, because it accompanies all facts of consciousness, which means it is a fact of consciousness itself.

The late Husserl joined this line of thought: The "transcendental consciousness" (Husserls version of the formal ego) fabricates the unity of "ordinary" consciousness and is accessible by intuition. - In comparision Sartre maintains the needlessness of a "manufacturer of unity". It is entirely sufficient, if the elements of consciousness are referred to objects on one side and to each other on the other side, any further reference to some point in reality is redundant. - What does this mean? - A major thesis of Husserl's phenomenology conveys, that consciousness is always consciousness of something. The catchphrase for this thesis is "intentionality". Consciousness refers to outer objects or to other elements of consciousness, whereas it is inconceivable without any reference to something.

Sartre thinks, that intentionality as a fundamental property of consciousness is sufficient to ensure unity and individuation of consciousness. But how does it work? A number of momentary consciousnesses unite to a single consciousness, if they refer to the same object. A present consciousness unites with a past consciousness, because it is consciousness of the past consciousness ("intends" on it). - In this manner the momentary consciousnesses unite without a helping hand from another element of consciousness, which might be called "transcendental ego". - But what about Husserl's contention, that the transcendental ego is accessible by intuition? It seems impossible to deny, that we always experience a thinking ego, if we focus on our own thinking. With this in mind ("I think, therefore I am") Descartes had infered his existence from his thinking.

To meet this objection, Sartre developes a notion of levels of consciousness, which will become very important in "Being and Nothingness": At first he states, that every consciousness is not simply consciousness of something, but always simultaneously consciousness of itself, consciousness of consciousness. But there are two possibilities for a consciousness to be consciousness of consciousness: Consciousness might be its own object. In this case we talk about "reflection". But I am aware of my own consciousness not only if I am in a reflectional mode, but always. Even if I am totally absorbed by some perception (e. g. I gaze at the girl that suddenly has stepped out of the elevator), I'm aware of the fact, that I perceive something - even if the only object of consciousness is the perceived thing and not consciousness itself. Accordingly, there are two kinds of self-consciousness: reflective self-consciousness and not reflective consciousness of consciousness (Sartre calls it "pre-reflective"). - This distinction is of prime importance for Sartre's philosophy and it recurs often in "Being and Nothingness".

Sartre calls the non reflective level "First-level-consciousness". On this level, consciousness is consciousness of an object and consciousness of itself, but "itself" cannot be understood as another object of consciousness. The two kinds of consciousness belong to different categories: The consciousness of consciousness in the non reflective state is "not positioning" (this phrase refers to the positioning of objects). - Consciousness of consciousness becomes positioning, when consciousness itself becomes an object, which happens on the reflective level (Second-level-consciousness). - Well, on which level do we experience an ego? Surely on the reflective level, what has been shown by Descartes. But what about the pre-reflective level? Sartre denies, that there is an ego on this level, and he argues on the base of a principled reason. To understand this reason, we have to introduce some new term.

In Sartre's understanding, consciousness is characterized by "translucidity". This concept is not as clear as it seems. On the one hand it means, that I am entirely aware of everything, that happens in my consciousness. The being of an element of consciousness is its appearing. On the other hand it will become apparent, especially in "Being and Nothingness", that I can be wrong about fundamental facts concerning my consciousness. Therefore translucidity doesn't enable me to obtain offhand evident knowledge about my consciousness, it just involves the possibility to obtain such knowledge. (Things are translucide as early as they are permeable to light, they don't need to be totally transparent.)

Sartre is confident, that an ego, however formal it may be, always keeps a material remainder and has thus to be regarded as opaque ("Opacity" is contrary to translucidity). How can he justify this claim? - One might say, that the ego, as the companion of all processes in consciousness, can't be identical with them and thus goes beyond consciousness. If the ego is located in consciousness, consciousness would include some opaque component. But this is inconceivable: In Sartre's words, the ego would seperate consciousness from itself and dispel it like a knife.

But if it is impossible to think, that the ego is part of the pre-reflective consciousness, why do we experience it, if we reflect on our pre-reflective consciousness? Sartre answers like this: If I reflect on some simple reception, which has ocurred on the pre-reflective level, it seems to me, that the ego exists not only at the moment of reflection, but has already existed at the moment of perception. - The point is, that the ego has been added afterwards, during reflecion, and hasn't been in consciousness at the moment of perception. The ego is the ego of consciousness, in so far as consciousness has become the object of another consciousness.

But how can I prove by intuition, that first-level-consciousness lacks an ego, if intuition shows me the presence of an ego, whenever I reflect on consciousness? If verification by intuition fails, it causes Sartre's theory to fail: The formal ego is necessarily part of consciousness, if intuition tells me so, since being and appearance is identical in the area of consciousness. - To save his theory, another kind of access to preflective consciousness is required, which is not reflective and grants the possibility of an opposite intuition. Indeed, Sartre maintains that there is a special access, and he calls it "not reflecting memory".

Memory tells us, that there was no ego, when we were merely first-level-consciousness. Sartre gives an example: If I remember a moment during my reading of a thrilling book, intuition shows me, that during that moment no ego was existing for me, just the contents of the book. - (Note the fact, that pre-reflective consciousness exceeds the present time in this arguing. In "Being and Nothingness" Sartre expands this account and offers a complete philosophy of time.)

The ego appears therefore only during reflection as a kind of reference point for the consciousness, which is the object of reflection (it appears not for the reflecting consciousness - as such it is first-level-consciousness without ego). But the ego, which appears during reflection is just an object and no part of consciousness - it is "transcendent", it transcends consciousness. I don't grasp it with evidence, just as an "Abschattung".

The term "Abschattung" originates from the philosophy Husserls, who is still the main influence for Sartre's thinking in "The Transcendence of the Ego". Husserl found out, that we perceive objects never as a hole, but always in aspects, in facets, e. g. no more than three sides of a cube simultaneously. Such aspects are called "Abschattungen". Because it is never certain, that the future facets of an object, which are not perceivable now, will match my expectations (the apparent cube might turn out to be a pyramid), perception of objects is uncertain on principle. Husserl uses the phrase "inadequate evidence" to describe this fact. Therefore the perception of a cube via its "Abschattungen" is done with inadequate evidence. - And the same applys to the ego, if it's just an object for consciousness.

 The Material Ego is not in Consciousness

We've already learned, that the material ego can't be part of consciousness because of its opacity. Only the objects perceived by consciousness are opaqe, but never consciousness itself (which becomes aware of itself just in the perception of something opaque, the perception of something, which is not consciousness). - At that point Sartre deals with a theory devised by the so called "French Moralists" (e. g. La Rochefoucauld). It maintains, that every act of consciousness (desiring, acting) is done as a result of self-love. Implicitely this theory conveys, that there is a material ego in consciousness, because it's the capability of the material ego to have desires (like self-love).

Self-love in this sense provides the goal for every process in consciousness: E. g. one desires objects to satisfy his self-love (egoism, narcism). - But isn't it a rule of thumb, that we desire objects not to satisfy our self-love, but simply because they seem to be desirable? The Moralists meet this objection by claiming, that self-love is in fact unconscious but nevertheless the real impetus of desire, even in cases of seemingly unselfish behavior: I dont't help the one who's helpless because of my altruism, but to eradicate the unpleasant feelings in my mind, caused by his bad condition.

An inevitable consequence of this theory is, that consciousness depends on the material ego, since the latter is the provider of self-love. - The fundamental mistake, on which this view rests, is - according to Sartre - its recognition of the reflective level as the only level of consciousness. To help somebody, not because he's in need, but to ensure my good mood - that's a thought, which could arise only as a result of reflection. Since it is not possible to establish those reflections by intuition, the Moralist is compelled to relocate them in the area of unconsciousness, which leads to the consequence, that there is an unconscious reflection. But reflection means essentially, that consciousness is object for consciousness - hence an unconscious reflection is contradictory, and the Moralist's theory refuted.

Furthermore Sartre talks about a common distinction between the acting ego and the ego, which is the unity of psychic conditions and qualities. Sartre considers the distinction to be redundant: Both are aspects of the same material ego. The location of this ego is not in unreflective consciousness und neither (like the Moralists think) "somewhere behind" the unreflective consciousness as a kind of motor. - Which part does it play?

 States, Actions and Qualities

Sartre supposes - as we have seen - a unity of consciousness, which results from the fact, that the elements of consciousness and the momentary consciousnesses are "intending" on each other. This unity can be achieved without any existing formal ego. It is no part of consciousness, but still lies on the tier of consciousness (is immanent in consciousness). - On the other hand the material ego is likewise a unity of consciousness, but one that's not on the tier of consciousness, neither as a part nor as a kind of immanent unity. It is trancendent. - What does that mean?

Material uniting of the processes in consciousness can be done in several ways. One possibility is, to claim, that consciousness is in some special state, e.g. the state of hatred. Another can be to summarize several processes under the concept "action". And finally one can attribute a special quality to consciousness, e.g. the quality "jealous", which functions also as a kind of unity. - The ego is the unity of these unities, it is the unity of the states, qualities and actions of a consciousness. - States, actions and qualities are grasped by reflection, hence the entire ego is an object of reflection. - Can I deduce from this fact, that the being of the ego is identical with its appearing, and that it is possible to obtain evident knowledge about the ego by means of reflection?

Sartre denies it: Reflection is evident as long as it refers to real elements/processes of consciousness. If I've got a feeling, e.g. a feeling of strong aversion against some person, deception is not possible. The sentiment is part of consciousness and therefore translucide. But if I go further and trace back the feeling to my state of hatred, which is a unity located on some higher level, if I e.g. talk like this: "I have a feeling of strong aversion, because I hate him", then I refer to facts, that are not part of consciousness. I hate a person even then if I don't think about him, in which case the hatred has no connection to my consciousness. - Hatred doesn't amount to nothing more than my actual feelings of aversion, but rather it denotes a disposition, to feel aversive, even in future and in the long run, whenever I meet the hated person.

We have seen now, how it is possible, that reflection goes wrong. The mistake arises from a mingling of things, which are real objects of my intuition, and things, which transcend the scope of reflection. This phenomenon, called "impure reflection" becomes important in "Being and Nothingness". - Pure reflection cannot tell me, that I'm in a state of hatred. Even if I investigate my feelings of aversion as accurate as possible, they don't tell me, that I'll feel the same during an encounter two weeks later. Therefore hatred as a unity of my aversions is transcendent and affected by the same kind of uncertainty as other transcendent objects. - It's just an object, which I don't perceive in its entirety, on the same level as the cube, the sides of which I perceive. My sentiment of aversion acts as an "Abschattung", which indicates a complete object.

The "Abschattungen", my actual feelings, are primary to the hatred. But although I'm forced to deduce hatred from its indications, isn't it ok to say, that hatred (assumed, my deduction is true) causes its indications in consciousness? In the same way, as electric charge causes sparks, even if the presence of the charge is deduced from the sparks itself? - This seems natural, whereas Sartre doesn't accept it.

Hatred isn't capable to cause anything in consciousness, because it is generally impossible, to affect consciousness causally. The causal relation between hatred and aversional feelings, which common sense wants us to suppose, is a "magic" relation. (Sartre frequently uses the term "magic" to describe cases, in which a common prejudgment takes causal relations for granted in an irrational way.) - Hatred is not alone no kind of power or force: it is completely passive, because it totally depends on its "Abschattungen". Sartre designates hatred and other dispositions as "states", to emphasize their inactivity. - However, it is justified to say, that hatred is able to cause physical phenomena (e. g. a ghastly face), in so far as the single feelings, which are united in the concept of hatred, are suited to cause such phenomena. Elements of consciousness cannot be caused in Sartre's view, but Sartre never denies in concrete cases, that they are able to cause physical phenomena. (In "Being and Nothingness" he refuses this possibility theoretically and admits a need for clarification.)

The ego is not only composed of states, but also of actions. Sartre doesn't say very much about them, but emphasizes their transcendence. A consequence of this is the transcendence of Descartes' methodical scepticism, because it's a kind of action. We will deal with this issue later. - "Qualities" are best described as "character traits". Talents, tastes, instincts, tendencies (e. g. the tendency to be resentful) are all subsumed under the concept "Quality". For some reason, which is not apparent to me, Sartre regards qualities as arbitrary ("facultative") and mostly a result of social attribution. Moreover he believes, that the unification of actions and states is sufficiently done by the ego alone, so that qualities as additional unities are useless.

 The Ego

From now on "ego" is always used to designate the material ego, which you should keep in mind, if you want to understand the following explanations. - Sartre is eager to show, that the ego as a unificator is not an empty central place, around which the elements of consciousness are grouped. These elements have no center, they form a unity which is comparable to a melody: No single note is more important than any other note, if the notes constitute a melody, but if one note changes, the whole melody is changed. Sartre calls this kind of unity "synthetic unity". Another unity structured this way is the world as a whole: The ego is the synthetic unity of the elements and processes of consciousness, and the world is the synthetic unity of the objects, consciousness is confronted with.

What consequences for the ego arise from its structure? - Because it is constituted by units, which are transcendent (actions, states), it shares their kind of uncertainty. E.g. it is not sure, that my ego includes hatred against some person, because it is not sure, that my aversions are durable enough to justify this word. Even my memories, which may tell me, that my aversions are durable, might be wrong. - Thus the real constitution of my ego is hypothetical. Not hypothetical is the fact, that there is an ego at all, because the ego is simply the highest unity of my consciousness, no matter which elements it contains. As such it shares the evidence of consciousness itself: If I am a conscious being, I have an ego as a transcendent unity of my consciousness (in the same way every person has a biography).

A common prejudice holds, that the ego produces its states, in the same way, as it seems, that hatred causes aversions. My reflection on a state of consciousness involves always the interpretation of this state as produced by the ego. Of course, I exceed the knowledge guaranteed by reflection if I do so: The interpretation is not covered by the mere grasping of consciousness by itself. The falseness of the interpretation can be shown by the fact, that the ego can be exceeded by the seemingly produced states. An action, apparently produced by my ego, can change it. If I've always been a honorable man, but suddenly find myself doing something very rude, the rude action alters my ego and maybe the fact, that my ego has such unknown qualities consternates me sometimes later.

While consciousness is really spontaneous, really producing something, the spontaneity of the ego is just virtual. The apparent succession

Ego -> States ->Consciousness

hides the effective succession

Consciousness -> States ->Ego

In consciousness being and self-detection are identical. But such translucidity isn't perceived like an object, because the being of an object is never identical with its appearing: An object is always more than the perceived Abschattung. (Here is the reason for the principled inaccessability of other consciousnesses.) - Sartre thinks, that the concept of ego is just an attempt, to transform the translucidity of consciousness into an object. The ego seems to be consciousness, whereas in fact it's opaque.

Since it is an object, the ego can be judged by others as well as by me. Others may be even more suitable, to do so: The distance between myself and my ego is too small. You can illustrate this phenomenon with a forest, which is invisible as a whole to the one who's walking under its trees, but can be seen by somebody standing in some distance on a hill. E.g. others might see my steady reactions towards a particular person more clearly than I, in which case they are also better suited to establish, that I'm in a state of hatred.

The totality of the ego includes my future states of consciousness as well as my present and past ones. Thus it's an ideal totality and not a genuine totality. It shares this property with all objects of consciousness. The assumption, that an Abschattung is the aspect of an object, refers to an infinite number of Abschattungen, which might be perceived in the future. Objects are always ideal units.

Sartre considers a possible objection: If we do some work and are in an unreflective mode of consciousness, it can happen, that we utter first-person-sentences like "I'm doing ... now." Doesn't that imply the existence of an ego on the pre-reflective level? - Sartre denies this consequence. The "I" in those sentences is just a kind of blankspace and doesn't refer to an intuition in consciousness.

Now Sartre gets back to the ego in Descartes' "cogito ergo sum": That we always meet an ego, if we reflect, is a rule of thumb, but it's not necessary. The reflection is just focused on consciousness itself, and the ego is a transcendent object. Therefore the ego in Descartes' cogito is a contamination. Where do we find the source of it? - Sartre thinks, it is the motivation of the one who is reflecting, which brings in the ego. E. g. Descartes motivation was methodical scepticism. - Because it seems impossible to reflect without some motivation behind it, the appearance of the ego is unevitable in practice, even if reflection without an ego is conceivable.

Here we notice some difficulty, which we shall meet again: The methodical guideline, that it is possible to achieve evident philosophical knowledge by intuition/introspection, leaves no room for disagreements about the results. But we've seen, that Descartes states another evidence than Sartre, despite the fact, that both philosophers rely on the cogito.


Sartre believes, that his theory is useful, to expose the demarcation between Phenomenology and Psychology: The items of psychology are objects, which are intersubjectively accessible. Consciousness is - in distinction from the ego - no such object, because the only way to grasp it is the reflection of an individual person. To describe its features is no business of psychology, but of philosophy - more precisely the business of philosophy in the shape of Husserls phenomenology. As previously mentioned, phenomenology, as a version of traditional philosophy of consciousness is resting on introspection as its major procedure.

Until now it's not clarified, how the preconception, that the ego causes the states and the states cause the phenomena of consciousness could arise, although this assumption is quite upside down. The reason for it lies in the fact, that the spontaneity of consciousness seems worrying for consciousness itself. I am amenable to it in a fateful way. - It should be noted, that Sartre doesn't equate spontaneity and freedom at this point in the development of his thinking, as he will later do in "Being and Nothingness". - Sartre mentions psychiatric disease patterns, which currently would be associated with the diagnosis "obsessive-compulsive neurosis": people are, without any concrete reason, painfully fearing, that they could do something absurd or amoral (e. g. perform an exhibitionist act). Sartre gives the following explanation: Those people have simply realized the spontaneity of consciousness: "Consciousness is terrified by its own spontaneity, because it feels, that it's beyond freedom."

The base of the mentioned preconception is an avoidance reaction of consciousness, which feels not able to stand this knowledge (it can drive a person insane). The worrying spontaneity is projected in the ego, which is more distant from myself than consciousness, since I am consciousness. I can assume without any problem, that the ego has free will, whereas the spontaneity of consciousness is beyond free and not free and seems to be an inescapable determination of my self. (Keep in mind, that Sartre modifies this approach in "Being and Nothingness"!) - Due to the fact, that consciousness during reflection always recognizes itself as spontaneous and ego-independent, the avoidance reaction is never really reaching its goal. - In "Being and Nothingness" descriptions of avoidance reactions like this take up much space.

Eventually, Sartre explains that his approach is the only way to refute Solipsism. - The Solipsist argues in connection with Descartes, that the existance of his ego is unquestionable, but never the existence of other things (and egos). - Sartre's refutation relies on the thesis, that the ego is a transcendent object. As such it is on the same level as other objects in the world and can be questioned like them. - Sartre's reasoning is not quite convincing: He himself has told us, that the constitution of the ego is uncertain, but the ego itself undeniable, because it shares the evidence of consciousness in its roll as the ideal unity of consciousness. - It seems, the Solipsist is still able to defend the undeniable existence of his ego, as long as he doesn't maintain, that the properties of this ego are unquestionable. And he can always maintain the undeniable existence of his consciousness. (Sartre will retract this failed refutation in "Being and Nothingness").

Sartre:  Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology

 Introduction: In Search of Being

"Being and Nothingness" was published 1943 in Paris under german occupation. Sartre had conceived the work partly during his military service and later as a prisoner of war. (His examples taken from real life shall be considered against the background of those circumstances.)

The purpose of the Introduction is, to segue from the Husserl-influenced phenomenological fundament into the theory of being, a concept he's taken from Husserls student Heidegger as a an extension of phenomenology. - What's phenomenology? The word denotes a conception developed by Husserl and varied by Husserl's successors, which conveys, that the task of philosophy consists - broadly speaking - in the description of facts, which can be evidently grasped without any involvement of experience. On this foundation the particular sciences shall be grounded. The concept is often used for strongly different philosophical theories, which have been developed on an phenonemological base, so it's not very unambiguous. We already know the "Abschattungen"-doctrine as a result of Husserl's phenomenology.

The reader of "Being and Nothingness" is confronted with several conceptions, which resemble Heidegger's conceptions in "Being and Time". I want to emphasize the main difference of both approaches: Sartre's philosophy is always a philosophy of consciousness, staying close to Husserl's doctrine, while Heidegger totally disregards consciousness in his inquiries.

The first sentence of "Being and Nothingness" states, that "modern thinking" (this phrase refers only to Husserl's philosophy - I've never found any clue, that Sartre has taken note of the Vienna Circle, e.g.) was able to reduce a number of dualisms, which played their role in the history of philosophy, to one single dualism, so that it increased hereby the economy of philosophical theory. To follow Sartre's arguing, one must realize the roll of phenomena in Husserls doctrine:

As earlier mentioned, a thing is perceived by means of its "Abschattungen" (= phenomena). For consciousness, the Abschattung (the visible sides of the cube) is in perception the only really available part, the existence of the thing/object itself (e.g. the cube) is just ideal. What kind of existence is this ideal existence? - The object simply refers to the complete series of possible Abschattungen (all aspects, which I could see from the cube). - However, if I identify an Abschattung, which is available to me, with the appearance of a special thing, I know this way, which Abschattungen I am granted to expect, and which are impossible. (I know, that a perceived cube is not ball-shaped on its backside, if I turn it over.) - The Abschattungen of a special object follow therefore a certain rule. This rule can be regarded as the thing's essence.

 Dualism Outside / Inside

It's a very popular view, that the things merely show their outsides, while the insides are a matter of deduction. In this sense I perceive the effects of electricity, e.g. magnetism, light, heat etc. but never electricity itself: the electric power is "on the inside" and the perceivable phenomena, it causes, are ocurring "on the surface". - This example Sartre's is somehow misleading: "Objects" of science like electricity are from the start designed as not-perceivable, "internal" entities, because their purpose is to explain the perceivable behavior of perceivable things. But how about the perceivable things as such? Do they hide some concealed inside?

Sartre has in mind the Kantian distinction between the phenomena and the "Ding an sich" (the thing in itself). The empirical thing is a result of the application of subjective forms of perception and categories of thinking on some data-material, which is provided by the senses. Thus it cannot be identical with the actual thing, the "Ding an sich", since every assertion about the phenomenal thing leds back only to the forms in my mind. Behind the reality of phenomena lies another reality, the "Ding an sich", the inside of being, as distinguished from the perceived outside. Thus the opposition "Outside / Inside" includes the opposition "Phenomenon / Being".

 Dualism Potency / Actuality

"Potency" can be rendered as "possibility" and "actuality" as "realized possibility". But the concept "possibility" is ambiguous: Here it is meant as a real possibility and not a merely logical possibility. A marble statue is the real possibility of a block of marble, but not the real possibility of the water in a bathtub, because it is possible to carve marble but not to carve water. (Of course, a world is conceivable, in which methods exist, to produce marble-statues from water, so that the statue would be a real possibility of the water in this world.) - If the statue is already carved, it is no longer in potency, but in act.

This kind of dualism has been introduced by Aristotle. He regarded it as a necessary requirement for the concepts of change and becoming. The problem with it is merely, that it is not exactly clear, in which sense the potential thing is already existing: The statue "in actu" exists after the process of carving. But the statue in potency, before the carving, aren't we compelled, to say, it exists also in some obscure way? (The statue is here no longer the best example, because it is a "clip" of the marble-block, and as such existing in the uncarved block. Better think of an acorn, and its relation to the oak-tree.)

 Dualism Appearance / Essence

"Essence" doesn't to Husserl's concept (see above), but means at this point simply "what a thing really is". The point is, that, following the traditional view, it's impossible for us, to know completely, what a thing really is, because of the limitations of our cognition. The appearing of things contrasts with their hidden essence in this sense, and constitutes therefore another dualism. - Subsequently, Sartre will explain how phenomenology leads back those several dualisms into one single dualism.

 Reduction of those Dualisms into the Dualism Finite / Unfinite

For phenomenology, there is no inside and no outside, inasmuch as the phenomena solely refer to other phenomena (the perceived Abschattungen refer to the Abschattungen, that could be seen) and no longer to some "Ding an sich" or a not perceivable scientific entity behind the scene. - Alluding to the latter, Sartre claims that electricity is nothing more than the entirety of its effects.

Potency and actuality disappear equally: the statue-potency, sticking in the marble, is simply the entirety of statues, which could be carved from it. As another example Sartre mentions Marcel Proust as a young man, who does not contain his later works in potency, but whose potency exclusivly expresses itself in the works, that will be in fact written by him. - Likewise the opposition essence / appearing can be removed: The essence is the rule, which controls the series of the Abschattungen. (It is e.g. part of the essence of a cube, that there will be no hemisphere in the range of its possible Abschattungen.)

But doesn't the theory of Abschattungen involve a duality as well? Obviously there is an opposition between the Abschattungen, which have been really perceived and the Abschattungen of the object, which could be perceived. Sartre calls this duality the dualism of finite and infinite, because he thinks, that an object has always an infinite set of possible Abschattungen. This assumption arises from the following two reasons: On the one hand it is indispensable, that an Abschattung, which has been there before, can appear again (I must be able to see the sides of the cube again, which I've already seen). On the other hand the percepting being can take up an infinite number of viewpoints towards a single Abschattung, which turns every Abschattung in an infinity. - I don't understand the latter reason: What is a viewpoint towards an Abschattung?

 Restoration of the Old Dualisms

Every thing can be identified with an infinity of possible phenomena. In this opposition phenomenon / infinite range (and an infinite range of phenomena is something ideal, not achievable by men) the old opposition outside / inside rises again. Even the opposition potency / actuality is still alive, because a single phenomenon obviously has the potency to a whole series of phenomena (and a possible Abschattung is in potency, if it is really perceived, it's in actu). And finally the essence, as the rule of the possible series of phenomena is still contrary to the single phenomenon.

So it happens, that the economy of phenomenological theory, which arises from the disappearing of dualisms, is just virtual. - But Sartre doesn't stand still at this frustrating point. He thinks, that phenomenology realizes another advance, which seems more important to him: Kant's "Ding an sich" was the actual existing thing, while the existence of phenomena was merely parasitical. But now the being of the phenomenon is no longer carried by another being, in Sartre's words. And here we witness the transition between phenomenology and ontology, the theory of being.

 Excursion: Sartre's Ambiguous Concept of "Being"

That the being of appearence is no longer carried by another being seems to be an unproblematic statement. Primarily, the solely existing entities are Abschattungen, and the things whose appearings they are arise later, secondarily, as concepts which refer to sets of Abschattungen: The concept "being" can be equated with "existing" in this context. - But now Sartre talks about the "Phenomenon of being". There is a phenomenon of being, he tells us, which can be reached by us directly (e.g. by means of nausea or boredom). - Existing things can be reached by us, but the existance as such?

The sentence "If there are things, which belong to category A, it follows, that there are things, which belong to category B" can be expressed this way: "From the existence of things, which belong to category A, can be infered the existence of things, which belong to category B." The latter wording is obviously synonymous with the former and nothing justifies us to think, that the word "existing" is referring to some special thing, which just isn't mentioned in the first version of the sentence. Otherwise the second formulation has to be regarded as the better one, and the assertion "There are things ..." conceils ambidextrously, that it is not only about things, but about an object "existence" as well (ambidextrously, because the assertion seems to be very simple). - This seems not plausible.

The common use of the word "existence" gives no reason for the presumption, that there is an object "existence". - But maybe it is possible, to establish this object otherwise. Assume an arbitrary thing, e.g. a sheet of paper on my desk. This object has properties. E.g. the sheet is white, lightweight, flat, etc. - If we now successively assume away the properties of the sheet, the whiteness, the lightweightness, the flatness, even the property, that it lies on a table, etc. - isn't there still something left, namely the mere existence of the sheet, its being?

The sentence "On my desk lies a sheet of paper" can be reformulated relatively relaxed into the sentence "There is a sheet of paper, which is lying on my desk". If you like it more formally: "There is a thing, such that it is flat, white, lightweight etc. and it is lying on my desk." - If we repeat the above experiment, and remove all properties of the sheet, than we are left with the phrase "There is a thing" - which is obviously nothing. If "There is an X, such that ..." makes sense, that doesn't imply, that "There is an X." (used as an assertion) makes sense as well. The concept "thing" (or "object") as the bearer of the properties of the sheet is totally empty (so that it can be replaced by an X).

"There is an object" is not a real assertion but just a fragment, which turnes into an assertion, if we add one or more "such that ..."-clauses. The attempt, to achieve the being of a thing by means of the removing of its properties, fails. Not the being of the thing is left, but only his "X-ness". - But maybe we've gone too far and the existence has been one of the removed properties! - This view, which regards being as a property, grounded the well known "ontological argument for the existence of god". If we accept this view, there is no problem to achieve an object "being". I can talk about the being of the paper as well as I can talk about its colour. All we need now is some "realism in regards to universals", which means the assumption, that properties are refering to existing abstract things, e. g. that there is "whiteness" somewhere, independent of white things.

But unfortunately it happens, that the theory, according to that the existence of a thing is an additional property, is almost commonly rejected in modern philosophy, namely since Kant's discussion of the "ontological argument". - I just want to mention the following: even if the assertion "the rose is existent" looks very much like "the rose is red", the similarity is just virtual. "The rose is existent" can be transformed in something like "There is a thing with the properties of a rose". This formulation shows, that the "there is ..." is no property itself.

If there would be an object "being", the difficulty would arise, that it would be possible to talk about the being of this object (this problem has been discovered by Franz Brentano, Husserls teacher). There would be the being of the being of the being etc., which leads to an infinite number of being-objects. This infinite regress is a further refutation of the theory, that being is an object. - It is impossible, to treat existence like an object. But Sartre seems to treat it exactly this way, if he talks about a "phenomenon of being", and if states, that there is a "transphenomenal being" too. - What does he talk about?

As an anticipation: Sartre's concept of being fluctuates between two fundamental meanings. If Sartre talks about "being" in "Being and Nothingness", he talks about:

1. Existence (in its common use)

2. A kind of "material of existence", on which every existing thing participates.

Even more tricky, Sartre distinguishes two subspecies of being (the Being-in-itself and the Being-for-itself). In my rendering I will avoid to use the concept "being", if possible (nevertheless you will meet it very often) and I will note in the following passages, which meaning of it Sartre has in mind for the given context. - According to my opinion, this amiguity is a central weekness of "Being and Nothingness". Nevertheless I'm hopeful, that it is possible, to work out Sartre's line of thought quite clear.

 Transition to the Philosophy of Being

From the assertion, that the phenomenon has its own, not derived existence, Sartre advances to make the phenomenon of being item of discussion. - Because e.g. the phenomenon "desk" is a set of Abschattungen, which refer to an ideal infinite range of Abschattungen, which constitute the concept "desk", it seems obvious, that there must be something similar the case concerning being. But the integration of being in Husserls system of Abschattungen fails, because we solely meet existing Abschattungen of (hypothetical) existing objects, but no "existence-Abschattungen" which refer to an object "existence". - In Husserls sense a phenomenon of being isn't possible.

Nevertheless Sartre insists on this phenomenon and explains its requirement with the fact, that we are able to talk about it, and thus must have a prior understanding of it. We should assume - and there are passages in "Being and Nothingness" which argue explicitly like this - that Sartre follows Heidegger concerning this matter, and has less in mind the use of substantives like "existence" or "being", but rather the use of the auxiliary word "to be", e.g. "is"-sentences like "Susy is silly." Heidegger proceeds on the assumption, that the use of those sentences always implies a prior understanding of "being" as an item (Heidegger has been criticized vehemently on that account, because he ignores the variety of the usage of "is").

With the "Nausea"-allusion Sartre suggests, that the phenomenon of being perhaps can't be reached on the common way, by means of the sense organs, but rather through a special mood, which can be experienced in the confrontation with quite normal objects. This kind of mood befalls the protagonist of Sartre's novel (even if Sartre never has experienced the "existential mood" in person, according to his war diaries). - He doesn't go into the theme for now, whereas a lengthy consideration of nausea can be found in Sartre's discussion of the human body.

Is it possible, that being is identical with this phenomenon of being? Obviously not, since the phenomenon of being has its own existence, which can't be identical with the phenomenon of being. Sartre concludes therefore, that being itself is no phenomenon (even if there's a phenomenen of being). Because every knowledge is won from phenomena, being must be beyond knowledge, it transcends cognition. (Which temptates us to question, how something beyond knowledge and cognition can be the issue of a special science, ontology.)

But at first Sartre focuses on the option, that there is no being at all, that there are solely phenomena. He associates this assumption with the idealistic theory Berkeley's, whose catchphrase has been "esse est percipi" - "to be is to be perceived". According to this view, being is nothing more than the cognition of being. This leads to the self-contradictory conclusion, that nothing exists at all: If any existence is in fact cognition, cognition is in fact just cognition of cognition, and each phenomenon just a phenomenon of a phenomenon. The system lacks a fixed point, to which it is attached: if everything is just an illusion, than it's an illusion, that everything is just an illusion. - Sartre draws the conclusion, that it is inevitable to regard existence as "transphenomenal", as something, which is beyond appearing.

We know now, that there is transphenomenal being, but we don't know, where to find it. - Perhaps the problem can be expressed this way (until now "being" is still interpretable as "existence"): necessarily, something exists. But is it located in the area of the subject, or is it located beyond, in the realm of objects? - Sartre discusses first the subjective solution, idealism. (But hasn't he just now proved the absurdity of idealism? - Sartre's argument refutes only the radical, esse-est-percipi-version of idealism, but not every variant of it. The idealistic doctrine has to be restricted: Everything is phenomenon, except for the perceiving subject, which is really existing.

That the subject really exists, seems to be strongly supported by Descartes' "I think, therefore I am." With this experiment Descartes demonstrates to himself, that he can cast doubt on everything, but not on himself. - We remember, that Sartre exposes in "The Transendence of the Ego" the "I" in "I think, therefore I am" as the empirical ego of the person, who is performing the experiment. This ego appears as a result of contamination during my reflection and is not provable in pre-reflective consciousness. Hence Descartes provides no support for the assumption, that the existing is located in the subject (given that this existing is identical with the existence of the ego).

At this point Sartre resumes the distinction of two levels of consciousness. - While first-level-consciousness ("pre-reflective cogito") is directed intentionally "to the outside", it simultaneously is self-consciousness. What consciousness is pointed at, is an object, which is independent from consciousness. The independence of the object (its "transcendence") is according to Sartre an inevitable supposition, as mentioned before, because the object is the ideal infinite range of the Abschattungen. If such an infinity would be in consciousness, consciousness would become absorbed by some "eternal process". What does this mean? - An infinity in consciousness would require an infinity of processes in consciousness, so that it wouldn't be possible, that e.g. some perception could be finished during an unlasting interval.

But self-consciousness on the pre-reflective level can't be a cognition (because a cognition is always conscious itself). Otherwise the cognition has to be cognitioned again, etc., so that the result would be again an infinity of processes in consciousness. The relation between consciousness and self is according to Sartre not cognitive, but "immediate". Cognition "positions" an object, thus self-consciousness is "not positioning". - That consciousness is nevertheless always self-consciousness is just a matter of its translucidity. A perception/sensation (e.g. a sensation of red) is part of my consciousness, since it is conscious. If the perception is not conscious, then it's no part of my consciousness and not even a perception. This amounts to the claim, that unconscious consciousness is inconceivable. - One can imagine, that Sartre isn't exactly a disciple Freud's.

 Existence Precedes Essence

It is important to note, that Sartre regards those entities, which are commonly called "phenomens of consciousness" (like perceptions or intentions) not as properties of consciousness, which are added quasi afterwards, and do not concern the essence of consciousness (in the same way, as it is irrelevant for the spatiality of spatial body, that it weighs two pounds). According to Sartre the phenomena of consciousness constitute the essence of consciousness.

What is the essence of something? Its "what-it-is", which is usually contrasted with its existence. So it is part of the essence of a spatial body, that it's extended, no matter if spatial bodies are existing at all. "It is part of the essence" means, that a spatial body is defined this way. Part of the essence of a green giraffe is it to be long-necked (this follows from the concept "giraffe"), although green giraffes don't exist. - As we have seen, in Husserl's philosophy the essence can be identified with a rule, which prescribes the possible Abschattungen of something.

According to Sartre's view, my momentary headache is part of the essence of my consciousness. But this seems not quite plausible. I can talk about a consciousness, although I don't know if it's in state of pain or not. It seems conceivable, that it is part of the essence of consciousness, that it could be in a state of pain, but how can an actual headache be part of it? And isn't it a consequence, that every individual consciousness has its own essence (which changes permanently, aside from that), so that a general concept "consciousness" is without any sense?

Sartre maintains: The "what" (essentia) of consciousness has to be understood from its being (existence). What means, that consciousness is existing in the first place and gaining its essence in the second place (respectively, generating its essence). "First place" and "second place" refer to a logical order, and not to a chronological order.

To understand Sartre's arguing, you should remember the intentionality of consciousness. Consciousness is always consciousness of something, it has always some content. An empty consciousness is inconceivable. Simultaneously Sartre thinks, that consciousness is totally spontaneous, which means, that the contents of consciousness are not determined. There is no empty consciousness, which becomes full of contents afterwards (in the way of a screen, that precedes the pictures on it), but consciousness emerges together with its contents and hasn't existed before them. But those contents are arbitrary by virtue of the spontaneity of consciousness, so they cannot be used to define consciousness before it's existing (this would be possible, e.g. if consciousness were necessarily consciousness of pain). - In so far it is true, that there are only individual consciousnesses!

Another aspect of Sartre's catchphrase becomes clearer, if we look forward to the fourth part of "Being and Nothingness". Sartre maintains there, that freedom necessarily has no essence, since it is "not constituted". - What's the meaning of "constitution"? The concept refers to the generating of objectivity by consciousness: The object "cube" is generated by adding the Abschattungen, that I expect for the future, to the currently perceived Abschattungen. And why can't an unconstituted thing have no essence? Remember Husserl's definition of "essence": An essence of something is the rule of its Abschattungen. Because consciousness is not perceived by us as a range of Abschattungen, which refer to an object, but somehow immediate, Husserl's definition isn't applicable here!

Well, Sartre's work is nevertheless a philosophy of consciousness and its issue is not merely Sartre's own consciousness during the developing of "Being and Nothingness". It pretends to represent a theory, which is significant for all consciousnesses. So it inevitabely postulates a universal concept of consciousness (which includes e. g. the intentionality and the spontaneity of consciousness). - The limitation of "essence" to Husserl's definition is probably too tight.

In conjunction with Sartre's philosophy of freedom the catchphrase wins another, atheistic connotation. Sartre expresses this aspect in his essay "Existentialism is a Humanism": In the case of a tool (the well known paper knife), which is fabricated by a maker, the essence precedes the existence, insofar as the tool has been projected before production (the "what" of the paper knife has been in the mind of the maker before he has produced it). Contrary to that, a human being is not produced by a maker, but is producing itself, while acting freely. In the same way consciousness produces itself by means of its spontaneous products.

One could raise the objection, that the essence of consciousness lies in the laws of consciousness. Sartre answers, that there are no laws of consciousness. Why? Because we are not aware of such laws, they can't be in consciousness, otherwise consciousness divides in an unconscious part (the laws) and a conscious part (the part, which follows those laws). And - as we said above - there can't be anything unconscious (opaque) in consciousness, simply because consciousness is conscious!

Now one might argue, that the laws of consciousness could be outside of consciousness: It would be sufficient, that consciousness follows those laws. But this would amount to the claim, that contents of consciousness are caused by something. But, since consciousness is not aware of such causation, the result would be again the presence of some unconscious element in consciousness (the "causedness"). - Nothing can influence consciousness, according to Sartre. (This argument is of prime importance, because it underlies Sartre's claim, that the human being is completely free.)

 The Spontaneity of Consciousness

As mentioned before, the spontaneity of consciousness is according to Sartre an indispensable consequence of its translucidity. The spontaneity is associated with the total uncausedness of everything, that happens in consciousness and is Sartre's reason to assume total freedom of human decisions. - One has to consider the fact, that in Sartre's time not only the causation of consciousness by physical processes was popular, but that likewise another concept of causation was much discussed: the nomological causation of processes and elements of consciousness by each other. The psychology of mental association tried to find laws, according to which the succession of the contents of consciousness occurs (one of those laws said, that the perception of a thing is often followed by the rememberance of some similar thing).

To understand Sartre's line of thought, it is sufficient, to consider merely physical causation. Today almost everybody would consent, that hitting my thumb with a hammer causes electrochemic shifts in the thumb-nerves, which lead in turn to other (again physical) shifts in brain, which eventually cause my pain as a phenomenon-of-consciousness. But Sartre would regard this explanation as absurd: it states, that my feeling of pain is enforced by something (I would have to be aware of this enforcement).

But isn't it true, that my pain is enforced? Indirectly by the hit on my thumb and directly by the neuronal state of my brain, and don't I know these facts? - This objection rests on a misunderstanding. The nexus of pain and events in the external world is learned (aside from the fact, that a pain in my thumb sometimes emerges spontaneously). The awareness of the enforcement of pain is not immediate, it's based on cognition, it's a knowledge. But in this context we deal with consciousness on the pre-reflective level, the immediate awareness of pain, which is not seperable from pain itself, according to Sartre. And this immediate awareness is not the awareness of enforcement, but solely the awareness of pain.

The virtual causedness of the pain is not supported by intuition (pre-reflective). But intuition is the crucial point in Sartre's argument: the concept "consciousness" excludes everything, that is not conscious, hence I must be aware of everything in my consciousness by intuition. I'm not aware of the causedness of my pain, so it is not caused. (It is undoubtedly one of the most implausible consequences of Sartre's approach, that pain is a result of the spontaneity of consciousness.)

Sartre expresses the issue like that: Consciousness exists by itself. This formulation doesn't suggest a causedness of consciousness by itself, since causedness requires a distinction between cause and effect, whereas my consciousness of pain is a whole and doesn't split into a cause-consciousness and an effect-consciousness (aside from the fact, that this consequence would lead again to an unconscious part of consciousness). Futhermore Sartre tells us, that consciousness is the cause of its own manner of being. (Pain is one manner of its being, lust another one.) The mere purpose of this claim is to emphasize, that the manners of its being, which constitute consciousness as a whole, are not caused by something else.

To demarcate his view more sharply, Sartre denies, that the phenomena of consciousness are produced by some action of consciousness. Otherwise we must be aware, that pain is an action, but that's obviously not the case. - Indeed, actions are free, because their base is the spontaneity of consciousness, but they are located on some higher level.

Furthermore, Sartre struggles against the objection, that an existence by itself is absurd, and states to the contrary that it is absurd, that there is not solely existence by itself (that there are not solely uncaused entities). - This claim is not quite clear to me. Perhaps it can be rendered like this: A cause of consciousness (e.g. the brain) would be an existing thing, which is itself caused by some other existing thing, etc. - The chain leads finally back to a "First Mover", which is not caused anymore. Thus the assumption of uncaused entities is required, if there is existence at all. In comparision the existence of caused entities seems to be a superfluos fact (and Sartre uses the word "absurd" frequently, to state the redundance of something).

 Being of Consciousness

Consciousness is uncaused, so it exists as an Absolute. And inasmuch as it is the foundation of cognition, it's transcending cognition. Now the question arises, if consciousness as a source of being is sufficient to ground the existence of things outside of consciousness. Otherwise idealism is the only solution. - Sartre thinks, that it is inevitable, to assume existence outside of consciousness, an existence which equally transcends cognition. His first argument is a negative one, when he states, that the existence of things can't amount to nothing more than to be perceived. He developes his argument in a quite puzzling way with recourse to the dichotomy Activity / Passivity.

If to be is to be perceived, the existence would be a passive existence. But the concept "passivity" is only applicable to existing things. The concept is used to say, that one thing is in a particular relation to some other thing (one thing undergoes changes, which are caused by the other thing). To refer to the existence of a thing as something passive, cannot be more than a failed attempt, to state that the thing is still part of consciousness and has never gained an own existence.

Furthermore Sartre notes, that the passivity of something against the consciousness certainly implies an activity on the side of consciousness. But if consciousness is active, than it has to be passive likewise. - Why? It follows from a universal principle, the law of action and reaction. - It has been found by the physician Newton and suggests, that a force always implies the existence of an opposite force. If A exerts force on B, B exerts the opposite force on A. If the hammer strikes on the anvil, the anvil strikes on the hammer as well.

You could ask, if Sartre is justified to apply some mechanical principle on consciousness, or if Sartre interprets Newtons law more broadly. - But fortunately the second argument is another, positive reason: The existence of things follows from the concept of consciousness. Sartre calls this "the ontological argument", probably because it infers the existence of something from a concept, analogous to the well known ontological proof for the existence of god.

Remember, that Sartre in a similar way has infered the uncausedness of the phenomena of consciousness from the concept of consciousness (unconscious parts in consciousness are contradictory, like crooked lines in a square). Here the existence of something which is not consciousness follows from the intentionality of consciousness, from the fact, that consciousness is always consciousness of something. Thus there must be an outer world, if there is consciousness (and we've already ensured the existence of consciousness). In Sartre's words: if there is consciousness of something at all, the being of this "something" has to be real being, which is not relative to consciousness.

But what about the possibility, that this "something" is nothing more than a kind of absence in consciousness? In other words: the thing as the ideal range of the Abschattungen is admittedly not in consciousness, whereas it still remains possible, that the relation of consciousness to it is not the relation to a real existing thing, but rather the relation to a blankspace (the relation would be an "empty intention", in Husserl's terminology), so that the existing of something outside of consciousness is not required at all. - Sartre's answer to this objection is the assessment, that a non-being can't be the fundament of a being. If the objection would be true, the attempt to reach transcendence, to reach the "outer world", would have failed and we would be enforced to remain idealists.

But wasn't it Sartre's goal to prove that there is being? How can he cope with an objection by noting, that the truth of the objection would render his proof impossible? - Doesn't he admit hereby, that the objection is true and his proof wrong? - (The passage can serve as an example of several occasions, on which I am not sure if I mistake Sartre's meaning, or if his arguing exhibits a gross flaw.)

Sartre summarizes his ontological proof with the verdict, that transcendence is a constitutive structure of consciousness. At this point he adds a constraint, which seems to raise problems: The ontological proof is not located on the level of cognition, but on the level of being (which transcends cognition). Hence it is not possible, to use the ontological proof, to infer, that a particular cognition of the existence of some outer object is accurate, but only, that there is existence outside of consciousness at all. The existence of consciousness implies the existence of something unconscious, but this does not amount to the assertion, that the particular "intention" of a cube implies the existence of the cube.

But isn't it conceivable, that every perception is wrong, i.e. that no concrete "intention" refers to a real existing thing? But nevertheless the giveness of "intentions" shall be able to ensure the existence of things? - The difficulty will be resolved (respectively, will be replaced by other difficulties), in Sartre's launching of the concept "being-in-itself", which happens at the end of the "Introduction" of "Being and Nothingness".


Until now the word "being" in Sartre's use could be rendered relatively relaxed as "existence", but here we have reached the point, where this interpretation is no longer plausible. The ontological proof has established, that there is being at all, but it hasn't established, that there are things (what must be the case, if "being" means merely "existence"). The features of this kind of being, which are listed by Sartre in his characteristics of being-in-itself are no features of existence (whatever "features of existence" could mean).

And being-in-itself is not the only kind of being. There is also "being-for-itself". The latter is the being of consciousness, and should not be confused with the unconscious being-in-itself. While being-in-itself is, what it is, being-for-itself is not, what it is. - Being-in-itself is identical with itself, like every proper entity, being-for-itself isn't! - Does that mean, that the being of consciousness can only be described in a contradictory way? That's exactely Sartre's opinion. - We will get back to it.

At first Sartre states, that the being of the existing things doesn't show itself in person, but only as the "sense of being". - The term "sense" appears on some other occasion, where it becomes clearer: The object outside of consciousness is not in the Abschattung, the perceiver is confronted with (because the object is the infinite range of the Abschattungen), but it can be called the sense of the Abschattung. The sense of the three sides, that are seen by me, is the perceived cube itself. - On some higher level I'm confronted with existing things, whereas their being is not perceived by me simultaneously, but is only the sense of the existence of those objects. A single existing object can be regarded as an "Abschattung of being". I can approach being by means of perceptions of many things, but I can never reach it. I will never meet it as a whole, in the same way, as I can never meet the entirety of an object. (This is my interpretation of this passage.)

Sartre identifies the sense of being with the phenomenon of being. If Sartre henceforth talks about "Being-in-itself" he refers to the phenomenon of being, and to the sense of the existence of real things (in the mentioned use of "sense"). Being is here no longer existence, but some kind of material of it - as a first approximation.

 The Features of Being-in-itself

Everything that exists - this includes everything, which can be described by "is"-sentences - participates on being-in-itself (except consciousness!). I am able to talk about this being totally apart from existing things.

Since every attribution of properties refers to being (because it takes place in sentences like "the rose is red", which state the being of a conjunction between a thing and a property), being-in-itself must be without properties in the usual sense of the word. Differences of all kind refer to properties, thus it's senseless to say, that being-in-itself is different of some other thing or that being-in-itself is not something. Therefore Sartre calls being-in-itself "full positivity". The only thing left to say about being-in-itself is, that it is, what it is, respectively, that it's identical with itself.

Interestingly enough, Sartre discusses the question, if being-in-itself is created. The obvious answer seems to be, that the idea of a creation of being-in-itself is senseless from the outset, because it amounts to the possibility of a non-being of being - the non-existence of existence - so that we would reach immediately logical nirvana. - But Sartre's arguing in another way: Being cannot be created, because creation out of nothing is impossible. Why? If the creation is real independent from the creator, it is inexplicable, how it preserves its existence, if this isn't achieved by some force, that's independent from the creator - thus, the creatorship of the creator is only virtual (or he has been the creator only an infinite small length of time). But if the creation remains in a total dependence on the creator (if he preserves its existence), the process of creation is only virtual, the creation is merely a thought of the creator, which doesn't leave his consciousness.

Anyhow, Sartre points out here, that he regards the idea of a creation of being-in-itself not as paradoxical. - Here the transition to a material conception of being becomes obvious: Being-in-itself has turned into a base substance of the existing things, which could be a product of creation in the same way as an existing thing (the divine creation is a creation of things).

The only feature of being-in-itself, that's left, is its identity with itself. - But how can you call that a "feature"? Identity-with-itself seems to be merely an empty logical form, that can be applied to everything. - Sartre dissents. That being-in-itself is identical with itself (that it is, what it is) is not an analytic proposition, which is true by logical reasons, but a synthetic one!

"Synthetic" was Kant's term for a proposition, which expresses more than what's already included in the concepts/terms, which are found in it. Propositions of this kind constitute real knowledge. "Jack is a bachelor" is synthetic, because "Jack" doesn't include the meaning of "being a bachelor", whereas "Bachelors are unmarried" is analytic, because the sentence expresses only what's included in the concept "bachelor". We can't learn from the latter proposition (unless it is uttered to explain the use of "bachelor"), and exactely the same seems to be the case for "Being is, what it is"!

If the proposition "Being-in-itself is identical with itself" is not analytic, it cannot be self-evident, because analytic propositions merely express, what's self-evident. And that's Sartre's thesis. According to him, consciousness - as the second area of being, besides being-in-itself - is not identical with itself. - The explanation of this will be given later by Sartre. (I assume, that many readers have abandoned their reading of "Being and Nothingness" at this point. And it's my opinion too, that Sartre's ontology loses its relevance, if you regard a contradiction not as an answer, but rather as a sign, that a given answer is wrong. - But the work contains much more than just its central ontology.)

For now, Sartre demonstrates at first the consequences, which arise from the syntheticy of the identity-claim: If it's possible, to be not identical with itself, self-identity is a relation between a thing and itself, that's more than just a logical relation. To understand this, we have to take a look at the opposite case. Something, that is not, what it is, has a relationship with itself, that can be regarded as problematical. Between the thing and itself is a kind of distance. For the case, that identity with itself is given, there must be a distance as well (otherwise the identity-claim is not synthetic), but it is infinitely small, infinitesimal! -

Let's try some less metaphorical approach. If an analytic proposition expresses merely, what's included in the terms, a synthetic proposition expresses more than this. Identity with itself is a relation between an item and itself. The relation is analytic, if there is really no difference between the item and itself. In this case the identity is self-evident. If I regard the proposition not as self-evident, I have to suppose a difference! - But isn't that identical with the claim, that there is no identity at all? - Sartre would answer, that this is true in a way. There is a difference, but it's infinitely small (think of the difference between 0,999... and 1). Identity with itself denotes an infinitely small difference between an item and itself, while non-identity denotes, that the difference is bigger than infinitely small. Identity with itself becomes this way a borderline-case of non-identity with itself: "Being-in-itself has no secret. It's massive. In a certain manner you can call it a synthesis. But it is the most indissoluble one: the synthesis of something with itself."

Sartre adds some secondary features of being-in-itself, which follow from the primary feature, self-identity: Being-in-itself can't become something else, since being is also the being of becoming (I can say in a quite clenched way: "Becoming is!"). Then Sartre tells us something peculiar about being: "It is, and if it's dissolving, you cannot even say, that it is no longer." He adds: "The full positivity of being has restored itself during the dissolving. It was, and now there are other beings: that's all."

If we interprete "being" as a kind of base-substance, we can be tempted to render Sartre's last sentence like this: The quantity of being remains the same, even if particular things disappear and lose their being, because their being has transited to other (newly existing) things. - The whole thing becomes clearer, if we anticipate a view Sartre's, which is expressed in later parts of "Being and Nothingness": Disappearing is only for consciousness, because being-in-itself is without distinction, not partitioned in things. - Things are existing only for consciousness, according to this view.

Finally, Sartre emphasizes the contingency of being-in-itself. (Contingency is the opposite of necessity, the non-existence of a contingent thing is possible.) Sartre tries to establish this claim by noting, that only a nexus of propositions can be necessary. "If all greeks are mortal, and Sokrates is a greek, he is mortal." is necessarily true, whereas "Sokrates exists." is merely a contingent proposition. Hence "Being is." denotes a contingent fact as well. - Sartre underlines his view, when he says, that being-in-itself is "too much for all eternity".

 The Problem of the two Areas of Being

Sartre has told us, that there are two kinds of being, the being of consciousness and the being of things, the being-in-itself. Now two questions arise, and the purpose of the remaining part of "Being and Nothingness" is, according to Sartre, to provide answers to those questions: Why are we justified, to subsume both areas under one concept - the concept of "being"? And how is it possible, to connect those areas?

The answer to the latter question seems obvious: A connection is not possible. On the one hand the spontaneity of consciousness prevents, that anything can affect consciousness. The being of the things is not able to cause phenomena of consciousness, thus a causal connection in this direction can be excluded. On the other hand it's excluded as well, that consciousness affects being-in-itself, because the phenomena of consciousness don't contain unconscious components, and a force, which affects the outer world would be an unconscious component. The area of consciousness is totally isolated. - Of course, it isn't Sartes plan, to stay at this point of despair.

 The Problem of Nothing

 The Step towards the Concrete

Preliminarily, Sartre has detected the one, who's guilty of accomplishing the dilemma: Abstraction. Both areas of being have been found by abstraction. We've abstracted from the concrete situation of the perceiving, cogniting, etc. human being. - The connection between being-in-itself and consciousness, which isn't questionable in concrete life, has probably got lost during the process of abstraction. Therefore we will find it again, if we direct towards the concrete. - This arguing Sartre's raises some problems in my eyes, which will be the issue of the following two passages.

At first you might ask, why it's not possible to explain the connection of the areas on the abstract level. But more important is the fact, that the result of the abstracting discussion has not been simply the existence of two unconnected areas of being, but moreover the sheer impossibility of a conncetion. To expect a correction of this result from the investigation of concrete human behaviour seems to imply, that the results of the abstract investigation have been wrong. And, apart from this, how can you describe concrete behaviour in a philosophical prolific way without abstraction?

A second problem seems to arise from Sartre's definition of the abstract: Something is abstract, if it is incapable to exist by itself (the red rose can exist independently, but not the redness of the rose). Which leads, according to Sartre, to the consequence, that being-in-itself and consciousness are incapable to exist by itself! But doesn't this conflict with Sartre's recent teachings about being-in-itself?

 Questioning-Behaviour as a Starting Point in the Concrete

Let's get back to Sartre. As a starting point he chooses a particular kind of human behaviour, questioning-behaviour (but he states, that every kind of human behaviour can be chosen, since every human behaviour exemplifies the relationship between man and world).

I want to emphasize the fact, that Sartre isn't, what we call today a philosopher of language. Human behaviour includes linguistic behaviour as well as other kinds of behaviour, and Sartre doesn't draw a sharp line between both. Questioning behaviour in Sartre's meaning contains the uttering of a question, but even e.g. the wordless investigation of a car-engine, with the purpose to find some defect (the mechanic "questions" the engine, during his investigation).

The important aspect of questioning-behaviour is negation, according to Sartre. Every question allows a negative answer ("No!" or "Nothing!"), and the result of the investigation of an engine can be, that there is no defect. Questioning-behaviour therefore implies negative facts: The not-knowing of the questioner, the (possibly) negative answer and, if the answer is a just a statement of facts, the negation implied by definiteness (it is that way and not in another way). - In the following, Sartre wants to explain the existence of those negative facts.

Of course, at first sight nothing seems to be more self-evident than the existence of negative facts. Why do they raise a problem? We have to remember the features of being-in-itself. As mentioned, being-in-itself is merely identical with itself, it doesn't include differences and negativity. Thus negative facts can't be explained from the nature of being-in-itself! - But does that mean, that negative facts are nothing more than subjective? Sartre's answer is a little bit tricky: On the one hand Sartre actually finds the origin of negativity in the subject, in consciousness. But on the other hand he insists on the objectivity of negative facts.

 Explanation of Negation from Negative Propositions

At first Sartre considers a view, according to that negations can be led back to language. Seemingly, this view provides the solution for the problem: There are only negative propositions, but no negative facts. If somebody is uttering a negative assertion, he is in fact expressing the existence of a positive fact: If he says, that the soil is not wet, he really asserts that the soil is something else than wet, whereby this "something else" is merely vague. Origin of negation is simply the not-sign in the proposition, which has no counterpart in reality. - This view has been held by Bergson.

Of course, Sartre could immediately refute this theory by mentioning the negation implied by definiteness (the formulation "the soil is something else than wet" can be transformed into "the soil is everything, but not wet" - in the first formulation the negation is just disguised). Every positive proposition implies negative propositions, if the rose is red, there can be implied, that it's not blue, etc., therefore it is not possible to transform negative propositions in purely positive ones. We will discuss the issue later. - But Sartre prefers another argument: The questioning-behaviour is not inevitably connected with propositions, the investigation of the car-engine in search of a defect involves no proposition but involves nevertheless negativity. Bergson's theory could only explain cases, where assertions occur. But there are - so Sartre's objection - many kinds of human behaviour, which involve indeed negativity but no propositions.

To understand things as destructible, is a behaviour of this kind. In this context Sartre maintains, that there occurs no destruction at all in unobserved nature: In nature, there is only being-in-itself, so after an earthquake existence is the same than before. (Incidentally, this claim leads to the consequence, that there are no plants, stones, etc. in nature, as long as they are not seen by men, because every proposition about nature, that's beyond the scope of "being-in-itself is what it is" involves definiteness and insofar negation.) - In spite of the fact, that destruction is dependent on an observer, Sartre insists, that destruction can be an objective fact.

Sartre raises another objection against Bergson's view: If negation is just a linguistic fact, there can be no intuition of negativity. Whereas Sartre thinks, that such an intuition can be exhibited:

E.g. I have arranged a cafe-meeting with somebody. I arrive at the cafe and the concerned person is not there: in this case I don't make an assertion, I don't judge, but rather perceive the absence immediately, as the absence of a foreground, whose missing becomes apparent, when the whole cafe with all guests has been downgraded to background by me. Not until after the immediate perception I formulate the negative assertion ("She's not there."). The proposition is not the origin of negativity, but bases itself on the negative fact.

To deny the objectivity of negative facts you don't have to invoke language. It is possible (Kant's view), to regard negativity as a category of mind, which structures its material like a form (shape) and thus can't have its origin in the structured material. The intuition, that precedes the proposition, can be explained by the fact, that the category has been used already during the process of perception. In this case the intuition of negativity doesn't support the objectivity of negative facts.

Sartre provides the following argument against it: A category is an existing form, which is used to structure existing material. During the process of categorizing you'll only meet existing things, so it is not plausible, that the whole can lead to non-existence. (But doesn't the Kantian deny objective non-existence by his means, so that existing things are all he needs?)

 The Nothingness

Until now I have not used Sartre's term "the Nothingness". I've just talked about "negative facts". But actually Sartre has not asked for negative facts, but for the origin of nothingness: "Is negation as a structure of proposition the origin of nothingness - or is to the contrary nothingness as a structure of reality the origin and the base of negation?"

Obviously, the concept "Nothingness" is a problematic objectification. Therefore you might think, that "the Nothingness" is simply the counterpart of "the being", quasi the incarnated non-existence, in distinction from the incarnated existence. Assumed, that there is objective negativity, you might infer - remembering the material character of being - that Sartre wants to explain reality as a mixture of two base-substances, being and nothingness. - Fortunately it will become apparent, that Sartre doesn't carry the objectification such far. - In the following, Sartre will discuss the nothingness-related teachings of Hegel and Heidegger.

 All Negation is Determination

Spinoza has stated, that all determination is negation. It seems natural, to formulate this principle in a linguistic-logical way: Every positive proposition can be transformed into a negative one. This is trivial, as long as double negation is permitted. "The rose is red" can be transformed into "the rose is not not-red". But isn't that a trick, i. e. isn't it true, that the double non-sign is just a redundant ingredient? - If you regard double negation as improper, you can try another transforming: "The rose is red" becomes to "The rose is not blue and not green and not black and not white, etc." - Obviously, the problem with that formulation is not only its length, but rather the fact, that it is difficult, to reproduce the exact meaning of "is red" with a concatenation like this. (How many, and which colours are required?)

You can avoid those difficulties by a weakening of Spinoza's principle: Every (simple) positive proposition implies at least one negative proposition. The judgment, that the rose is red implies the judgment, that it's not blue. On this reading Spinoza's principle seems to be impregnable.

Let's go back to Sartre. - He discusses Hegel's view, whose fault is according to Sartre, that he positions being and nothingness on the same level. Sartre sets against Hegel the inversion of Spinoza's principle: All negation is determination. Does that mean, that every negative proposition can be transformed into a positive one? But what positive proposition is the equivalent of "the rose is not red"? ("The rose is blue or green or white, etc.") - If we prefer again a weakened version: Which positive proposition is implied by "The rose is not red"?

Here we can stop, because Sartre means his version of the principle in some other sense. Sartre wants to emphasize, that the not-sign in a negative proposition can't stand alone, it must be related to something. Hence being and nothingness cannot be located on the same level. A nothing is the nothing of something, it is relative to a being and can't be an Absolute. - What does this mean? If a boy shows his collection of stamps to his girlfriend, and tells her "Please touch nothing!", the "nothing" is related to the stamps of his stamp-collection. And a metaphysician, who tells us, that the world has emerged from nothingness, means "nothingness" as "the nothing" of the world, he's talking about and not as an absolute nothing.

Can we infer from this, that Sartre interprets the sentence "Before the world there was nothingness" simply as "before the world there was no world", so that he rejects the objectification of nothingness completely? - Unfortunately, it isn't so. Sartre keeps asking for the Nothingness as the origin of negations and he means it.

 Heideggers Conception of Nothingness

According to Sartre, Heidegger interprets the nothingness, that existed before the world in an absolute sense, as a kind of realm beyond the world, in which the world "emerges", and in which it is enclosed. Sartre's main objection against this view is, that it renders it impossible, to deduce negation from nothingness. In Heideggers opinion, each negation must refer in some way to the nothingness beyond the world. Sartre thinks, this could only seem plausible, as long as assertions like "There are no centaurs" are concerned. The nothingness beyond the world would be the realm, in which the non-existing centaurs reside and the assertion would refer to this realm. But Sartre shows an example for a negative assertion, which could not be explained this way, the proposition, that there is a certain distance between two points A and B. (The assertion implies, that both points are not positioned on the line, by which the distance is defined.) - Sartre arrives at the conclusion, that the source of negativity can't be outside of reality. It has to be in reality.

I waive the assumption, that there are probably other plausible objections against the attempt, to explain nothingness as the location of the non-existing beings. And I don't want to ask, if nothingness as the location of the non-existing beings would have to be the location of the non-existing facts too (or maybe exclusivly). In this case each negative assertion could refer to the realm beyond the world. - But I want to note some other aspect, that seems important to me:

Spinoza's principle (which is implicitely supported by Sartre in its original version, when he admits in his Heidegger-diskussion, that even entirely positive entities imply negation "as a condition of the distinctness of their contours") asserts by no means the existence of objective nothingness. I think, its scope is just the logical base frame of language. And this base frame requires, that every meaningful assertion implies other assertions, which contain not-signs: whoever says, that something is the case, says implicitely, that something else is not the case. Propositions, which are not affected by Spinoza's principle, are impossible not due to fact, that objective nothingness is everywhere, but because they are no propositions at all (the whole passage and the next passage as well renders first and foremost my opinion, the whole matter is very complicated). "The rose is red, but that doesn't mean, that it's not blue" is not wrong, because reality is traversed by nothingness (and would be true, if reality would be not traversed by nothingness), but is simply without meaning (in Wittgenstein's sense: it has no use in language).

I don't want to say, that negation is merely a form, pulled over a purely positive reality by the logic of language. Instead I want to say that I don't understand sentences like "the rose is red, but that doesn't mean, that it's not blue". It's impossible to deny the reality of negative facts (insofar Sartre is right), but that's due to the fact, that nobody in the world can assert a positive fact, if he don't assert implicitly a negative fact as well. "There are no negative facts" amounts to "no assertions are possible" (and that collides with the conditions of a philosophical debate).

 The Origin of Nothingness

Where is the nothingness located, whose objectivity Sartre regards as ensured, and which is the base for negative assertions? In his discussion of Heidegger's view Sartre has exposed, that it's not outside of being. But being-in-itself is no appropriate location for it, since being-in-itself is void of negativity. (On this occasion, it should be noted that Sartre's characteristic of being-in-itself contradicts Spinoza's principle.) - We need to remember, that Sartre postulates another kind of being, besides being-in-itself, the being of consciousness, and that this kind of being in distinction from being-in-itself is not identical with itself (a very unclear description, until now).

(By the way, I must note, that Sartre's opposition is never "identity-with-itself/non-identity with itself", but always "a being, that is, what it is / a being, that's not, what it is (that is, what it is not)". - But that seems to be merely a matter of words.)

Non-identity-with-itself - doesn't that suggest, that this kind of being contains nothingness? Sartre expresses it this way: A being, which is not, what it is, has nothingness as an "ontological feature". - Well, nothingness emerges from consciousness. But isn't that view associated with the rejected theory, that consciousness applies some category of negation on being-in-itself, and doesn't that imply, that there is no objective nothingness (except maybe in consciousness itself)?

That the rose is not red, is obviously no fact of consciousness. If the nothing, which functions as the origin of the negative fact, is a product of consciousness and does not originate from unconscious being, how can we avoid the consequence, that there are for all intents and purposes no negative facts? - Sartre's answer is apparently the suggestion, that the nothingness in consciousness is no illusion, because nothingness is its ontological feature. And if the source of negation is objective, the transcendent fact, which is fed by it, is objective too. (Note the difference to the Kantian view: according to Sartre it involves solely positivity, so the postulated process cannot serve as an origin of nothingness, because it doesn't contain a real nothing.)

But how occurs the intruding of nothingness in a concrete case? Sartre describes the following situation: I enter into a room, where a friend dwells, and grasp immediately his absence, i. e. I have the intuition of a negative fact. Sartre states, that the things in the room do not refer to my friend by themselves: The book, which lies on the table, is nothing more than a book, the table just a table, etc. The perception of those things can't produce the intuition of his absence. - But isn't it possible, to explain the intuition with the fact, that those things induce an imagination of their owner? No, because the imagination of my friend implies, that it's not my friend in person (i. e. the intuition of the negative fact is already there). The intuition of absence can't be caused by the things in the room by means of their perception. What leads, according to Sartre, to the conclusion, that there is a break of causality, which happens in the perceiving subject:

"If I grasp the one, who's not in the room, by means of my perceptions of the room, where he lives, I am enforced to an act of thinking, which cannot be determined or motivated by some previous state, for short, to a break with the being in me."

 Causality and Negativity

Sartre insists on the claim, that a causally determined process can never lead to a nothing, but solely to being. Here the question arises, whether a negative fact can't be determined in the same way as a positive fact: Isn't it true, that the state of the mantle of a soap bubble together with the motion of the gaseous molecules inside, etc., can cause the bubble to burst? The question bases on a misunderstanding. The burst of a bubble is according to Sartre nothing more than a transition from one positive state to another positive state. That the latter state of things contains a negative element (the bubble is missing), can't be infered from that. The absence of the bubble is merely for an observer!

Let's go back to the described situation. Aren't we just dealing with the causation of an intuition of nothingness, and in no way with the causation of nothingness? Isn't the intuition of nothingness located on some other logical level than the nothing, from which it is the intuition? I think, Sartre's thought is, that the intuition of a negative fact is tantamount with the generating of the negative fact, because there is in Sartre's manner of speaking only positivity in nature, in being-in-itself.

Sartre concludes, that each kind of negative facts has to be explained by means of a detachement of consciousness from all positive facts. This detachement is not caused and therefore free: "And insofar as I always use negative facts to isolate or to define the existing things, i. e. to think them, the succession of my consciousnesses is a permanent detaching of the effect from the cause, inasmuch as every negating process requires to lead his origin solely back to itself." - Because this process is a performance of consciousness, and since everything in consciousness is conscious, we must be aware of this "negating capability" and this awareness has to be demonstrable. Sartre identifies it with anguish (Angst).


Sartre distinguishes between "anguish" and "fear": We fear possibly fatal facts/things in the world outside, which are causally determined. Standing in front of the abyss (Sartre's famous example), I fear e.g. that I could slip on a stone and fall. - Whereas anguish is a feeling, which concerns myself: I'm in anguish, that I could jump in the abyss voluntarily and spontaneously. According to Sartre, anguish expresses itself in the characteristic feeling of dizziness (vertigo), and is more disturbing than the simple fear to slip.

But what's the relation between anguish and negation? The explanation of the negative facts has led us to human freedom. Consciousness allows us, to grasp in an empty room the absence of the resident, in spite of the fact, that the grasping of a negative fact isn't caused by the perception of the things in the room. But is it justified, to associate this negating capability with human free will?

We produce negativity even then, if we just perceive a world of things, because the segmentation into things (it's a rose and no butterfly) occurs by means of negative facts. Remember, that the being outside of consciousness is void of negativity and therefore of segmentation! - This leads to the consequence, and that's actually Sartre's opinion, that our grasping of the world is already a result of freedom.

Perhaps Sartre has optical illusions, like the background-foreground-illusion, in mind (I take this thought from Paul Vincent Spade). A well known picture of this kind can be seen either as the silhuette of a human head or as the outlines of two vases. If I see it one way or the other is undoubtedly not determined by the picture itself: Therefore in this case it seems justified, to lead back the seeing of objects to consciousness. I can decide freely, to see it as the picture of two vases or as the picture of a human head.

But the example shows as well, that our freedom of perception is limitated. I can see the picture as two vases or one head, with some training perhaps as a collection of lines and areas, but with this my possibilities are exhausted. I am not able, to see it as a horse or as an atomic plant. And this limitation is itself a negative fact, which is not traceable to consciousness.

And what's the connection between our "negating freedom" and the freedom of decision? Sartre thinks, that both refer to the same capability. If I grasp the absence of a man, while standing in the empty room, there is a break of causality between the primary perception of the room and the grasping of the absence, which occurs afterwards. The succession of the states of consciousness is therefore uncaused. In the same way my spontaneous decision, to jump in the abyss, would be uncaused. My decision would be a state of consciousness as well, which cannot be explained causally from a preceding state.

My anguish rests upon my awareness of the fact, that I could make a decision like that, and that my consciousness in the actual moment (maybe I know in the actual moment, that I would never voluntary jump) couldn't guarantee my safety, because its actual state is not able to determine causally the future state of my consciousness.

Sartre's example for anguish - the feeling of dizziness, during my confrontation with the abyss - is chosen luckily. According to my personal experience, it is true, that those situations can induce fear of my own unpredictability. But according to Sartre, not only human decisions are undetermined and free, but even the entirety of the whole human understanding of the world. So, why is there just "decision-anguish" and never "perception-anguish" (I don't know, what this could mean)?

Sartre meets some other objection, which is akin. If human decisions are totally free, each and every human decision is free. But why do we experience anguish quite seldom? If anguish is the awareness of our freedom, it should accompany our whole life. - Sartre's answer is the claim, that anguish is a phenomenon on the reflective level of consciousness. On the pre-reflective level, we just meet demands, raised by the world, and we try to satisfy those demands immediately. But those demands (e.g. the alarmclock's command to rise from bed) are actually values, which are raised by ourselves. They refer to last purposes, to some base project of myself. If I reflect about those demands, I become aware of them and only then I feel anguish.

What about the dizziness in front of the abyss, seen from this angle? The situation doesn't show simply some arbitrary possibility, to act spontaneously. It shows rather the possibility, to end my whole life spontaneously. And a decision of such great moment refers us indeed to our base project.

Sartre describes another typical situation of anguish: An addicted gambler detects, while confronted with a gambling table, that his past decision to give up gambling is effectless. Past states of consciousness can't determine actual ones, and this is true even for past decisions, no matter, how forcefully the decision was taken: "I stand alone and naked in front of temptation, [...] after I have sorrounded me with the magical circle of a decision, I discover anxiously, that nothing prevents me from gambling."

Can the undeniable reality of the anguish-phenomenon provide evidence of our freedom? Sartre admits, that it isn't so. If my acting would be determined by driving forces, anguish might result from the fact, that I am not aware of those forces. The anguish in front of the abyss were no fear of my freedom, but only the fear of some self-destructive urge, which could arise in me and enforce a suicidal decision. But in this case, according to Sartre, the anguish would be no anguish anymore, it would be merely fear. Therefore the problem can be expressed this way: Is there anguish at all, or is there just a special kind of fear? - Because Sartre thinks for other reasons, that freedom is an established fact, his answer is: Yes, there is anguish, and it's the awareness of our freedom.

 The Flight from Anguish

If I'm in anguish against something, doesn't this something precede anguish for logical reasons? It seems not quite plausible, that anguish is the awareness of our freedom itself, and not an aversive reaction against this awareness. - However, it is an important aspect, that anguish contains an element of disinclination. According to what has been said above, anguish should emerge anyway in cases, when I reflect upon my base decisions. But even this is not always happening - why?

Remember, that the "translucidity" of consciousness doesn't mean, that all facts of consciousness stand clearly before my eyes. This applies to anguish as well. We can be aware of our freedom in an unclear, distorted way. One manifestion of the unclear awareness of our freedom is the flight from anguish. According to Sartre, the flight from anguish must imply an awareness of it (since I can only flee from things, I'm aware of) und it's the rule rather than the exception: "Everything happens, as if our essential, immediate behaviour against anguish were flight."

The chief opponent of Sartre's view is psychological determinism, i. e. the theory, according to that the spontaneity of consciousness is just virtual and all processes of consciousness follow a gapless causal nexus. - In the current context, Sartre doesn't argue against determinism, whereas he denounces it for being a theoretical manifestion of the flight from anguish: Who wants to deflect himself from his freedom, can try to convince himself, that the intuition of this freedom is just an illusion.

The determinist, and everybody who's fleeing anguish, want to deflect themselves, but from what exactly? From the possibilities of actings, which are not put into practice. Those possibilities are worrying, as long as man is aware, that he is totally free, to choose them instead of the ones, he's actually chosen. - The method of the flight from worrying is the devalorization of the unchosen possibilities. This can be achieved by determinism (which declares those other possibilities illusional), or, less intense, by a devaluation of their importance, if I regard them, as if they were the possibilities of some other person, who's in the same situation. (Sartre's example is the uttering: "I will write the book, but one could write it not as well.")

Sartre describes another kind of flight behaviour, which leads us back to the ego. In "The Transcendence of the Ego" Sartre has emphasized, that the ego is not part of consciousness, but transcendent, because it serves as an ideal unity-object of my states and actings, in spite of the fact, that it is falsely regarded as their origin. - The latter misconception presents itself as a variant form of the flight from anguish: If you think, that the ego is the originator of your actions, your freedom is imputed to a transcendent object. It turns this way into the freedom of another person and you are distracted from the fact, that the location of freedom is really your actual consciousness.

 Bad Faith

The literal translation of Sartre's word - "bad faith" - is much more adequate than the alternative translations "insincerity" or "self-deception". Although the reasons for this will become apparent later, I will use the term "Bad Faith".

Sartre has pointed to the fact, that the awareness of our freedom is mostly a form of conceiling or distracting (see above). It seems, that we are confronted with the well known phenomenon called self-deception. Sartre's discussion of Bad Faith deals with this phenomenon, and wants to show its source in the actual non-identity of consciousness with itself, so that it leads in the heart of being-for-itself (the being of consciousness).

If we look at the proceedings, used to flee from anguish, we will detect a crucial point. Whoever flees from something, knows this something. Who deflects himself from anguish, is necessarily aware of it (therefore Sartre calls the flight from anguish a form of anguish). But "flight" is obviously merely a metaphor, meaning the desire for ignorance. If one flees his anguish, he tries to deny it, in spite of the fact, that he must acknowledge the reality of anguish to start the attempt. - The same contradition becomes apparent in the phrase "self-deception": A liar knows the truth, but not the one who is lied to. If the liar is identical with the one who is lied to, this fact renders the lie (the deception) logically impossible, because it implies, that somebody knows a fact and doesn't know the same fact in the same respect.

However, it seems impossible to deny the existence of such phenomena. - At first Sartre proposes to abandon the phrase "self-deception". The phrase suggests a particular solution to the problem, that is to say, the view, that consciousness isn't a unity, but divided in separate parts, which can function either as the liar or as the one, who is lied to. - And there is in fact a corresponding theory: Freud's psychoanalysis.

The liar in Freud's theory is the unconscious. It conceils the urges/drives, whose satisfaction it desires, from the conscious part (the ego) by means of symbolic expression. - An example can be taken from Arno Schmidts psychoanalytic interpretation of the works of Karl May. (Arno Schmidt is a german novellist and essayist from the 20th century, Karl May is a german 19th century author of adventure literature.) Arno Schmidt suggests, that Karl May has developed homosexual urges during his imprisonment, which are symbolically expressed in the sceneries, described by May in his books. Those sceneries are remarkably often populated with canyons and hollow-ways, whose properly meaning according to Schmidt is the male anus.

The psychic process, suggested by Schmidt, can be described in the following way: In Karl May's Id (the unconscious area of drives and urges) lives a wish for homosexual contacts. Because such an desire is not compatible with May's narcissistic self-image, the censor in his psychic system accomplishes, that the desire remains unconscious. But the Id obtains - masked as harmless descriptions of landscapes - a symbolic satisfaction of the suppressed drive, which is as such not visible to Karl May's ego (the conscious part of his psyche).

The psychoanalytic procedure resembles the unmasking of a liar. While the Id is claiming, that its pleasure is merely the description of canyons, the analyst has collected evidence and has convicted it: "You must be joking! I know your real pleasures, etc."

 Freud is Unable to Explain Bad Faith

It seem's very natural, to use this theory of the psyche to explain Bad Faith as well. There is no problem, to deceive yourself, if the liar and the decepted one are in fact not the same person. The term "self-deception" would be adequate. - But Sartre considers Freud's view to be incoherent.

Freud knows not alone the Id and the Ego, but also the Super-Ego (a censor, who bars certain drives, belonging to the Id, from becoming conscious). In the case of Karl May, the super-ego accomplishes, that the rest of Karl May's mind doesn't know about its homosexuality. But the crucial point is, that the super-ego itself must know about it, if it shall be able to do its work! And doesn't that mean, that the super-ego knows, what it denies - that it's in the state of Bad Faith? - Freud's solution is just a shift of problem. The capability for Bad Faith is shifted to one of the segments, which compose the psyche in Freud's eyes.

Now the objection could arise, that the super-ego in Freud's sense is no consciousness, but rather a kind of mechanical process in the psyche. To meet the objection, Sartre hints at the so-called "resistances", which are met with in analysis. Those resistances are no marginal phenomena at all, but a very important part of the psychoanalytic practice: They deliver the indication, that the analyst is on the right track. A criminal in a detective story, who is confronted with the evidences for his crime, will probably try to leave the scenery under some pretext, when he's convinced, that the detective has enough on him. In the same way the analyzed person behaves: If the analyst is near the truth, the patient will show resistances against the further analysis, maybe by abandoning the therapy. In the eyes of the analyst, this behaviour is the crucial evidence for his interpretation.

But the question arises, which psychic segment is the one who offers resistance. According to Freud's view it has to be the super-ego (the Id wants its drives to be conscious, and the ego wants the same to achieve healing). Thus the super-ego provides the following services, which must be acts of a consciousness, according to Sartre's view:

- It knows the drives and urges, collected in the Id.

- It subdivides those drives into the acceptable ones and the non-acceptable ones.

- It acts methodical, because it uses "resistances", to prevent the non-acceptable drives from being revealed.

Sartre completes his reasoning by maintaining, that the same thought is applicable to the Id. Even in this region things are happening, which indicate a consciousness. (The Id knows, that its drives are oppressed. It acts methodical, because it uses symbolic representation, to fight against the oppression.) - Sartre hints furthermore at the fact, that the symbolic compensational satisfactions can lead to conscious lust (Karl May's pleasure was bigger, when he wrote the description of a dark canyon, than it was, when he wrote the description of a river-delta). The lust arises, because of a reached goal, but simultaneously, the goal is (according to Freud) totally unconscious!

Sartre concludes, that psychoanalysis is not able to explain Bad Faith, and that its base-assumption, that there are unconscious parts of the psyche which interact with conscious parts, has to be abandoned. Sartre appeals to one of Freud's opponents, the psychiatrist Stekel, which practised in Vienna, and who infered from his experiences with Freud's method, that the complexes, revealed by analysis, are in fact always conscious complexes (and therefore the patients of the psychoanalysist are simply in Bad Faith).

I think, the main point of Sartre's reasoning is vulnerable: If you admit, that processes in consciousness can be causally determined by facts outside of consciousness (we know, that Sartre doesn't admit this), there is no reason, why symbolic representations, resistances, etc. cannot be traced back to some mechanism behind the scene (e.g. in brain), whose actings simulate a kind of consciousness (like a computer). Id and Ego could be regarded as black-box-concepts, whose only purpose it is, to make the prediction of human behaviour possible.

 Bad Faith in Practice

Sartre gives some examples of persons, who are in a state of Bad Faith. I waive a detailled rendering, and confine myself to the crucial point: Bad Faith rests essentially on certain ambiguities, which are the mark of human consciousness. We've seen one of those ambiguities before: The non-identity of consciousness with itself. We've learned, that according to Sartre the essence of consciousness is constituted by the actual contents / acts of consciousness. Since those contents are neither causally determined by something outside of consciousness, nor by some causality inside of consciousness, the constitution of the essence of consciousness is never finished. Whatever I am (as consciousness), I've been. - What does that mean?

 Non-Identity of Consciousness with Itself (Weak Variant)

It means simply the following: Whenever I say, that consciousness is somehow or other, the claim can be grounded solely on the past of consciousness. But consciousness in its actual presence is always beyond its past. - The utterance "I am a peacful man" is a speculative claim (it's referring to the ideal unity of ego), if it refers to the future of consciousness. The only thing, that I can really tell, is, that until now I've never responded to provocations in a violent manner. But past acts of consciousness can't determine actual states of consciousness, and so it is conceivable, that I burst in brutal anger two seconds after the utterance, so that the claim immediately loses its truth. I am never, what I am - at least, as long as I live.

In this context Sartre meets a possible objection: Isn't it true, that I am, what I am, when I'm sad (namely: sad)? This objection presupposes, that sadness as an emotional condition is something, which controls me, while I'm totally passive. - As we can expect, Sartre denies this presupposition. He maintains, that I'm responsible for my emotional conditions. I create them and keep them alive. - I have to note, that "Being and Nothingness" doesn't contain a theory of emotions. Sartre has provided such a theory earlier, in his essay "Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions". I will add a summary of this work later.

The pretended non-identity of the consciousness with itself doesn't seem to be very spectacular until now, due to the fact, that the opposition past - present hints at a diversity of respects: in the one respect consciousness is fixed, in the other it is changeable. It seems possible, to avoid the contradictory claim, by the use of another description (which Sartre cannot give us, because of his individualized view of consciousness). - But Sartre doesn't share this point of view, what will become apparent in his discussion of time. - For now, we will see, that there is another, much more important non-identity of consciousness with itself, which exists here and now and can't be eliminated in a simple way.

 Exploitation of this Non-Identity by Bad Faith

Bad Faith in practice employs the weak version of non-identity like a tool, whereas it owes its possibility to the strong version. - The latter Sartre will explain hereinafter.

Sartre states, that humans willingly use their dual nature as facticity and transcendence to absolutize the one side or the other, just as needed. What's the meaning of human "facticity" and "transcendence"? Those concepts are related to the weaker version of non-identity: "Facticity" denotes the past of consciousness, in other words, the previous personal history of a human being. "Transcendence" is by contrast the permanent possibility of man, to transcend facticity (by means of new decisions, which change the essence of consciousness).

Because Sartre subsumes those manners under the concept "Bad Faith", we can assume, that Sartre regards the reduction of a man to one of the aspects transcendence / facticity as wrong. A human being is both. - If somebody denies his past (maybe because others address reproaches to him) by claiming that he's totally free to reinvent himself, he flees from facticity to transcendence. If somebody says "I am, what I am, I will never change", he flees from transcendence (his freedom) to facticity.

The waiter in Sartre's most famous example employs the latter procedure. The waiter is a waiter because of his facticity (his personal circumstances and his past decisions brought him to this particular social role), but as a transcendent being he isn't a waiter, because his principled freedom against his position (the permanent possibility to resign his job, or to behave in a way, that is contrary to the expectations of customers or superiors) renders it impossible to reduce him to facticity. In spite of this, the waiter enjoys it, to play his social role with the gestures of a robot, and to convince himself hereby, that he's a waiter and nothing more than a waiter. Why is he acting in this way? Because the idea, that his social role is freely chosen, would throw him into a state of anguish.

 Man for Others and for Himself

While any consciousness is aware of its own principled openness / ambiguity, other people can appear quite fixed - they seem to be, what they are. Sartre will describe this phenomenon, called "Being for Others" very broadly. I note some of its aspects in advance:

Others are in my eyes what they are, if I act against them as an observer or an employer. Seen from one of those positions, others appear to me like things with special properties, whose behavior I can predict and perhaps exploit. But I cannot adopt such a position in all cases. It can happen, that others observe and employ me. In this case I am the one, who's objectificated, while I realize the freedom of the other one in an unpleasant way.

A further starting point for Bad Faith is the fact, that I am able, to take up the position against myself, which I usually take up against others. I can act as if I see myself with other people's eyes. Because this kind of self-objectification contradicts my freedom, it leads immediately to Bad Faith. I adopt the opinion of the others as my self-image, to avoid anguish. - The duality Being-for-myself / Being-for-Others is another ambiguity of man, which can be utilized for Bad Faith.

 Sincerity towards Myself

Because Bad Faith implies a kind of dishonesty towards myself, one could mean, that the goal should be sincerity towards myself. Whereas Sartre regards sincerity towards oneself as an impossibility! Which seems surprising, if one has heard, that Sartre is a "philosopher of authenticity". - What's the reason for Sartre's view?

Sartre defines sincerity towards yourself as the ideal, to be what you are (and hints at the fact, that the ideal implies, that you're often not, what you are). - This seems strange: isn't the point rather the attempt, to accept, what one is? But that's not relevant to Sartre's argument. If I am supposed to accept, what I am, I have to be anything in particular. And that's the crucial point, according to Sartre: Sincerity towards yourself requires, that you are, what you are. But that's even not the case! - The non-identity of consciousness with itself means, that it is not, what it is, which leads to the conclusion, that it cannot accept, what it is, as well.

Therefore sincerity towards yourself is an unrealizable ideal. As an example for the failure of the ideal Sartre describes a man, who is saying "I'm bad!", which seems very sincere at a first glance (assumed, that the speaker isn't e.g. Mother Teresa - in this case the uttering might be a lie). But what has really happened, as this man has defined himself as "bad"? Sartre says: he has objectificated himself and he has taken up a position against this object. And in this position he is free, even against his "being-bad"! Somebody, who talks like this man, doesn't want to emphasize the fixedness of his properties. If anything, he wants to emphasize his supremacy against the features, he is alleging himself. - I think, this claim Sartre's expresses a common psychological experience.

Thus sincerity towards oneself is merely another variant of Bad Faith.

 The Belief of Bad Faith

In Sartre's words: The logical condition for insincerity is, that human-reality "in the inner structure of the pre-reflective cogito" is what it isn't, and is not, what it is. - This claim implies the promise, that Sartre will explain Bad Faith with recourse to the stronger kind of non-identity of consciousness, so that this issue will be clarified eventually.

The problem, which requires a solution, is, that Bad Faith is contradictory: A human being in this state is aware of the falseness of the claims, he's believing in. Sartre thinks, that this construction is realized as a permanent back-and-forth oscillating, between naive belief in the contents, which the person wants to believe, and the cynical knowledge of the falseness of this belief. The whole process constitutes in Sartre's words a "metastable system". - Why does Sartre introduce a dynamic factor like this? Since it is able, to remove the contradiction initially. A consciousness, which is "metastable" in this sense, is never simultaneously in the state of naive belief and the state of cynism. The contradictory description seems to be enforced as recently as we observe consciousness for a while. - This notion Sartre's is apt to show, that he is usually anxious to remove contradictions from his philosophy. But this anxiety comes to an end, when the issue is pre-reflective consciousness.

The "metastable system" needs more explanation. How is it possible, that the system doesn't come to rest? Sartre tries to find an answer, by looking at the phenomenon of belief, because a person in Bad Faith believes the contents, he has persuaded himself of. Sartre distinguishes naive belief and conscious belief. The naive belief isn't aware of the fact, that it's belief, it involves quasi a direct, simple relation to the content of belief. But naive belief is in consciousness, and so it must be conscious! The believer must be aware of his "believer-ship". But whoever is aware of his belief, is equally aware of the fact, that it's "just" a belief, i. e. that he assumes the content of his belief without proof and in a haphazard way. The direct, simple relation to the content of belief is therefore destroyed, and simultaneously belief itself! - Belief is a self-contradictory matter, because it destroys itself by becoming conscious. And the destruction isn't occuring afterwards (I believe naive for a while, become aware, that I believe, and abandon therefore believe), but immediately, because an unconscious belief is impossible.

And yet we are in the heart of pre-reflective consciousness, because belief is no exceptional case. It's just conscious, like every phenomenon of consciousness. Now we've reached the point, where Sartre thinks, that the contradiction is irresolvable. - Remember, that facts of consciousness are not a matter of cognition on the pre-reflective level, because cognition of the facts of my own consciousness presupposes reflection, but a matter of pre-conceptual awareness. If we take belief as an example, this means: If someone believes something, he is (pre-conceptually) aware of the fact, that he believes. - The crucial point is, that the assertion "I believe something" and the assertion "I am aware of the fact, that I believe something" are not identical. They've got a different meaning! Belief is not the same as consciousness of belief. However, if both assertions (respectively their truth-values) are necessarily associated with each other - a consequence, which arises from the nature of consciousness - there is a contradiction as a matter of fact. Belief isn't awareness of belief, and is awareness of belief:

"The ontological judgment, that belief is awareness of belief, can't be recognized as an identity-judgment: subject and attribute are radically different, but in the indissoluble unity of one and the same being."

As we've already heard, Sartre doesn't draw the conclusion, that his theory must be wrong, because it leads to paradoxical consequences. He draws the totally different conclusion, that contradictoriness is an ontological feature of consciousness. - How do we reach metastability from this contradictoriness? The dynamic phenomenon of metastability arises first on the reflective level. If I reflect upon belief, the description "I believe" leads automatically to the description "I am aware, that I believe" and vice versa. So to speak, the contradictoriness on the pre-reflective level can't be handled on the reflective level, so that the permanent transition arises. - The metastable systems in Sartre's philosophy resemble hell, as it's described in Thomas Mann's novel "Dr. Faustus": the condemned souls flee permanently from insufferable heat to insufferable cold, from which they flee back, etc.

As we've seen, the ambiguity of all phenomena in consciousness leads to a particular conscequence concerning belief: any belief is impossible belief. And that's the starting point for Bad Faith: if belief is always wrong, I am granted to believe, whatever I want to believe. It doesn't matter, that a belief, which complies solely with my desire (e.g. the desire, to get rid of anguish), is self-desctructive, because every other belief would be the same.

Bad Faith is - according to Sartre - inevitable: Whatever I believe, concerning myself, is Bad Faith, and my attempt, to be sincere towards myself is just another kind of Bad Faith (since I have to believe, that I am, what I am). If authenticity is nothing more than sincerity towards myself, it is hence an impossible ideal. - However, in a footnote at the end of the chapter Sartre denies this and delimits the concept of authenticity, but without futher explanation: "If it's indifferent, if one is sincere or not sincere [...] this doesn't mean, that it's impossible to escape insincerity radically. But this presupposes an adoption of the tainted being, which will be called by us authenticity and whose description doesn't belong here."

I think it's possible to ask a chunk of critical questions, concerning Sartre's theory of Bad Faith, e.g.: Does Sartre's description of "belief" conform to the common use of "belief"? And if not - could this defer to a translation problem? And is it really possible to believe, whatever you want to believe? E.g. can I decide, to believe, that I'm rich, if I'm actually poor? Otherwise the question arises, why I can choose my belief freely in some cases, and not in other cases. - But because Sartre's reasoning is clear enough, those questions would take us too far afield.


Just after revealing the essential non-identity of consciousness (= being-for-itself) with itself during the consideration of Bad Faith, Sartre can now speak verbosely about the issue. - In this context he will smother us with several metaphorical concepts, whose necessity obviously arise, if one tries to talk about a self-contradictory entity.

 Attendance at Itself

Insofar everything in consciousness is conscious, whereas consciousness is nothing more than its contents, it is appropriate to say, that consciousness exists for a witness, which is itself. The witness and the witnessed are in a particular kind of unity, which is duality at the same time. - Instead of this you can talk about the reflecting aspect and the reflected aspect, which coincide as well. - Sartre prefers the latter image. Consciousness is a duality, which is unity, and is a reflecting mirror which is the reflected. - If one is on the reflective level and tries to focus on one of the components, he will be always directed to the other component and therefore to the unity of the components. But if one tries to focus on the unity, he will only find the components.

Thus it's impossible to grasp consciousness on the reflective level as a thing, that is identical with itself. Sartre would probably insist on the claim, that introspection is the only way to reach consciousness, so that the result of introspection (in this case: the non-identity) is evident. - If Sartre is right, we are confronted with the problem, that two evidences contradict each other: The evidence, provided by reflection (that tells us, that consciousness is not, what it is) and the logical evidence, which asserts, that a thing is necessarily what it is.

By the way: Sartre doesn't mention logical evidence at all. Without futher reasoning he has chosen the evidence, provided by reflection: If introspection tells us, that there are logically contradictory facts, it's so much worse for logic. - He could have done it completely different: He could have concluded, that introspection isn't an appropriate tool to find the truth, because it leads to contradictory results (or that introspection is somehow misapplied in this case). - (I think, Sartre's choice renders his ontology unusable, but I assume, that other parts of his philosophy can be seperated from it without scathe.)

Consciousness is consciousness of itself. The "itself" justifies it, to call it Being-for-itself. Because being-in-itself contains no duality (unless you count the duality which arises from an infinitely dense unity), the "itself" in "Being-in-itself" is misleading. - Sartre calls the duality of consciousness "attendance at itself". Because the duality is not a genuine one (otherwise there would be no contradiction) Sartre describes attendance-at-itself as an "unstable balance between duality and identity".

We should realize at this point, that the concept of non-identity-with-itself implies identity: Whatever is non-identical with itself, must be identical with itself as well, because otherwise the term "itself" would lose its meaning. - If something is not identical with itself, it is identical with itself (in Sartre's words: It is identical with itself, but in the "mode of non-identity"). (This remark, although taken from logical hell, will gain importance, if we deal with Sartre's discussion of time.)

The non-identity of consciousness with itself has led Sartre to the conclusion, that it must be the source of all negations. Now he asks, in which form nothingness is in consciousness and answers the question first and foremost with the negative claim, that it can't be in the form of a distance. A distance seperates two things by a something, which is between them. But a something is positive and not nothingness. - Because nothingness is no being, introspection cannot show it (e. g. someone looks inside of himself and shouts: "Ah, there it is, the nothingness. I see it!"). Of course, it is true, that nothingness seperates belief and the awareness of belief: it acts in Sartre's words as a "crack" in consciousness, but the crack is indefinitely small. - Obviously, those considerations Sartre's amount to an unlucky picturing of logical non-identity. Why doesn't he notice at least here, that the objectification of nothingness was no good idea?

Incidentally, Sartre presents his ontology of being-for-itself as the solution for a problem, which has been detected by Spinoza: If I'm aware of the fact, that I believe, I'm also aware of the fact, that I'm aware of the fact, that I believe, etc. We meet an infinite regress, which leads to the indefensible consequence, that I'm aware of an infinity of facts, so that my consciousness must have an infinite capacity. - In Sartre's theory the problem cannot arise, because belief and awareness of belief coincide. An infinity emerges merely in the oscillation of reflection, if it tries, to grasp belief conceptually.

I want to hint briefly at another possibility, suggested by Wittgenstein, to resolve the problem: That I'm aware of the fact, that I believe, is no matter of consciousness. It's just a disposition: e.g. if somebody would ask me, if I'm aware of the fact, that I believe, I could answer "yes". But an infinite number of dispositions is unproblematic: It means merely, that I could answer an infinite number of different questions. (It doesn't mean, that there is an infinity somewhere.) - The virtual contradictoriness of consciousness emerges, so to speak, from the fact, that items, which cannot be located precisely, are erroneously projected on consciousness.

 Facticity: Existence

Whoever says, "There is a thing, which is not identical with itself" uses the phrase "there is". He talks therefore about an existing thing, even if it's "traversed by nothingness" and even if it's "not what it is, and is, what it is not". In spite of its inner ambiguity, it's definable: e. g. I can tell, that an individual man (a consciousness) is living in the Germany of the 21st century and has grown up in poor circumstances. Although consciousness is totally free, it's situated in a certain temporal context, that is not freely chosen. (The spatial context of a man is indeed freely chosen most of the time, but it can be led back to a spatial starting point, which is of course not freely chosen.)

This doesn't amount to a limitation of freedom: Sartre will explain later on, that freedom of choice presupposes options, which are not a matter of choice. (The people, who were forced to choose between the options of burning alive and jumping from the World Trade Center towers, were totally free - even if their scope of decision was very small.)

Sartre calls the definable side of being-for-itself its facticity. Facticity has two aspects, on the one hand the circumstances of my existence and on the other hand the simple fact, that I exist. The latter issue will be discussed first.

Unfortunately, it is necessary for this purpose to return to the objectificated nothing. Nothingness exists in the core of being-for-itself as the gap, which seperates the two components of being-for-itself. Sartre has emphasized the parasitic nature of nothingness: A nothing is always relative to a being. From this assertion (which can be reduced to the simple fact, that every negating proposition presupposes something, which is negated) Sartre concludes oddly enough, that nothingness is generated by being. Sartre calls this metaphysical myth "the absolute event". At the beginning of the story we find the attempt of being-in-itself, to give itself a ground. To understand this, we have to envisage the concept "ground".

Schopenhauer has pointed out, that the word "ground" (in the sense of "base", "reason") is used in different meanings: He distinguishes the meanings "motif", "reason of knowing", "cause", "reason of being". A reason of knowing is a proposition, from which the truth of another proposition can be infered. "Reason of being" in Schopenhauer's sense was related to certain mathematical propositions, but we can use it in a broader sense: A thing would not exist without its reason of being. This can be applied to causes as well, so the concept is not sharply distinguished from the concept of a cause, but it can also be applied to purposes (without the purpose of a tool the tool wouldn't exist). If I've found a cause or a reason of being, I've found simultaneously a reason of knowing: The proposition, which states, that the reason of being or the cause of a thing is given, implies the proposition, that the thing exists.

If Sartre talks in the following about "reason", he means primarily "reason of being". - Being-in-itself can't have a reason, because it can't emerge. Therefore it is contingent (not necessary). Sartre's myth claims, that being-in-itself because of the lacking of a ground/reason develops a desire, to obtain a ground/reason. Since an item and its reason of being have to be two different things, the project starts with the splitting of being-in-itself. The splitting is the one and only possibility of being-in-itself, because it is not able to generate being, but merely able to generate nothingness!

The motif for the splitting is the hope, that being-in-itself can give itself a reason, because it exists in a distance from itself after the splitting. But the hope is in vain, the plan fails: Being-in-itself has not grounded itself, but merely its nothingness (inasmuch as the reason of being of nothingness is the being, from which it emerges). The duality is not completely realized, the old being-in-itself is still existing as the totality of the components of the duality, as the totality of the metastable system mirror / mirror image. As such, as an aspect of facticity, it is still without a reason of being, still contingent. - Human life is, according to Sartre, nothing more than the tragical continuation of this tragical story.

I suppress my critical comments at this point, but it should be noted, that Sartre's story resembles remarkably another story, which was told by Schopenhauer: the Great Will developed (without any understandable reason) the desire, to split itself in individuals - a desire which was indeed fulfilled, but which led to unlucky consequences, because the life of the individuals is essentially characterized by suffering. Therefore Schopenhauer recommended the abandonment of the attempt (not by means of suicide, but rather by means of sexual abstinence).

 Contingency and God as the Necessary Being

Consciousness is contingent, insofar as it exists as a totality at a particular location and at a particular time. Sartre has said, that nothingness sticks in being like the worm in an apple. If we refer the picture to being-for-itself, we can identify the apple, as it appears from the outside, with our actual existence: We exist in fact, e.g. like a table. That the material of our being - in contrast to the being of the table - contains nothingness, isn't visible. Visible is merely the shell, the coating of being-in-itself, which encases the hollowed being in the same way as the skin of a wormy apple encases the corroded inside. (I'm convinced, images of this type have deeply influenced Sartre's thinking.)

Because the worm has arisen from the apple, it doesn't share the contingency of the apple. Our nothingness is not contingent, since it has a reason of being, namely being-in-itself, from which it has emerged during the "absolute event". Being-for-itself has grounded its nothingness, insofar as it is being-in-itself, but on this occasion it has not grounded its being-in-itself. - Due to the ambiguity of consciousness, which is both, its being and its nothingness, you can call the "being-grounded" of nothingness the "being-grounded" of consciousness: In only one respect, the respect of being nothingness, it is indeed grounded (has a reason, has a base), necessary and not contingent any more.

Oddly enough, Sartre identifies this necessity with the necessity of "I think, therefore I am" and calls therefore on Husserl's concept of "the necessity of a fact". - What's the meaning of this? In his "Ideas" Husserl talks about the actual experience (the actual content of consciousness) and states, that it exists necessary, because I reflect upon it, even if it's by itself merely a contingent fact (since existence is not an essential property of the actual experience). The "necessity of a fact" is a necessity on the level of thinking, and doesn't concern the reason of being of the actual experience. - Unfortunately, I have to surrender. I don't understand, why Sartre uses the term.

According to Sartre, we are aware of our contingency (of the "groundlessness" of our existence). He appeals in this context to Descartes, who has indeed grasped this awareness in his cogito-experiment, but never understood, in Sartre view. The issue here is Descartes' proof for the existence of god (better: one of his proofs). - Starting point of the proof is the assertion, that we are on the one hand aware of our imperfection, but on the other hand in possession of the concept "perfection". If we would have created ourselves (if we were our own reason of being), we would have created us of course as perfect beings, and not as imperfect beings.

In Sartre's view Descartes' major mistake is, that he doesn't stop at this point. He continues to argue: From the concept of perfectibility, which we find in our minds, has to be concluded, that there is a perfect being (because an imperfect being's concept of perfectibility cannot have its origin in the imperfect being itself). Descartes draws the conclusion, that the perfect being must be the reason for our existence as imperfect beings.

But Descartes is still not satisfied at this point: That man must have his ground in some higher being, is merely a pleasable interim result, because it is still possible, to ask for the perfect being's reason of being. - Therefore Descartes completes his argument by the adoption of the ontological proof: The existence of a perfect being is necessary, because non-existence is a kind of imperfection.

Descartes' awareness of his contingency has led him immediately to the attempt, to weaken the contingency by the recourse to god. Indeed, we are contingent, whereas at least our reason of being isn't contingent. - Sartre strictly refuses the relativization of our contingency and denies, that non-contingent beings are possible. His point of view is: We are contingent, we are not created and we have to live with the fact!

A being, which has to exist, because existence is part of its concept, is called "necessarily existing being". It serves as an antithesis to a being, which exists merely contingently. - Sartre doesn't use the standard practice to defeat Descartes' proof, which consists in the statement, that existence on principle can't be an attribute of something, neither the attribute of a perfect being. Instead of this he emphasizes - as mentioned above - the necessity of a duality, which is the presupposition for every attempt, to ground yourself. If God is his own reason of being, he must have existed before - not-grounded, contingent. - But is this really an argument against the ontological proof? The proof states, that the existence of God can be infered from the concept of god, but is this the same as to state, that God is his own base of being? Isn't it rather the claim, that God doesn't need a reason of being, because his existence can be infered purely logical?

Thereafter Sartre presents a second argument against the ontological proof, and this time he focuses on the Leibniz-variant of the proof. Leibniz defined the Necessary as a being, whose possibility implies its existence. - This can be explained in the following way: If I possess the concept of a being, whose attributes are not contradictory to each other, the being is possible (hence a square circle isn't possible, a green swan is possible). If one of the attributes, which constitute the concept, is existence (like in the case of the perfect being), it follows, that the existence of such being can be infered from its possibility: the being is necessary. (Leibniz' variant doesn't differ very much from the previous one.) - Apropos, a possibility in Leibniz' use of the word is a logical possibility, not a factual one, but that doesn't matter here.

If something is merely possible, it is not real. Possibility implies therefore negation, which leads Sartre to the conclusion, that being-in-itself has no possibilities. Possibilities, like every negative fact, are generated by consciousness. - Sartre's example is the billiard ball, whose course could be changed by a crease in the felt. According to Sartre this possibility is not for the billiard ball itself, but merely in the eyes of the billiardist, who witnesses the situation.

Well, the existence of the billiard ball as a distinctive thing is according to Sartre only for consciousness as well. Being-in-itself is clean of negativity and therefore not divided in things. (The existence of things is nevertheless objective, but merely because of the fact, that the negativity, which is spread to the world by consciousness, is objective, since it is the nothingness in the heart of being-for-itself.) - Here we are confronted with the phenomenon, that Sartre still talks about being-in-itself, although the actual issue is the (structured) world. We should remember the interpretation of being as a kind of material. The billiard ball has been "cut out" by consciousness, but its substance is still being-in-itself.

Sartre's arguing against Leibniz suggests, that a possibility, which is "on the outside" of being (in the way as the possibilities of the billiard ball are outside of the billiard ball, inasmuch as the ball is being-in-itself), isn't capable to ground a being. Thus a necessary existence of something can't be infered from a possibility. - But Sartre knows a second kind of possibilities, which are not concerned by this proscription: the possibilities of being-for-itself (which result from the spontaneity of consciousness). Those possibilities are not outside of the being, whose possibilities they are, but rather its ontological feature.

Assumed, that God is being-for-itself, and furthermore assumed that the existence of this being-for-itself can be infered from one of its possibilities: Nevertheless being-for-itself is - we've heard about it - a being-in-itself, which has infected itself with nothingness during the "absolute event". If God as being-for-itself were a necessary being, it would still be unavoidable, that he has existed before as being-in-itself. And this being-in-itself were as contingent as each being-in-itself. - Whatever one tries, to reach a necessary being, the only thing, that he could reach, is a contingent, non-grounded, accidentally existing being.

But isn't it an evident truth, that everything, that exists contingently, must have its base in a necessary existing being? Sartre meets this objection with two arguments. - At first he states, that even the truth of this principle isn't apt to support the ontological proof. Indeed, the principle assures us, that the Contingent has emerged from the Necessary, whereas it neither shows us the Necessary, nor shows us, how to prove in the case of a particular contingent thing, that it has arisen from it. - The principle could be true, if such a proof is impossible (even, if its truth would imply the claim, that there is for every contingent thing a necessary one of some sort, from which it emerged).

Sartre's second argument denies the principle, that every contingent thing must have its reason of being in a necessary thing. - The wish is the father to the thought, concerning this principle: We are not satisfied, if we don't find an eventual endpoint of reasoning, therefore we posit, that there must be an endpoint. The principle expresses merely an ideal of reason, and it's not ensured, that the ideal is realizable (comparable to the so-called "theory of everything" in physics).

The one and only aspect of Descartes' proof, that's here to stay, is according to Sartre the fact, that it expresses the certainty of our contingence. - But Sartre knows already another form of the awareness of our contingence, namely anguish. Anguish is not solely the awareness of freedom, but the awareness of our facticity as well (strictly speaking, both are the same in Sartre's eyes, because freedom and facticity correspond to each other (as mentioned in the previous chapter).

 Facticity: Circumstances of Existence

The concepts "facticity" and "situation" are often used by Sartre in similar contexts. Nevertheless both are not coextensive. They can be distinguished as follows (Sartre makes this not clear until the fourth part of "Being and Nothingness"): The "Facticity" of an individual is ascertainable "from the outside" - it involves the objective facts, which constitute the position/condition of an individual, in the way they can be described by others. - The "Situation" on the other hand is facticity, as it is grasped by consciousness, facticity seen from the side of the subject. The "Situation" is the relation of a consciousness to its facticity.

Since being-for-itself exists as the totality of the system reflecting mirror / mirror image, it exists at a certain time and at a special location. But facticity comprises more than this: The social frameworks surrounding my life are included as well. - Now one might think, that facticity has to decrease during lifetime: Indeed, I have not chosen my place of birth, but as a grown up individual (at least as a contemporary inhabitant of Europe) I dwell most of the time in places and under circumstances, which are at least partly freely chosen, i. e. consequences of the spontaneity of consciousness.

Later on, Sartre will explain that those facts doesn't suggest a shrinking of facticity at all. The circumstances of my existence are always part of my facticity, even if I'm responsible for their realization. The being-for-itself, which I was at the time when I emigrated to Australia, I am not now, as I live as a Australian citizen. My past actings are for my current consciousness just an aspect of its facticity, in the same way as my birthplace.

In this context, Sartre mentions again the famous waiter in Bad Faith. - Sartre has concluded from the fact, that the waiter can't be a waiter in reality, because as a being-for-itself he's always more than his actual role, - that he performs his being-a-waiter like a comedy with himself as the main spectator, to distract himself from his freedom. But what's the difference between a waiter, who acts like a waiter and a waiter, who acts like a diplomat? Both are playing comedy, they act a part, which is in fact not their own.

The difference is, that being-a-waiter is part of the waiter's facticity, but not being-a-diplomat. Insofar as the waiter is, what he is (as an existing totality of consciousness), you can say, that he's a waiter (while it's not possible to say, that he's a diplomat). But insofar as the waiter is not, what he is (as a consciousness in its freedom), he impossibly can be a waiter. But because his comedy is an attempt, to be a waiter (respectively to persuade himself of his being-a-waiter), Sartre calls this comedy a "realizing comedy".

 To Get out of the Cogito

Sartre starts the chapter "The For-itself and the Being of the Value" by mentioning Descartes' thought-experiment one time more. - "I think, therefore I am" is according to Descartes the one and only unquestionable certainty, reached by means of introspection. But this result poses the problem, how it is possible to reach other truths on the base of it. Both, Descartes and his methodological successor Sartre, whose philosophical system is based on introspectively found truths, and who invokes Descartes often and explicitely, don't want to content themselves with the first truth, unveiled by the Cogito. They need it rather as a fundament for their philosophical buildings.

The question is, if the Cogito is apt to serve as a fundament, or if we are doomed to stay alone with it eternally, because it's all the rest of science, and everything else has been eleminated by methodical scepsis. - Sartre formulates the question like this: "How is it possible, to get out of the Cogito?" (Remember, that Sartre knows about two Cogitos, the pre-reflective and the reflective. The former is identical with simple introspection, which is not associated with reflection, and which is the natural and necessary state of consciousness, since everything in consciousness is conscious. The latter means to focus on a fact of consciousness by introspection, which leads to conceptual cognition.)

This question bears a relationship to the question at the end of the "Introduction": How is it possible, to connect both areas of being, being-in-itself and being-for-itself? - Sartre's answer was his "ontological proof" (not to be confused with "the ontological proof of god's existence"). It proved a being, independent of consciousness, from the concept of consciousness (because consciousness is always awareness of something). - Because the "intentionality" of consciousness is revealed by the Cogito, we have seen already, how it is possible, to get out of the Cogito without abandoning it as a fundament.

Sartre inherited his orientation by the philosophy of consciousness from Husserl, who tried for his part to achieve by means of Descartes' method the fundamentation of science. According to Sartre, Husserl never found a way out of Cogito (or had found it in his early days and lost it later on), thus his philosophy became a variant of idealism. - Idealism means in this context, that transphenomenal being is located in consciousness, which amounts to the claim, that there is merely one area of being. And Sartre wants to avoid an idealistic approach by all means!

But Husserl had another famous successor, Heidegger. According to Sartre, Heidegger refuses likewise the restriction to consciousness, which was practised by the late Husserl. As a last resort, Heidegger abandons consciousness altogether in his philosophical approach. - Sartre regards this as an aberration, since Heiddegers philosophy uses terms like "understanding" (german "Verstehen") (not identical with the household world), which defer to consciousness: ".. one cannot abandon the dimension 'Consciousness' first, not even with the aim to reintroduce it later. Understanding has significance only, if it's awareness of understanding. [...] Otherwise the whole system of the being and its possibilities falls back into the unconscious, that is to say into being-in-itself. Again we are thrown back to the Cogito."

Sartre assumes, that Heidegger's abandonment amounts to the attempt, to render man an unconscious being. - Sartre's recourse to the Cogito wants to remind us of the crucial point of his discussion of being-for-itself: Its purpose is, to show us how to reach a philosophy, which comprises consciousness as well as unconscious being, and which establishes meaningful connections between both, without losing the evidence, provided by introspection.

 Lack and Desire

Being-for-itself is the result of a failed attempt of being-in-itself to obtain a reason of being. Unfortunately, the attempt hasn't led to a grounded being-in-itself, but to the emergence of nothingness. This is the preliminary end of the story. - Nothingness has indeed a reason of being - the being, from which it emerged - whereas being-for-itself as a totality is still contingent. - Thus its state is unsatisfactory in two respects: On the one hand it isn't identical with itself, it's "traversed" by nothingness: in Sartre's words, its existence is merely "mutilated". On the other hand it still misses its reason of being!

Now it is possible to adumbrate the continuation of the story: What the being-for-itself lacks, it tries to obtain. It will not succeed as well, but this second attempt is quasi the chief activity of consciousness, its very purpose in life.

In this context, Sartre adresses a problem, which arises, if man is counted as a physical-chemical complex, as done by biological and medicinal research: facts of consciousness are reduced to physical-chemical phenomena. The problem is, that it's impossible to explain on this level, that a human being has desires:

The scientific description can only comprehend physiological states, which follow each other according to the laws of nature. But a state neither can have a desire, nor be a desire! A state is just a state, the concept "desire" can't be linked to it. - "How could you explain desire, if you see it as a psychic state, as a being, that is by its nature, what it is?" - Sartre provides an example. Assume the scientific description of a man, who's thirsty. The description covers first some physiological changes, which typically occur, if a human is thirsty - e.g. his blood thickens, because the organism approaches dehydration. Assume further, that the researchers use very sophisticated technologies, in such a way that the description can proceed with neurological facts. Maybe it shows, how the physiological features of thirst trigger neuronal processes, which lead (in most cases) to a special kind of behaviour, to the triggering of particular muscular movements, which can involve linguistic responses ("Gimme a beer!").

No matter, how precisely such an explanation is, it cannot cover the thirst as a desire. On one side, it misses the subjective experience, but that's not the crucial point in Sartre's eyes. The problem would equally arise for a deterministic psychology, which is concerned with the establishing of laws of consciousness. - The critical point is rather the fact, that concepts like "desire", "wish", "will", "urge" etc. have a referencing character. States don't refer to anything, or just to themselves, while those concepts involve a reference to future states (the desired states): "A being, that is, what it is, doesn't long for anything, that could make it complete."

The state of a thickend, hygroscopic salt solution doesn't refer to another state, in which the solution is thinned. The solution has no desire for water, and thus the human body - as a physiological item - with muscles, neurons, neurotransmitters etc. can't have a desire for water either. A desire is a desire for something, and that means, that the desired state has to be contained in the desire in one way or another. - Sartre concludes, that desires cannot be explained by their reduction to states, but solely by reduction to other desires.

Until now, it's easy to understand Sartre's arguing (and maybe it's easy to agree). But then he acts strangely: He holds, that the concept "desire" can be led back to the concept "lack". A lack is the explanation for a desire. And Sartre continues, that all desires can be led back to one base desire, which can be explained by one base lack. And this base lack is - the state of being-for-itself as an incomplete being.

And here we are again in the heart of the cosmical myth, which is presented by Sartre: The being-for-itself, which has emerged from being-in-itself, has the lack, not to be what it is, and it lacks furthermore a reason of being. - Sartre explains to us, a little bit scholasticly: If a lack is given, there must be three aspects. First the existing thing, which is lacking something, secondly the lacked, and thirdly the failed totality, which would result from the association of the existing thing with the lacked.

Sartre's example is the crescent. The lacked is the rest of the round slice, the failed totality is the full moon. But does the crescent really lack something? Of course not, only a human observer can conceive this idea (e.g. if he needs the light of the full moon, to go hunting). There can't be a lack on the level of being-in-itself! The defectiveness of the crescent can be explained by a human desire (e.g. to go hunting by night), and the human desire refers to the base lack, which is the feature of being-for-itself. - The next chapter will deal with the question, how this is to be understood.

(Here is one of the occasions, on which I didn't know, if my Sartre-understanding is such bad, or if he argues such badly: If every desire refers to a lack, vice versa every lack refers to a desire. Lack is not apt, to explain desire, because both concepts obviously correspond. - Meanwhile I came to the decision, that it's Sartre's fault, namely for the following reason: To attribute desires to being, seems much more strange than to say, that being lacks something.)

Even if we assume in accordance with Sartre, that being-for-itself is self-contradictional, there is no obvious reason to assume, that self-contradictoriness is identical with a desire to be without contradiction. Why does being-for-itself not simply and peacefully exist in its special form? Yes, it's true: a being, that's not, what it is, refers to a being, that is, what it is, but the reference is merely logical. I think, the concept of lack / desire adds an aspect, which is not justifiable by Sartre's previous description of being-for-itself.

 The "Value"

The word is put in quotation marks, because it denotes something more fundamental than the common concept. - Sartre has elaborated, that any lack has three aspects. Concerning the being-for-itself, this means, that there is being-for-itself itself, as an item which lacks something, there is the lacked and there is an ideal unity of being-for-itself and the lacked. The latter aspect is the "value". - In what does it consist?

The "value" is, roughly speaking, the state, which was desired by being-in-itself at the moment of its transformation to being-for-itself. Being-in-itself definitely didn't want to become being-for-itself, but rather based (grounded) being-in-itself. In its current shape of being-for-itself it still wants the same! - Being-for-itself is imperfect in two respects, because it isn't identical with itself and because it has no reason of being. The "value" is the state, in which both defects are corrected! - The "value" is hence a being-for-itself, which has become a being-in-itself, which is in turn grounded in its being.

Without the additional lack of a reason of its being, the "value" would be simply the return to being-in-itself. This would amount to a desire for its annihilation as consciousness. But being-for-itself wants to remain conscious, it desires a state, in which it is simultaneously being-for-itself and being-in-itself. As mentioned, this is due to the fact, that a being, which bases its own being, has to be distinct from its own being - what means, it has to be infected with nothingness, it has to be being-for-itself. And here comes the payoff: Being-for-itself strives after a condition, which is traditionally an attribute of God!

According to Sartre, God is being-in-itself, inasmuch as he's positive and he includes or generates all being. Simultaneously God is being-for-itself, simply because he's a conscious being. The "value" of being-for-itself is God (not the Lord of all, but its own god). - It should be noted, that the concept of God, which is presupposed here, doesn't involve the traditional attributes of almightiness and omniscience. When a consciousness wants to become God, its motive is not greed for power, but merely the last-mentioned reason. - Since the idea of God is impossible on account of its self-contradictoriness, the "value" can't be realized. But thanks to its incompleteness and its lacking of a reason, being-for-itself can't avoid it to desire self-identity and completeness. This desire is inevitable (at least that's Sartre's opinion here), it arises automatically simultaneously with the arising of being-for-itself, but it is in perpetuity unrealizable. Therefore Sartre labels the consciousness (and thereby man) as "unhappy consciousness". "The human-reality suffers in its being, because it comes into existence, continuously haunted by a totality, which it is, without the ability to be it, because it couldn't reach being-in-itself, without losing itself as being-for-itself."

This doesn't seem plausible at first sight. If Sartre has teached me successfully, that the aim of my desire isn't achievable, why shouldn't I be able to abandon it smoothly (especially, if I'm free)? - The answer is, that the "value" isn't simply one human aim among others. It is rather a base structure, which underlies all human aims. Every desire, no matter for what, is on a certain level the desire, to become God. - We remember, that Sartre assumes, that desires can be explained merely by reduction to other desires. And he has told us, that the base desire is the desire for the "value". The next step will be, to lead back the non-essential desires to the base desire.

A common human desire is thirst, as mentioned above. It seems to be very obvious, that thirst is the desire for liquid. But this is just half of the truth. The very aim of my thirst is, to make thirst a being-in-itself and my drinking is merely a means to this end. - Remember, that consciousness is identical with its actual contents. A consciousness, which is thirsty, is thirst. The thirst exists as a totality mirror / mirror-image, thus it's not identical with itself (it is awareness of thirst). Hence its desire is, to become identical with itself. My thirst refers to an ideal of a thirst, that is, what it is. If consciousness would have reached this ideal, the thirst would be not only identical with itself, but it would have a reason of being as well, because it would owe its realization to itself.

There seem to be some obvious objections against Sartre's theory of desires: The "value" doesn't explain, why thirst searches its realization in drinking, and not somewhere else. Furthermore Sartre says, that all phenomena of consciousness refer to the "value", even those, which cannot be identified with a desire. In this sense he states, that a suffering person suffers among other things from the fact, that he suffers not enough (he wants a suffering, that is, what it is, while his actual suffering is simultaneously awareness of suffering and therefore just non-identical being-for-itself). - The "value" haunts consciousness not only in cases of desire, but always, no matter, what the contents of consciousness are. So how can the desire for the "value" be useful, to explain human desires, if it's always there, while humans are not always in a state of desire?

 What Being-for-itself Lacks

Two of the three aspects of lack we have identified concerning the being-for-itself. The one, who lacks something, is being-for-itself itself and the failed totality is the "value". - But one aspect is still unsettled: What lacks the being-for-itself, to realize the "value"?

Sartre states, that the missing part has to be of indentical nature as the thing, that lacks it (the crescent as a piece of the lunar slice, lacks another peace of the lunar slice, to be a full moon). - This claim can be questioned for good reasons (at least in German, but I think in English as well). A piece of coal lacks merely a specific kind of molecular structure, to be a diamond, but a molecular structure is not of similar nature as a piece of coal. (Maybe the use of the concept "lack" is more limited in French language.) - The whole thing amounts to the conclusion, that being-for-itself lacks being-for-itself, to realize the "value".

Being-for-itself tries to find another being-for-itself, to reach the impossible totality of being-in-itself and being-for-itself. This doesn't have reference to another human, whereas it refers to the same being-for-itself in the future - as the realization of one of its possibilities. The thirsty one projects himself into the possibility, to drink. We remember, that the very desire of thirst is the desire to be a thirst, which is identical with itself (and because of the fact, that the actual thirst is consciousness itself, this amounts to the desire of consciousness, to be identical with itself). Sartre would strictly deny, that the thirst simply lacks liquid, to become the "value". Instead it lacks a being-for-itself, that's drinking.

The future being-for-itself, which is drinking, is a possibility of the actual, thirsty being-for-itself. Because the "value" is given simultaneously with being-for-itself (the non-identity of being-for-itself refers automatically to a being-for-itself, which is identical with itself), the third aspect must be given as well. As soon as there is a being-for-itself, there is the "value" of this being-for-itself and there are the possibilities, which it tries to realize under the final purpose to realize the "value". - The giveness of the possibilities is - according to Sartre - not to be understood in the sense of the claim, that consciousness has the "value" first and grasps then conceptually, that there are the possibilities to realize the "value". The three aspects of lack are given simultaneously in the pre-reflective Cogito as a part of its ontological structure.

I summarize the continuation of the Sartre's story. If someone is thirsty, he wants to to realize his thirst and thereby his consciousness as a self-identical, grounded thing. What he lacks, to reach this aim, is a consciousness, that's drinking. But a drinking consciousness is a possibility of the thirsty consciousness. The purpose of the realization of the possibility is the unification of the thirsty consciousness with the drinking consciousness. Because the drinking consciousness exists due to the previous conception of the thirsty consciousness, the confluence of both is indeed a kind of self-grounding! (That's very important.)

"In the unreflective and naive state the thirst and the sexual desire want to enjoy themselves, they search this coincidence with itself, that's satisfaction, during which the thirst recognizes itself as thirst in the same moment, where it loses its defectiveness by virtue of its appeasement and where it makes itself simultaneously in the appeasement and by the appeasement thirst."

The story has a sequel. - The desired unification is impossible. The thirst doesn't become a thirst, that's identical with itself (or maybe just for an infinitesimal moment), but it disappears. The being-for-itself is still not what it is, still contingent, and other desires and possibilities arise. - That's according to Sartre the explanation for the unsatisfactory feeling, which often befalls people, who have finally satisfied a burning desire. The feeling isn't due to the fact, that the lust of the satisfaction isn't strong enough, but due to the other fact, that the very desire isn't satisfied at all. The real aim of our wishes is not the lust, which emerges, when the wish is fulfilled - this lust is merely a kind of secondary effect.

Incidentally, Sartre finds at this point the way to get out of Cogito (strictly speaking, the possibility to win more philosophical insights from it than just "I think, therefore I am"). If the possibilities of consciousness, which are of course future possibilities, are given with the consciousness, the future itself is given somehow in Cogito. - The Cogito in Descartes' view includes solely the immediate present, its certainty doesn't reach beyond it and nothing seems to do. (Sartre calls this kind of Cogito "instantaneous cogito".)

Sartre accuses Descartes of the failure, to overlook the prospective aspect of the Cogito. Descartes has thought: "What's true without doubt? That I'm doubting now." But Sartre hints at the fact, that a doubt isn't conceivable without the possibility, to remove it in the future. And Sartre emphasizes, that a consciousness, that's limited to the present, would not even be capable, to read a book. All it could do is to read one letter after the other. - Those remarks want to prepare Sartre's readers for his discussion of time.


As we've heard, consciousness is essentially related to its possibilities. Therefore Sartre proceeds to a detailled investigation of the concept "possibility". He demands to narrow the concept down to factual possibilities. A mere logical possibility shouldn't be acknowledged as a possibility at all: A centaur is conceivable, but that doesn't mean, it's possible, according to Sartre. And because we meet sentences like "It is possible, that he comes", which contain the word "is", a possibility must have some kind of reality (it must have "being").

At this point we have to reconsider the view of Aristoteles, who explained the actual possibilities of things by means of potencies, which are dwelling in the things. Is the being of a possibility a potency? - Sartre denies that strictly: Because the entirely positive being-in-itself can't have possibilities, the denied view would amount to a magical conception of possibility. (Both here and elsewhere Sartre uses the concept "magic" to suggest, that certain relations, which are proposed by some lines of thinking, are totally irrational.)

The situation at this point resembles the situation at the begin of Sartre's explanation of negativity: Negativity cannot arise from being-in-itself, so it must dwell on the subjective side. Nevertheless Sartre is anxious to avoid the rendering of negativity as a merely subjective matter. We remember his solution: Negativity arises from the nothingness in consciousness, and it's real since this nothingness is real. - His discussion of possibility takes the same line:

"The possibility, to be delayed by a wrinkle in the table's cloth, does neither belong to the rolling billiard ball nor to the table's cloth: it can arise only in the arrangement of ball and baize to a system, which is generated by a being, which comprehends the possibilities. Because this comprehension cannot descend from the outside, from being-in-itself, and because it can't confine itself to be merely a thought as a subjective mode of consciousness, it has to coincide with the objective structure of the being, which comprehends the possible."

Possibility is real, but merely, because the subject has its own possibilities. The possibilities of the subject are part of its ontological structure, they are not merely in the eyes of a witness, as it is the case with the possibility of the billiard ball, to be delayed by a wrinkle in the felt. - And possibilities outside of the subject, e.g. the possibility of the billiard ball, achieve reality in spite of the fact, that they don't dwell in the things like Aristotelian potencies, since they refer to the possibilities of the consciousness. - Sartre says: The cloud can rain (it's an actual possibility of the cloud, to rain), because I have "transcended it towards the rain". Maybe Sartre's view can be put in other words: The possibility of the cloud, to rain, is real due to my possibility, to stand in the rain, if I don't go back into the house.

Before Sartre starts the attempt, to locate even time in a similar way in consciousness, he introduces a particular concept - the "circle of selfness". What does it mean? - Consciousness is seperated from itself, insofar as it is not identical with itself. But it is seperated from itself in another respect too, because it is seperated from its "value". Consciousness tries to reach the "value" by means of its possibilities. Because those possibilities are future possibilities, the whole world in its present state stands between consciousness and its future self-identical and grounded being. Consciousness has to transcend the whole world, to reach itself - this fact is called the "circle of selfness".

By means of this concept Sartre wants to emphasize the connection between world and person: The world becomes "my world" because of the structure of consciousness as an incomplete being, which wants to gain completeness by realizing its possibilities. (In a strict sense it is not true, that the consciousness "wants" something on this level. The desire of consciousness, which corresponds to its lack, is merely the fundament for the human will, which arises on some higher level.) The world obtains its special characteristics merely in respect of my possibilities, to realize myself in the world. - Sartre will revisit this aspect.

 Some Remarks Concerning Sartre's Discussion of Time

One might summarize Sartre's description of being-for-itself by stating, that he tries to remove a number of problems, which have arisen from his concept of "being-in-itself": Why do we meet negative facts, if being-in-itself is entirely positive? Because there is nothingness in being-for-itself. Why are there actual possibilities, if being-in-itself can't have possibilities? Because being-for-itself has possibilities. - Another problem of this kind is the existence of time, since being-in-itself isn't temporal. - But before we join Sartre's discussion of time, I want to look back:

What were Sartre's reasons, to conceive being-in-itself in such a way, that negativity and possibility are necessarily incompatible with it? If one transforms existence into a kind of thing, it is indeed not foreseeable, how you could relate such a thing to negativity. - But Sartre presents a special reason: If we attribute properties to things, the assertions contain the word "is" (e.g. "the rose is red"). Hence the property must have being and being itself can't have properties, since it includes the being of the properties as well. And if being-in-itself doesn't have properties, it has no differences as well, it cannot be devided into individual things.

You can enhance this argument in respect of other propositions, which contain the word "is". In this sense Sartre states, that a possibility must have being, because it is allowed to say, that something is possible. What leads inevitably to the consequence, that being can't have possibilities, because it is the being of possibilities as well. - Sartre's theory of being resembles remarkably the theory of the pre-socratic Parmenides, although Sartre never appeals to him. Parmenides reasoned, that negative facts are impossible, because the proposition "the non-existing exists" is contradictional. He concluded, that there is in fact solely one thing, which doesn't know differences and change (because both presuppose negativity) and that the world, as we know it, must be an illusion. Parmenides' argument can be expressed this way: If one says, that something is not, he uses the word "is". Thus it is clear, that being is also the being of the non-existing, so that it must be impossible for being, to be not.

Sartre seemingly shies away from this argument, perhaps since it is impossible to state on its base, that being-in-itself is contingent (if the non-existence of being is logically excluded, being exists necessarily). Moreover Sartre assumes, that there is nothingness (namely in being-for-itself). But if the argument is valid, it is allowed to infer from the possibility of the sentence "nothingness is", that being is the being of nothingness as well, so that nothingness is just an illusion. - I stop at this point.

Why is being-in-itself not temporal? We will hear a lot about it later on, but probably the crucial point will be again the impossibility to relate being-in-itself to negativity. Due to this impossibility there can't be changes or possibilities on the side of being-in-itself, and furthermore phrases like "the past of being-in-itself" or "the future of being-in-itself" require negative, differentiating statements, because I must be able to tell the past being-in-itself from the present and the future one.


At first I should note, that Sartre's issue isn't the time of physics, which started - according to Stephen Hawking - during the Big Bang, and which e.g. flows with less speed, if you are a very fast moving space traveler. The relation of this concept of "time" to the use of the word "time" in common speach is not quite clear (ask a philosopher of science), but there is every indication, that the concept has its meaning solely in the context of a certain physical theory. The "time" of common language is associated merely in a misleading way with the "time of the physics". - The purpose of a physical theory is to produce accurate prognoses, but even if it works and the theory is useful, I think, there is no reason, to regard the concept of time, as it's used in physics, as an improved replacement for the common one.

E.g. the theory of relativity doesn't allow, to use the concept "simultaneity" (contemporaneity), if it deals with faraway objects in space. The common concept isn't restricted in the same way: If one gazes to the nightly sky, and asks, if not at the same moment on a planet, 1 million light years away, somebody does the same, the question is not naive ("Don't you know, that there is no simultaneity in space?"). - The issue here is (at least at the beginning of Sartre's discussion) the common concept of time, as it is used in ordinary language, and the problems, which arise from it.

Sartre assumes, that time is dependent on being-for-itself. It's one of the items, which are incompatible with the nature of being-in-itself and therefore must have its origin in consciousness. - Sartre thinks, that this line of thought is capable, to answer some of the philosophical questions concerning time.

The first addressed problem can be called the "paradox of the non-existence of time". Time has the well-known aspects past, present and future. If you look at them in respect of their existence, you can come to the following assertions: The past doesn't exist, because it has existed. The future doesn't exist, because it will exist. You might think, that at least the present exists, but what is the present in fact? The borderline between past and future. But if the latter ones do not exist, the border cannot exist either! Ergo there is no time at all.

The second problem concerns the connection between the present and the other aspects of time. It arises with respect to the past, if you consider memory: If one remembers a past event, he refers to the past. But what's the reference? - A common view states, that it is guaranteed by certain brain-patterns, which have admittedly emerged in the past but have an effect in the present moment of remembrance. This amounts to the fact, that we have a present cause, which produces a present effect. Thus it ain't clear at all, how such a process can provide for a reference to the past.

But Sartre considers a purely psychical theory of memory as well. According to it, a memory is essentially a mental image. But how to distinguish between a mental memory-image and a simple daydream? The answer must be, that the memory-image has a relation to the past, which can't be part of the memory-image itself. And even if genuine memory-images could be identified by some special properties, the problem would be still unsolved, because those properties were present properties. A present item can only refer to the past, if the relation to the past is already there.

Sartre thinks, that there is an analogous problem concerning the future: a mental image, which refers to the future, can't contain the reference in itself, just as little as some brain-patterns, which occur parallel to the image.

What can be said about the issue without recourse to Sartre's ontology? I think, that it's not possible at all, to state a "problem of the existence of time". "To exist" is a verb: something exists, existed or will exist. If you talk about the "existence of time", you presuppose a meta-time, whose existence can be problematized as well, etc. - In Wittgenstein's words: temporality is part of our grammar.

Otherwise I think, that Sartre's criticism against the view, that the reference of the present to the past and the future can be found in mental images, is plausible. A mental image or an imagined scene doesn't contain a reference to time or reality in itself. Consciousness classifies a mental image, it decides, if it is related to some future or past fact, or if it's just a revery. And this classification isn't part of the mental image itself.

 The Past

The problem mentioned above, how it is possible, to refer to the past from the present, hints at the question, to what extent the past exists. How can you refer to something, which doesn't exist any more? For that reason - according to Sartre - Bergson held the view, that the past is indeed existing, but no longer able to act as a cause. The present dog is capable, to send the postman fleeing, the past dog, although existing in some obscure way, can't do that any more.

Sartre refuses Bergson's view by stating, that an effectless past couldn't affect our present consciousness as well, so that the past wouldn't exist for consciousness (i.e. its reference to the past can't be explained this way). But even if the past would act as a cause (so you can add, if you've read my text up to here), it couldn't affect our consciousness, simply for the reason, that our consciousness isn't subjected to causality.

And now we reach Sartre's crucial point: The positivity of being-in-itself can't contain nothing of the past, because the past isn't anymore, and that's a negative fact. - Hence the past must be a matter of being-for-itself. But how is this possible, if the consciousness is solely at the present time? In this case there would be only a succession of consciousnesses, which are not related to each other. So it must be wrong, that consciousness is instantaneous: The past of the consciousness must, somehow or other, exist in the present consciousness!

But if the past dwells in the consciousness, what about the common (collective) past (which is usually meant, if we use the word "past")? Sartre's answer conveys, that there are in the first instance merely single pasts, which correspond to single consciousnesses. The common past ist a secondary construct.

If the past is connected to consciousness, the question arises, what's happening with it when the consciousness doesn't exist any more - namely, if the human has passed on. - Sartre's answer: the past consciousness (respectively the corresponding human) exists merely in the past of the people who remember him (it): "The dead, who are not saved and who are not transported abord the concrete past of a survivor, are not bygone, but they and their pasts are in fact annihilated." (I think, Sartre is a little bit shortsighted here. Remember "Ötzi the Iceman" - he was forgotten thousands of years, whereas his past is very present now.)

If the past is dependent on consciousness, the consequence arises, that unconscious things cannot have a past as such. - Assume, that somebody pounded on a nail, so that it became crooked. Later on he pounded on the same nail, so that it became straight again. The nail looks like a new nail, which was not abused, but its "behaviour" is not the same (e. g. it breaks more easily). - Doesn't the changed behaviour hint at an objective past of the nail as its cause? Sartre denies it. It hints merely at some present molecular structure of the nail, which is distinguishable from the structure of a new nail.

 Identity and Non-Identity of the Being-for-Itself with its Past

Consciousness is an entity, which changes, as time goes by. But change isn't conceivable without permanence. If consciousness remains the same during the change - isn't it possible to explain the reference of the present consciousness to its past by assuming, that it's still the same as it was in its past? (The rose has been fresh yesterday, and it is withered now, but it's still the same rose.) - Sartre meets this suggestion by stating, that a permanence during change presupposes the reference to the past and thereby that consciousness isn't instantaneous. A naked succession of momentary consciousnesses doesn't have room for permanence, those consciousnesses would be not identical with each other.

Here we can see, where Sartre finds the reference of a consciousness to its past: in the identity of the present consciousness with the past consciousness. In his words: merely beings, which are their past, can have a past at all. - But everything in consciousness is conscious. So how can we explain the fact, that our memories are often incorrect, if we are identical with our past? - Sartre will get back to this problem, when he discusses reflection.

Insofar as the past of consciousness depends on its present (its past disappears, if the present consciousness disappears in the case of death), Sartre can state, that the present being-for-itself is the reason/ground of its past (not meant as the reason of its being!): we are responsible for our past. (The word "responsible" misleadingly suggests an ethical context. Here it means simply the mentioned dependence, even if Sartre will tell us later on, that we are also responsible for our past insofar as we give it a certain sense.) - An evidence of the stated identity Sartre finds in language, in the fact, that the word "was" is associated with the infinitive "to be". The linguistic phenomenon shows, as he thinks, that the word "was" denotes a "mode of being": "In this sense I am my past. I don't have it, I am it: [...]."

We know already, that we are being-for-itself, i.e. a system mirror/mirror-image, which is not identical with itself. Does this apply to our past as well? Obviously not. What I've been, I've been, a past feeling, although it is still a feeling, is no longer in the form of mirror/mirror-image, it has lost its ambiguity. A past metastable system is no longer metastable, it has reached a quiescent stage. The past of the being-for-itself is hence being-in-itself, even if it's identical with it. Because of the principle, that being-in-itself and being-for-itself can't be identical, we are our past "not in the mode of identity" (that's a confusing way, to say, that we are identical with our past and are not identical with our past).

We have already met the non-identity with our past selves, and we have called it the "weaker" version of non-identity with itself, because we've assumed, that it is possible to remove the contradiction by restatement, e.g. like this: I am identical with my past self, insofar as I'm the carrier of my changes. But insofar as I have changed, I'm no longer identical with my past. The rose of today is still the rose, although it has been fresh yesterday and is withered now (identity), whereas the withered rose now is not the same as the fresh rose yesterday (non-identity).

Now we see, that Sartre means his statement in a more serious way: since it is impossible, that something has a past, which is not identical with it, we are necessarily identical with our past. And because it is inconceivable, that something is simultaneously being-in-itself and being-for-itself, it is impossible, that we are identical with our past. - Therefore the contradiction can't be removed in a simple way and this version of non-identity in Sartre's eyes isn't weaker than the first version, which serves as its fundament.

Because I am identical with my past, I'm not able to distance myself from it (just in minor matters after a long time, as Sartre adds, a little bit inconsequently). Thus I'm shocked, if other people cast a stone at my past. But because I am not identical with my past, as I'm able to transcend it as a free being-for-itself, the shock is often merely indignation about the fact, that people associate me with something, that's not me anymore.

We know, that the nothingness in being-for-itself has a kind of coating of being-in-itself, which is a residue from the "absolute event", from the genesis of being-for-itself, because of the fact, that the emerged nothingness is related to the being-in-itself, it has emerged from. Sartre calls this component the facticity of consciousness. Our new knowledge, that our past is identical with us, but is being-in-itself as well, can lead us to the conclusion, that the past has to be part of our facticity. - And that's really true.

But this can raise the following question: The "absolute event" must have occured earlier than my birth or at least my infancy. Why contains my facticity not merely the embryo or the sucker, from which my consciousness has emerged? Why contains it my later experiences and changes as well? - Sartre would meet the objection by maintaining, that the "absolute event" doesn't end, as long as my consciousness exists (it is a "continuous act"). Nothingness emerges again and again from being-in-itself, so that the facticity accumulates during my whole lifetime. The "absolute event" is finished not until the moment of my death, when being-for-itself expires and my nothingness disappears. In this moment I become identical with my past, and that's all I am from then on. I am, what I am and an omniscient biographer could describe me alltogether and completely. "Due to my death, being-for-itself transforms for ever into being-in-itself, [...]. So the past is the ever growing totality of the being-in-itself, which we are."

Subsequent to the latter, Sartre compares the past and the "value": Both share the similarity, that being-in-itself and being-for-itself meet each other at the same place. The "value" is the impossible synthesis of being-in-itself and being-for-itself, and the past is being-for-itself, which has become being-in-itself. The similarity causes the phenomenon, that our past can appear poetic to us: A past content of consciousness is a content, that's identical with itself, and that's exactly the state, that consciousness desires! - But there is an important difference: The ideal "value" is not only a synthesis of being-in-itself and being-for-itself, but it is self-grounded as well. In contrast the past is contingent. - So to speak, the synthesis has gone too far in the case of the past. The being-for-itself has disappeared for the benefit of a being-in-itself, so that the past lacks the fission, which is necessary for self-grounding.

 The Present

While the past of being-for-itself has become being-in-itself, the present is being-for-itself. Hereby addresses Sartre again the problem, which arises from the fact, that the present as a kind of borderline between past and future is merely an infinitesimal moment. Meaningfully he adds, that it is actually "a nothing" (maybe the nothingness in being-for-itself?). - The next step is the attempt, to lead back the concept "present" to the concept "attendant": The present is the attendance of something at something. ("Attendance" is one of those Sartrean terms, which seem rather redundant to me, and whose main-purpose is seemingly to make things more complex.) - Being-for-itself is attendant at the being-in-itself, insofar as the being-for-itself is not the being-in-itself. Sartre emphasizes, that this attendance refers to the whole being-in-itself and not merely to things of my actual environment, because being-for-itself is not the entire being-in-itself.

At this point we have to remember, that being-in-itself is not temporal, since its pure positivity excludes a diversity of times. In need of explanation is the fact, that there are anyhow things, that exist simultaneously in a temporal sense (the segmentation into things is indeed a matter of consciousness, whereas the resulting things are, as mentioned above, still being-in-itself, so that the problem of their temporality arises). The simultaneity must base on a witness, who is attendant at the things simultaneously and it must base solely on that witness. - By the way, the mentioned attendance is unilateral: Being-for-itself is attendant at the being-in-itself, whereas being-in-itself is not attendant at being-for-itself (because the positive being-in-itself doesn't define itself as not being consciousness).

The witness is of course the consciousness. Its attendance at the things is in fact merely its being-not-the-things, which is the defining point of being-for-itself. Because consciousness is always its own witness, Sartre is allowed to say, that the being-for-itself witnesses itself as being not being-in-itself. - We know indeed, that the non-identical being-for-itself is an entity, which defines itself by means of its negativity, its "nothingness". With the latter arguing one more negative aspect has been added. - A list of the negative aspects, in which the "nothingness" of being-for-itself consists, may be helpful:

1. Being-for-itself is not itself, because every consciousness is consciousness of consciousness.

2. Being-for-itself is not itself, since it is not the "value".

3. Being-for-itself is not its facticity/past, because the latter is being-in-itself.

4. Being-for-itself is not the presently existing thing, respectively it defines itself by this non-being.

Please note, that the fourth aspect is different, because there is no parallel identity: I am myself and I am not myself, I am my past and I am not my past, but I am simply not the presently existing things.- At this point Sartre argues surprisingly, that the problematic non-existence of the present is due to the fourth aspect: Because the relationship between being-for-itself and being-in-itself, which constitutes the present, is a purely negative relationship, the present is merely a nothing.

 The Future

Being-in-itself cannot have a future, just as it can't have no past and no present. Thus future originates from consciousness as well. Strictly speaking, it originates from the "value", inasmuch as the future of being-for-itself is nothing more than the realized "value". - In this context I want to illustrate the function of the "value" in practice by means of an example, given by Sartre in his war-diaries:

I stand, and I intend to sit down in an armchair (because my standing has tired me out, as it seems). What's actually my purpose? I want to be myself, sitting in the armchair. But what's so desirable about the imagined situation? Well, if it's realized, I have affected myself, to sit in the armchair, and thereby I've obtained a reason of being. Apart from this I see myself, when I imagine myself sitting, as someone, who is, what he is (namely, sitting in an armchair), as identical with myself and rid of the ambiguity of being-for-itself. (But simultaneously I see my self still as a conscious being - I don't imagine myself as a sitting corpse.) - By projecting myself as a sitting man in an armchair, I try therefore to satisfy the primordial desires of being-for-itself, the desire for self-grounding and the desire, to become being-in-itself.

As we've learned, the attempt to realize the "value" must fail: Finally, I sit indeed (probably) in the armchair, but the consciousness, that has projected itself towards this situation is bygone, has become being-in-itself. As such it can't help me to ground myself, it is merely a fact among the others, which determine my present situation. - And I am again, even as a sitting man, amiguous being-for-itself and of course not the desired synthesis of being-in-itself and being-for-itself. - The whole project results in an "ontological frustration", which stimulates me to start another attempt, e.g. when I project myself to rise up again.

As long as I have imagined myself sitting in the armchair, I have imagined a state of the world as well (e.g. that the armchair is still at the same location and has not disappeared). Starting with my own possibility to sit, I have been forced to grasp a possible world as well. - According to Sartre, this fact demonstrates the falsity of the widespread prejudice, that future is in the first place the future of the world. Instead future is in the first place my future as a consciousness, in contrast the future of the world is logically secondary, insofar as I can conceive myself in the future merely as attendant at the world. Starting with my own possibilites, I provide the world with its possibilities.

The past and the future have in common, that they are identical with my present consciousness and at the same time not identical with my present consciousness. The future me is identical with my present self, because "I will be" expresses identity in the same way as "I was". A reference to the past presupposes my identity with my past, and likewise a reference to the future presupposes, that I am my future.- But both are of course not identical with me: the past, because it's being-in-itself and the future, because it's an impossible synthesis of being-for-itself and being-in-itself (the "value").

But what's the essential difference, which allows it, to distinguish between both? The crucial point is, that my past is not subject to my freedom, whereas I'm free concerning my future: "I am my future in the perspective of my possibility, to be it not." - Thus the future is open, with the consequence, that it's not allowed to speak of its existence (apart from the fact, that it - the "value" - is not realizable at all). The past has real existence, because it's being-in-itself, the existence of the future is merely ideal.

Finally Sartre hints at the fact, that the hierarchy of my possibilities is not identical with their chronological order. A point far off in the future can affect my acting more than a much nearer point. E.g. the project, to meet a friend in a foreign city is placed over the chronologically nearer project, to buy a plane ticket. Maybe I have no projects at all concerning the details of the travel preparation at that time.

 The Totality of Time

Sartre's "Temporality"-chapter is divided in two parts, "Phenomenology of Time" and "Ontology of Time". The issue of the "Phenomenology" has been the seperated approach of past, present and future. Since Sarte's arguing in this part is strongly influenced by his ontology, the captions seem misleading.

At the beginning of the "Ontology of Time" Sartre announces, that he wants to deal with time, seen as a totality. One might think, that the issue would be "the" time, in contrast to the "three times" past, present and future. But in fact the issue is a fundamental criticism of all theories, according to those time is composed of elements, which are independent of each other. - We have already seen, that it's impossible to explain the reference of the present consciousness to its past or its future, if past and future are seperated from the present. Sartre's counterproposal has been, to assume an identity between the present consciousness and the past respectively future consciousness. We have seen as well, that this identity is accompanied by a parallel non-identity, which hints at the nothingness in consciousness. - In the "Ontology"-part Sartre will deepen this approach.

First of all, Sartre distinguishes between a static and a dynamic view of time. A static view refers merely to the order of time, insofar as all points can be arranged on an irreversible line, sorted by "after" and "before". The dynamic view considers the aspect, which has been factored out by the static view, namely, that time is successive. - What that means, we will see later on.

The static view tempts us to think, that time is composed out of discrete moments, presupposed, that the "before"-"after"-line can be disassembled into smallest parts. If we do so, the problem arises, how the discrete moments are connected. Is the connection provided by a witness, who perceives, that one moment is replaced by the next one? - Sartre thinks, this solution is merely virtual, because the perception of moments is a temporal process as well, so that the problem is merely shifted to the side of the witness.

Sartre mentions two other attempts, to eliminate the problem. Descartes finds the connection between the discrete moments, the transition from one instantaneous consciousness to a later one, in God's continuous creation (creatio continua). In contrast Kant finds it in a "form of intuition", which is used by the subject (mind), to arrange the sensual data. - The attempts are rather different, except for the recourse to an entity outside of time (God in Descartes' view, the subject in Kant's view). Therefore both try, to deduce time from a timeless being, what is absurd in Sartre's eyes. (This argument is reminiscent of Sartre's former statement, that it's impossible to explain negativity by means of purely positive elements.)

Leibniz made an effort to eliminate the problem by maintaining, that time is not assembled from discrete moments, but continual. To assess his attempt, we have to explain the concept "continuity". Sartre quotes a definition, which was developed by the physician and mathematician Poincaré: A row A, B, C is continual, if the following propositions are true: A is equal to B, B is equal to C, but A is unequal to C. - Sartre receives the definition with open arms: "This definition is excellent, because it lets us assume a type of being, that is, what it is not, and that is not, what it is [...]." - Obviously we are confronted here with a break of logical rules, which has to be explained with recourse to non-identity with itself!

Non-identical with itself is the being-for-itself, so that a continual time must have its origin in this area of being. - At this point, Sartre regards it as useful to provide a comprehensive description of time in the context of being-for-itself. Time comes into existence at the moment of birth (the "absolute event"), when being-in-itself infects itself with nothingness, to remove its contingency. Simultaneously emerges the first past, the embryo as the being-in-itself, from which the story started. (Sartre thinks, it is not required, that the past of a consciousness is consciousness, a human being is in a "solidarity of being" with the unconscious embryo as well.) With the emergence of this past, past in general emerges, because the being-in-itself can't have no past. (Besides the world comes into existence as the splintered totality of being-in-itself.)

"There is not at first a universal time, in whose context suddenly the being-for-itself emerges, which has no past yet. But from the moment of birth, as a primordial, a priori law of being-for-itself a world reveals itself, which has a universal time, in whose context a moment can be identified, when being-for-itself hasn't been, and a moment, when it emerges, [...]"

The past of consciousness is being-in-itself and therefore no part of consciousness. But insofar as it is simultaneously identical with the consciousness, it differs from the present being-in-itself, which is a matter of perception. (Remember, that the relationship between the things and the consciousness - as an exception - is a relationship of absolute non-identity. Consciousness is not the things.) - The past of consciousness is not an object of cognition, it acts as a background of consciousness, which is not conceptually grasped. - The "affliction" of the consciousness by its past is - in Sartre's words - an "irrevocable and rearward deepness" of my thoughts and feelings. - (But how can this "affliction" encompass the first, unconscious past of consciousness? The child doesn't remember the embryo, and some kind of memory nevertheless seems to be required, to enable the "affliction".)

In unison with the consciousness not only the present world and the past emerge, but the future as well. Consciousness grasps itself as a lack, and - as we've seen - a lack requires a failed totality, in which the lacked would have been added. This totality we find in the "value", which is a matter of future. - Because Sartre has achieved his goal at this point, to locate the three aspects of time in consciousness, he can call temporality the "inner structure of the being, which is it's own nihilation".

The static view of time (as a "before"-"after"-row) ignores the aspect, which is commonly expressed by the words "time goes by". There is not only a past of the being-for-itself, which is before its present, which is in turn before its future, there is a permanent change as well: present being-for-itself becomes past being-for-itself (respectively being-in-itself), and a new present being-for-itself emerges. If one sees time merely as a kind of order, he overlooks, that the phenomenon of change needs to be explained. - And the change is not simply the change of an aspect, which leaves the permanent core untouched, but it is absolute: The old being-for-itself disappears completely, and is created totally new.

According to Sartre, this problem, caused by the dynamic aspect of time, is only virtual: it arises, if one regards the alternating beings-for-itself as entities. But being-for-itself carries the change already in its unstable ontological structure, so that no further explanation is needed.

The present consciousness becomes past consciousness. Is is possible to say in an analogous way, that the future consciousness becomes present consciousness? - Sartre denies it. The future is not fixed, it's merely a possible future. Therefore the future doesn't become present, but instead the future of a past consciousness.

 Some Remarks Subsequent to Sartre's Discussion of Time

Stephen Hawking's claim, that time started with the Big Bang, is absurd, if the word "time" is used in the common meaning. What had been before the Big Bang? Obviously the Big Bang was an event, which happened at a certain time. If this event was the beginning of time, then there must be another time, the time of the event.

In fact this is not really a problem, because Hawking uses the word "time" in the physical sense. As mentioned above, the physical concept of time has its place in the theoretical system of the actual physical paradigm and can't be identical with the common concept (otherwise the physical theory could be refuted by logical means). - Physicians are enforced to explain their theories to non-physicians, and associate their technical terms for this purpose with seemingly similar concepts of the common language (that's my opinion).

So Hawking can be probably excused, if he talks about a starting-point of time. But Sartre has no such excuse. If Sartre locates the emergence of time in the "absolute event", and tells us, that this event is a "timeless", non-temporal event, I am not able to understand him. An event happens/occurs, and whatever happens, happens at a certain time (i.e. you can ask, what has happened before and what will happen afterwards). He is forced, to presuppose a second time, which is the time of the "absolute event". And the time of the "absolute event" can't be identical with the time, that started during the "absolute event".

But Sartre is in good company: Long before him, Augustine of Hippo held the view, that time is part of God's creation, so that the question doesn't make sense, what God has done before the creation. - A related objection, that could be raised against Sartre's conception of time, concerns the "being" of past, present and future. "To be" and "to exist" are verbs, which can be used in all tenses. Something exists, has existed, will exist. If you ask for the existence of the past, you ask obviously for the present existence of the past. And if you do so, it makes sense, to ask for the past existence of the past as well - and again we approach logical Nirvana. - But Sartre could apologize, that his concept of "being" subsumes more than just existence, and that it denotes a timeless entity - I stop at this point.

 Reflection and the "Value"

At the end of Sartre's "Temporality"-chapter the reader unexpectedly feels himself relegated to "The Transcendence of the Ego", because the issue now is reflection. - Reflection is very important for "Being and Nothingness". Why? The base of Sartre's arguments is the Cogito, and if one tries to obtain philosophical knowledge by means of the Cogito, he is during his introspective activity on the reflective level of consciousness (even statements about the consciousness in the pre-reflective mode are a result of reflection).

But why addresses Sartre this issue in the context of the discussion of time? - We have seen, that according to Sartre the Cogito cannot be an instantaneous Cogito, it has to involve the past as well. But in this case reflection must be able to provide us with knowledge about our past, and this meets the objection, that our memories are not infallible, in spite of the fact, that our reflection, since it concerns the translucide area of consciousness, is basically infallible. - To remove this difficulty, an investigation of reflection is required.

What happens, if a consciousness becomes reflective? The pre-reflective state is the metastable system mirror / mirror-image, a duality which is simultaneously a unity. If consciousness reflects upon this system, does this lead to a duplication? Bears the preflective consciousness during the transition a second consciousness, which can act as an observer? This hypothesis would seem natural, because of the fact, that the reflecting consciousness is itself a system mirror / mirror-image. - Sartre denies it. The whole phenomenology of consciousness would lose its fundament, because you had to assume a distance between the reflective consciousness and its object, the consciousness, which is reflected upon. Reflection would not differ any more from "normal" cognition and couldn't claim a special certainty. Apart from this, the sudden recreation of a consciousness would seem mysterious, and its sudden disappearance as well - at least in the context of Sartre's ontology.

To preserve the unity of being-for-itself and in addition the validity claim of a philosophy which is based on reflection, Sartre is enforced to maintain, that the reflection doesn't amount to a duplication, but merely to a change of structure. This modification, which is accomplished by consciousness itself (because everything in consciousness is spontaneous), results in an incomplete, respectively virtual, duplication of consciousness. The reflected consciousness doesn't become an object for the reflecting consciousness, but merely a "quasi-object". - What's the difference between an object and a quasi-object? - In the case of the quasi-object the distance between consciousness and object is infinitesimal, a zero-distance.

Because this modification of consciousness has emerged from the spontaneity of consciousness, it could seem obvious, that it's an attempt of consciousness, to achieve the "value" (like all activities of consciousness), i.e. to give itself the stable identity of being-in-itself. - And that's Sartre's opinion as well. During the reflection, the being-for-itself tries to escape from the labile system mirror / mirror-image and "to be, what it is". If the attempt would reach its aim, there would occur actually a duplication / fission of consciousness, and the result would be one consciousness, that's being-for-itself and that acts as an observer and another consciousness, which has become being-in-itself and which is the object of observation. But because the attempt necessarily fails, the split is merely half, and that's the reason for Sartre's concept "quasi-object".

But wouldn't the impossibility of such an attempt be more plausible, than the assumption, that the attempt indeed fails, but with the result of a new hybrid state (a state, which concerns consciousness in its instantaneity, which is itself the hybrid result of a failed attempt)? The ontological analysis of reflection at this point conveys the impression, that its main purpose is Sartre's need, to save the cognitive validity of reflection: the unity of consciousness is preserved, the reflecting and the reflected are still identical, so that being and appearance still coincide in consciousness.

 Impure Reflection

We've learned from "The Transcendence of the Ego", that reflection can be contaminated. This was the case, as Descartes seemingly found the Ego in his Cogito, which is in fact a transcendental object. The principle of such a contamination is the virtual perception of objects in consciousness (not to be confused with the quasi-object of reflection, which is really in consciousness). Because there are necessarily no objects in consciousness, the "shadow-objects" have to be the result of a misinterpretation. - Sartre has illustrated the issue by means of an example: seemingly my reflection unveils, that I hate somebody, a claim, that could only be justified by extensive observations, which are even better done by other people. - How does this mistake arise? I become aware of a momentary aversion for somebody, and I interpret this feeling as an effect of hate. I accept as natural, that the causer sits inside of consciousness, and I confuse this assumption with an actual awareness of hate.

In "The Transcendence of the Ego" Sartre has dealt mainly with shadow-objects, which originate from the unification of consciousness, e.g. the ego, states, qualities and actions. In each case, the issue is a unit which seems to cause effects, while it's in fact completely dependent on its virtual effects. It is justified, to speak about "hate", if I react for a long time with negative feelings to somebody. But even then there is nothing more than those feelings, which arise from the spontaneity of my consciousness and are not caused by anything. - Now Sartre enhances the realm of the shadow-objects: the whole psyche is nothing more than the "unity of the shadow-objects, produced by impure reflection". - Even time is part of the psyche, not the abstract time, we've heard about, but time as an experience, as a stream of consciousness. Time is in fact an ontological structure of being-for-itself, while the stream of my experiences (which can be split into discrete moments) is merely a shadow-object.

By the way, Sartre doesn't want to maintain, that psychology, whose subject is the psyche, is merely a kind of astrology, which deals with non-existing items (astrology deals with non-existing relationships between the stars and our fate). The psyche and its contents have a kind of reality, which arises from the fact, that impure reflection is the rule and not the exception. The shadow-objects appear somehow automatically, if people "look inside their minds".

Since impure reflection involves a misapprehension of being-for-itself concerning itself, whereas such misapprehensions are excluded on principle, it seems obvious, to regard impure reflection as a variant of Bad Faith. As we know, Bad Faith is the attempt, to distract oneself from anguish, which is the awareness of freedom. And that's exactly, what happens, if someone interprets hatred as the cause of his aversions! Hate serves as an excuse: I am not responsible for my negative feelings, inasmuch as I'm just a victim of my hatred (which is beyond my responsibility). - In contrast Sartre insists, that I'm completely responsible for my aversion, because its causedness is impossible, and it's origin is merely the spontaneity of my consciousness.

Another kind of shadow-objects are urges and cravings. - Sartre calls them projections of the lack: a lack seems to be an urge in the eyes of impure reflection. (I have already mentioned, that in my opinion a lack is not apt to explain urges, because desires and lacks correspond to each other.)

According to Sartre even actions are psychic shadow-objects ("action" as a psychic reality, not as a performed act). An action relates means to a purpose (which is the realization of one of my possibilities), but as such it is merely a product of reflection. As long as I am on the pre-reflective level of consciousness, my possibility is simply an objective property of the things outside, and not something, which can be realized by special means. - Sartre illustrates this claim with a quite rude example: In the pre-reflective mode the face of a particular man can appear to me as a "face to smash in". The violent act is on this level not a possibility, which I'm free to realize, and which has nothing to do with the face itself, but an objective demand, which is part of the face like the eye-colour or the shape of the nose.

But isn't the objectivity of the demand contrary to my freedom? How can I avoid to perform the violent act, if the demand is written in the face of the possible victim? - This objection ignores the fact, that the emergence of the demand is already a result of my freedom. That's a fact, even if anguish, as the particular awareness of my freedom, emerges first on the reflective level. Reflection shows us that every purpose of an action refers to a base project, which is freely chosen.

Maybe another problem arises from the debasing of reflection: Sartre has identified it as a failed attempt, to become being-in-itself. If the attempt is pointless, shouldn't we better abandon reflection, if possible, and smash the face in without further reasoning? The abandonment would have the additional advantage, that we would rid ourselves of anguish, because anguish is a phenomenon of the reflective level.

 Pure Reflection

If there's solely impure reflection, this would amount to the self-dissolution of Sartre's philosophy, whose base is the reflective analysis of consciousness. Reflection would have lost its value as a method, which provides evident truths, because impure reflection tempts us, to assume virtual realities. And if every reflection is impure - how could we have found this truth, if not by means of impure reflection? - Therefore we can conclude, that Sartre regards pure reflection as possible, and that he is confident, that he applies it. And indeed he states, that pure reflection can be achieved by a kind of "catharsis". - Obviously this term refers to something, which resembles Husserl's "Epoché" (the greek word means "abstention"). Husserl thought, that by means of a "bracketing" of all assertions, that we regard as certain as long as we are in the state of the "natural attitude" (in normal life), we would reach a stage, which allows us to grasp e.g. the essential properties of consciousness purely. - The "bracketing" serves as a substitute for the Cartesian doubt, since Husserl was sure, that a radical doubt is impossible, if its issue are facts, we are convinced of. E.g. I can't doubt, that I'm mortal, but I can bracket this fact for a while - what means, that I don't make use of it as long as the philosophical investigation lasts.

What's the difference between pure and impure reflection? Sartre has described reflection as a process, which results in two systems mirror / mirror-image, which are seperated by "a nothing" (a zero-distance), similar to the pristine separation of consciousness and consciousness of consciousness (mirror and mirror-image). We have seen, that the duplication gets stuck halfway: The reflected consciousness can't be a real object of cognition (which would be being-in-itself), it is just a quasi-object. - The reflection becomes impure, if this quasi-object is turned into a shadow-object, what's the case, if it is interpreted as a being-in-itself.

The fundamental reference of the consciousness to the things outside is, as mentioned above, non-identity. Thus impure reflection has to maintain the non-identity of the reflected consciousness with the reflecting consciousness. - We have seen the process in the case of hatred: the impure reflection upon a momentary aversion interprets it as an effect of hatred. Hatred is something outside, on which the momentary aversion depends totally. So the aversion becomes seemingly a "thing outside" as well - I am not responsible for it, because I'm not identical with it. (But simultaneously I acknowledge of course my identity with the aversion / the hatred, because I want to emphasize, that I'm not responsible for myself, and perhaps I want to emphasize my supremacy as a free individual as well, insofar as I take up a position towards myself.)

While impure reflection interprets the being-for-itself as a being-in-itself, pure reflection realizes, that the reflected consciousness is being-for-itself. As a result the shadow-objects disappear. We are justified to assume, that Sartre describes here his own state during his philosophical activities.

One advantage of pure reflection is its ability, to enable philosophy of consciousness on an evident fundament. But there is another advantage as well: By means of pure reflection we can get out of Bad Faith. - Sartre has suggested earlier, that the only way, to get out of Bad Faith is the "adoption of the tainted being". Perhaps we can understand now, what this means: the "tainted being" is being-for-itself in Bad Faith, which denies its freedom by regarding itself as being-in-itself. The "adoption of the tainted being" happens in the state of pure reflection, which enforces us to admit, that there is merely non-identical being-for-itself in consciousness. - Thus consciousness acknowledges itself as the thing, which it is.

But Sartre has claimed, that sincerity towards ourselves is just another variant of Bad Faith. How is the result of pure reflection distinguished from sincerity towards oneself? - Well, sincerity towards yourself means, that you accept that you are what you are. Indeed, that's exactly what you do, when you practicise pure reflection, but the meaning of "that you are what you are" is not the same. In the case of sincerity it means to be in-itself, what you are, as a thing, that's identical with itself. But in the case of pure reflection it means, that you are what you are as a non-identical being-for-itself. - (The peculiar fact, that non-identity with yourself implies identity with yourself, is apt to cause confusion.)

We've said, that the very purpose of the discussion of reflection in the context of the discussion of time is to find the explanation for the fact, that the Cogito has to be infallible concerning its past, while our memories are obviously not infallible. - Unfortunately Sartre's answer is not very detailled: Pure reflection is evident concerning the past, because it grasps the past as a something, from which the present is "haunted in a non-thematic way". Maybe, we can use Descartes' "I think, therefore I am", to which Sartre gets back here, as an example. If someone grasps by means of reflection, that he is in doubt, he grasps the motivation of the doubt as well (which lies in the past), because a doubt without a motivation isn't a doubt. (I cannot sit down and decide: "Now I will doubt, that my name is XXX." The doubt as an isolated act is not subject of my will, but it emerges inevitably, if the motive for the doubt arises.) - And the co-comprehension of the motive is no remembrance: the motive is immediately given in the doubt.

The same claim of the validity of pure reflection Sartre raises concerning the future. That doesn't mean, that Sartre postulates our natural capability to predict: the "future" of consciousness is not, what eventually will happen to it, but simply its possibilities to realize the "value". - The concept of a fixed future doesn't make sense in Sartre's eyes, because such a concept requires a gapless determinism. - Insofar as a state of consciousness implies a purpose, it incorporates its future:

"What would be left from methodical doubt, if it were narrowed down to the present moment? A suspension of judgment perhaps. But a suspension of judgement is not doubt, it's merely a necessary structure of it. It's part of the doubt, that the suspension is motivated by reasons for an affirmation or negation - that refer to the past - and that it is preserved deliberately until the appearance of new elements, what amounts to a projecting of future."


The so called "ontological proof", which Sartre presented at the beginning of "Being and Nothingness" conveys, that a being, which is independent of consciousness, must be given together with consciousness, so that this being can't be a product of or part of consciousness. Consciousness is "intentionality", always directed towards something, which is not consciousness itself. - Just after Sartre has developed his ontology of being-in-itself and being-for-itself, he can specify the relationship between consciousness and the unconscious being. He describes the several aspects of this relationship in the passages, which are entitled as "Transcendence". The meaning of this term in this context is the fact, that consciousness "goes beyond", transcends itself to reach the outer being.

Sartre is convinced, that his view provides a solution for the problems, which arise concerning the relationship of the subject and the outer world, and that his solution is neither realism nor idealism. Sartre regards realism - the theory, that the awareness of things emerges from the fact, that the things affect consciousness - as indefensible, since the consciousness is beyond causation. But he refuses idealism as well: it is impossible, that the consciousness creates transcendent objects, because all products of consciousness can't get out of consciousness, they remain consciousness. - We should remember, that it's the very purpose of "Being and Nothingness", to explain, how a reference between the two areas of being nevertheless is possible.

It seems obvious, that the system mirror / mirror-image deflates, if there is no primordial something, which is mirrored, and that this something is not consciousness itself. Consciousness is consciousness of consciousness as consciousness of something. The non-existence of this something renders pre-reflective consciousness impossible (and thereby reflective consciousness as well). - Therefore Sartre can say, that being-for-itself creates itself on the base of its relation to being-in-itself. The being-for-itself is not simply a negation of the being-in-itself, from which it emerges, but it recreates itself permanentely by the permanent negation of the things, which it is not. - But the relationship is marked by a certain onesidedness: While being-in-itself can exist without being-for-itself, being-for-itself is inconceivable without being-in-itself.

From the latter Sartre draws the conclusion, that Husserl's description of the immediate cognition (what means intuition) has to be reversed: Not the matter/thing/item is "in person" attendant at the consciousness, whereas the consciousness is attendant at the thing. - Thereafter he tells us, that the attendance at the thing is an "internal negation". What does that mean, and is there an external negation as well? An internal negation determines/defines the essence of one of the elements, which are conncected by the "is not"-relation. An external negation leaves the essences intact. - Sartre uses the following example, to illustrate the distinction: A bird is no inkpot. Neither the bird nor the inkpot is touched by the negative relation between both. The negation is an external one, the relation is constituted by a witness. - If we interpret the whole thing as a logical matter, we should assume, that it's an internal negation, if a bachelor is no husband, because it's part of the essence of a bachelor, to be no husband. The negative relation doesn't have to be constituted by a witness, but it is given automatically.

But Sartre has another interpretation in mind. The internal negation "determines" the essence of one opponent, but not in a logical sense. Instead it effects a change: the essence changes as a consequence of the negative relation. Therefore our example "bachelor" was not correct. - Sartre gives another example, which shows, that the distinction makes sense merely in the context of Sartre's ontology:

If someone says, that he's not redheaded, the negation is an external one. But if someone says, that he's not handsome, the negation is internal. What's the difference (both assertions look quite similar)? - I think, Sartre's view amounts to the following: the essence of consciousness is individual, it results from its spontaneity, as long as the consciousness exists, and it is completed not till the death of consciousness. To be not readheaded, is a normal case in France. The possibilities of a man in France are not changed by the property. Thus it has no influence on consciousness. But one, who is not handsome (and who knows, that he's not handsome - to emphasize this, Sartre assumes, that the sentence is uttered) suffers from an obvious interference. The fact, that a man is not handsome, is an important part of the situation of this man, which affects his possibilities. To anticipate Sartre's further arguing: To be not handsome, is an aspect of the being-for-others, the image of a man, which is reflected to him by others, and which is a matter, he is enforced to deal with by one means or another (he can acknowledge it, or he can ignore it). In spite of the fact, that a man is free against his unpleasant appearance, his consciousness is certainly not the same as the consciousness of a usually handsome man.

Consciousness determines itself by the fact, that it is not the things (and that's an internal negation). - This is apt, to cause a misunderstanding. If you focus in a meditative mood on some object, it is possible, that pre-reflective consciousness becomes "absorbed" by the perception. Afterwards, on the reflective level, you are perhaps tempted, to interpret the experience as a mystical state of enlightenment: seemingly, there was solely the object. But because you were not unconscious during the experience, the false interpretation arises, that the reached state was a fusion of subject and object, consciousness and world (which is the final aim of mystical religiosity).

 Some Aspects of Transcendence

Kant held the view, that the spatial-temporal world is produced from an unstructured material by an activity of the subject. According to Kant, the material is the stream of sense data (which is in turn caused by a something outside of consciousness, the thing-in-itself, although the character of this causal relation is not very clear). - The stream is transformed into the world, as we know it, by the forms of intuition (space and time) and by categories (e.g. negation, cause / effect, quality, quantity). - The conscequence arises, that knowledge, which is merely concerned with the forms and categories (e.g. the rule, that every change has a cause) can be found with recourse to the subject and without any observations of the world outside. Another consequence is, that the forms and categories have no genuine reality.

As we've seen, Sartre's view resembles Kant's view in some points, but there are important differences as well: the unstructured material is in Sartre's eyes the being-in-itself (the sense data as an intermediate step are cancelled). In Sartre's system, Kant's forms and categories are entirely referred to negation, which emerges in turn from the contradictory ontological structure of consciousness. - Another difference is, that Sartre presupposes the objectivity (reality) of the forms: negative facts are real, simply for the reason, that the ontological structure of being-for-itself is real. - Sartre's "Transcendence"-chapter attempts, to include some of the Kantian categories in Sartre's system, and that means, to lead them back to negativity. At first he deals with space:

Being-for-itself defines itself by the fact, that it is not the whole being-in-itself (the whole world). Nevertheless de facto perceptions refer to special items (a "this"). That's a consequence of the desintegration of being-in-itself, which splits into discrete things: in each case of perception, one of those things is the foreground (the "this"), and everything else disappears into an undifferentiated background. - Sartre associates this desintegration with space (the usual concept of space, not Einstein's concept). - Space is (in principle) infinitely divisible, therefore Sartre calls it "the instability of the world, as a totality", "insofar as it can always decompose into an external multiplicity". The multiplicity is external, since the essence of the split fragments of being-in-itself is not determined by the negative relations between them: hence those relations are external. (It doesn't affect the essence of a chair or a bed, that they are two meters apart from each other.)

Concerning quality (one of the Kantian categories) Sartre holds the view, that it is perceived not separate during the perception of a "this". The "this" is the undifferentiated unity of its qualities. - What does this mean? Assume, that the "this" of your perception is a lemon. The perception is not composed of the perception of the shape of the lemon (one quality) and the perception of the yellow colour of the lemon (another quality). It is simply the perception of a lemon. Of couse, you can focus on the colour of the lemon, but in this case the lemon becomes a background, and the quality "yellow" turns into the foreground. The "this" of the lemon is divided by a new negation, and the "yellow" of the lemon becomes the new "this".

I have to mention the fact, that Sartre maintains, that the sourness of the lemon is also one of those qualities, which disappear in the lemon insofar as it is the undifferentiated unity of its qualities. - I think, this can be explained by assuming, that the lemon is less perceived but rather "comprehended" in Sartre's example. In this case I'm aware of the invisible qualities of the lemon as well, insofar as I comprehend the lemon as an object, whose essence (the rule of its "Abschattungen") I know.

Sartre integrates quantity (numerical determinateness) in his philosophy by identifying it with space (the divisibility of space is a numerical divisibility as well). - Possibility (another item in Kant's list of categories) has already been analyzed by Sartre: only the subject has genuine possibilities, and lends them to the things. - Insofar as I grasp an object as a something, which has an essence (in Husserl's sense), I expect the permanence of its properties. Therefore the concept of permanence is relating to the future, and becomes apparent as a potentiality of things. - If someone sees a big cube, he expects, to see its other sides, if he goes round it. This expectation implies, that the back of the cube is not suddenly changed.

If consciousness is perceiving a thing, this is not a contemplative matter, not a pure, purposeless perception. Such a perception isn't even conceivable, according to Sartre. - Consciousness grasps the things on the pre-reflective level immediately as demands (e.g. the face as "a face to smash in"), and likewise immediately as possible means to an and, as "utensils". - A utensil refers to a purpose, which is in turn another utensil, etc., and even humans are included in this system of utensils. - The "sense" of the whole, the realization of the "value", can be comprehended merely on the reflective level. - This aspect of transcendence will be important, when Sartre deals with human freedom.

 Beauty and the "Value"

Another issue, discussed by Sartre in the context of transcendence, is beauty. Unfortunately, I have to say, that I don't understand Sartre's view in this point sufficiently. - Nevertheless I'll try to give a sketch:

Aristoteles thought, that the beautiful thing is a unity, that's closed in itself. No part of this unity can be changed, without altering the whole. (I took this from the german philosopher Kutschera.) - Sartre is going in a similar direction (anyway, I interpret him this way), if he describes the beautiful thing as something, which presents its essence in "perfect purity". - How can we connect both definitions? - Maybe this way:

The normal case is, that changes don't affect the essence. If a cube changes its colour, it remains essentially a cube - presupposed, that it is perceived as a cube and not as a "red cube". And even, if I perceive a "red cube", there are probably details, which could change without changing the essence of the thing (the essence of a red cube). - But assume, that I see the cube as a beautiful cube. In this case, I see a unity of all visual properties. Every property has its place and cannot be changed without destroying or altering the impression of beauty. Perhaps a change might lead to another beautiful cube, but that's a something with another essence.

But now the things get nasty: Consciousness is a something, which has no essence, as long as it exists (its existence preceeds its essence). While consciousness grasps itself as a lack, and tries to realize the "value" - the unity of being-in-itself and being-for-itself - it tries to give itself an essence. The lack of an essence on the side of the subject corresponds to the lack of an essence on the side of the object. The concrete items of perception are composite. We never see pure green, but merely green things - the colour is just a quality. But the possibility, to abstract "green" from this impression hints at a state, in which I perceive exclusively "green". During this state, the perceived green would be totally coincident with its essence. (Another attempt: The perceived thing is a cube. But it is in fact more than just a cube, e.g. it is also coloured. But its "being-a-cube" hints at an ideal cube, which is solely cube and nothing more.)

Thus the concrete perception of things hints at the possibility of an ideal perception. The ideal perception is associated by Sartre with the "value": the ideal of the complete and pure realization of the essence is the way, in which the "value" presents itself on the pre-reflective level. Insofar as I perceive, that the things do not coincide with their essences, I grasp my own ontological lack. And insofar as I perceive a beautiful thing as a something, which coincides with its essence, I see my very own ideal of being, but realized as a transcendent object.

Therefore human beings strive after beauty. But according to Sartre, beauty is always imaginary. (I think, that Sartre has realistic art in his mind, e.g. statues. But maybe he means something else, namely that the impression of perfection, which is caused by the felicitous work of art, is just an illusion.) - Furthermore Sartre claims, that a real, not imaginary beauty of the world would cause the being-for-itself to merge with itself, i. e. to realize the "value". - I don't understand this point, sorry.

 The Common Time

The common time (universal time) is the time of the things, it emerges, if the being-for-itself projects the genuine time, which is part of its ontological structure, into the things. (And insofar as the being-for-itself has a past, it is integrated in the common time as well.) - Because the common time is a matter of the transcendent objects, Sartre discusses the issue at this place.

We've already mentioned, that Sartre attempts to resolve a problem, which can be called "the problem of the non-existence of time": the present is merely the non-extensive point between the non-existing past and the non-existing future. What's the reason for this? Sartre's answer is not the same as the one, he has given in the "Temporality"-discussion. His explanation refers to the fact, that being-in-itself is not temporal. Time is projected on it by being-for-itself, but it remains on the outside of being-for-itself, which leads to the impression, that the moment / instant is totally fleeting in contrast to the permanence of things. The reason of the paradox is, that being-in-itself and being-for-itself interfere each other. - This argument is weak, because the permanence of the things is a temporal phenomenon as well (as Sartre has admitted before). So it can't be a matter of being-in-itself and must likewise base on the temporality of consciousness. Hence it isn't apt to explain the fleetingness of the moment / instant.

Thereafter Sartre focuses on the fact, that things sometimes disappear or appear, which cannot be infered from the segmentation of being-in-itself into things. Sartre assumes, that the disappearance or appearance of things is a contingent fact, which has its reason probably in being-in-itself. - This remark is astonishing, if we remember the fact, that being-in-itself is without negativity, because the disappearing or appearing of things involve undoubtedly negativity. How can their reason lie in a purely positive being?

According to Sartre, consciousness were not able to grasp the universal present, if things would not move. How can we understand this? If we perceive a moving thing, we become aware of the present as the infinite small moment / instant, because the present matches the infinte small moment, during which the moving thing passes a pariticular location. - In this context Sartre addresses Zeno's paradoxes. The greek philosopher Zeno was a disciple of Parmenides, who held the view, that negativity, and therefore movement and change are just an illusion. Zeno attempted to prove Parmenides' theory by demonstrating, that the presupposition, that movement is a reality, leads to absurd consequences. The most well known of his paradoxes deals with Achilles and the Tortoise, but more conducive to our discussion is the arrow paradox. An arrow in flight, which follows a certain trajectory, is at every moment located at a certain spatial position. But what's located at a position, that doesn't move. If the arrow doesn't move at every instant during its flight, it doesn't move at all. - Hence a real movement of the arrow is inconceivable, and its flight is merely an illusion.

Sartre identifies Zeno's assumption, that the arrow is always located at a certain position, with the assumption, that the arrow is identical with itself during its movement. As you might expect, he denies this assumption: movement can only be explained, if the arrow is not identical with itself, as long as it's in motion. The arrow is at one location and simultaneously at another point - and it is neither at the first location nor at the second location. In comparision with the motionless arrow the flying arrow has changed, because the motionless arrow has been identical with itself! - Sartre mentions incidentally Einstein's point of view, according to that movement is relative, whereas he doesn't hint at the fact, that the relativity of motion is not compatible with his own theory: If it's impossible to decide, whether the arrow is in move or the background of the arrow, it's equally impossible, to decide if the arrow has changed or the background.

Otherwise it seems, that Sartre replaces Zeno's paradox simply by another paradox, since non-identity with itself is not less contradictory than the assumption, that the moving arrow is motionless. Later on Sartre will catch up with the natural supposition, that a state of motion is another failed attempt of the being-in-itself to achive a base.


We have already come to know the ecstasies of being-for-itself contentswise, but I've not mentioned the concept "ecstasy" until now. The greek word ecstasy means roughly "outside of itself", and it is used as an everyday word in this meaning. - Sartre uses it to denote the several aspects of the non-identity with itself, which is a sign of consciousness. - If something is not identical with itself, this fact involves a duality - the thing is itself and simultaneously something else. We have seen, that it involves unity as well, because it is nevertheless the same thing. The other thing, with which the something is not identical (and identical as well) is therefore itself, but in a (at least logical) distance from itself. - The word "ecstasy" - "outside of itself" - expresses exactly this fact.

If one uses the word in an everyday context, he doesn't want to denote a genuine non-identity with himself. The picture is used, to express something like this: my behaviour was so untypical of me, as if I was another person. - An ecstasy of consciousness is an aspect, on which it is not identical with itself and therefore "steps out of itself". Because of its ecstatical structure, Sartre calls consciousness "diasporical", which is an allusion to jewish history: After the failing of the Jewish riots against Rome, the Jewishness existed merely dispersed at many locations (diaspora = scattering) and was nevertheless a kind of unity. - That consciousness exists outside of itself is by the way the requirement for Sartre's assumption, that the Cogito is able to provide evident truths concerning facts, which are no facts of consciousness in the narrow sense of the word.

Being-for-itself is ecstatical as the pre-reflective system mirror / mirror-image, but in reflection as well, when it transforms into a quasi-object. In another respect being-for-itself is ecstatical, insofar as it is its past and its future. But there's still another respect: according to Sartre the consciousness is ecstatical, insofar as it is its present, because it is its present as the attendance at being-in-itself, i. e. by grasping the transcendent world as the something, which is not the consciousness. - The last respect is somehow different, inasmuch as the transcendent things are not identical with consciousness at all, they just define consciousness in a negative way. Thus I'm in deviating sense "outside of myself", if I'm attendant at the objects. - The last ecstacy of being-for-itself is the being-for-others, which we meet now.


 Other Consciousnesses

Sartre has ensured by means of his "ontological proof", that there is not only consciousness, but beyond that a being, which is independent of consciousness. Sartre has added the claim, that consciousness is inconceivable without a being-in-itself, to which it is in contrast. Hence pure reflection allows us, to get out of consciousness, namely into the things. - But indeed, we are not only convinced, that there is a world of things, we are equally convinced, that there are other people, who are as conscious as we are. - This can't be concluded from the "ontological proof" and the subsequent discussion. Therefore Sartre has to start another investigation, whose purpose it is, to ensure the existence of other consciousnesses by means of pure reflection.

First Sartre deals with competing philosophical points of view, and analyzes them in respect of the problem. He arrives at the result, that it is either totally ignored or not resolved in the context of those views. - The first considered view is realism. A realist in the sense of the word, which is presupposed by Sartre, is someone who assumes, that merely actually existing things are apt to be the cause of intuition (which is the base of all knowledge). They act upon consciousness. - We know, that Sartre regards this notion as impossible, but the issue here is merely the question, if such a notion in the case of its truth would be suitable, to prove the existence of foreign consciousnesses.

The consciousness of another man is not accessible by intuition. Accessible for me is solely his body. The realist supposes, that the body of another person acts upon my consciousness, which causes in effect my intuition of his body. But how to proceed to his consciousness? The realist is enforced to admit, that a hypothesis is required: I conclude from the fact, that the behaviour of my own body corresponds to phenomena of my consciousness, that the bodies of other people are equally connected to consciousnesses. - This argument seems very natural. Why isn't it persuasive? On the one hand it is obvious, that the hypothesis is doomed to remain a hypothesis forever, since the only way to prove it is the impossible intuition of another consciousness. Therefore Sartre concludes, that realism exhibits an idealistic contamination at this point: other consciousnesses exist merely hypothetical, which means, they exist merely as a mental representation in the cognitive consciousness.

However, the crucial point is this: I argue from only one case to many other cases. - It is plausible, to conclude from the conducting of many autopsies, that most people have a cerebrum, whereas I couldn't conclude that from only one autopsie: the discovered cerebrum might be an accidental abnormity, which occurs nowhere else. The conclusion, that other people are conscious, is irrational, if the empirical evidence is merely the experience of the one, who's drawing the conclusion - and that's not only Sartre's opinion.

The next envisaged view is the idealistic view, more exactly Kant's transcendental idealism (the late Husserl held a similar doctrine). The basic idea of this view is, as we've already heard, that the mind transforms some unstructured stuff, which is somehow caused by the reality outside, into a temporal, spatial world, which is ruled by the laws of nature. The mind accomplishes this by the application of forms (molds, patterns). The world, as we know it, exists merely in consciousness, its counterpart on the side of the "thing in itself" (the "real" reality, not to be confused with Sartre's being-in-itself) is totally unknowable. - Sartre states, that Kant hasn't dealt with the problem of other consciousnesses. Then he argues for his opinion, that the problem is even unresolvable in the context of Kant's view.

The empirical behaviour of another person (e.g. his mimic), which is accessible to my experience, refers to his consciousness and its perceptions and experiences. But according to Kant, all properties of the world, which is perceived by me, refer merely to my own consciousness, which governs the forms, in which the world appears to me. The consciousness / mind of another person can't be integrated in my world, because it is the designer of its own world. If I try to achieve an integration e.g. by interpreting the mimic of another person as caused by his consciousness, I dash against the problem, that causality, as one of the forms in my mind, is confined to the elements of my experience. It's impossible to connect elements of my experience to elements of his experience by means of the category of causality. (The other person is indeed capable to connect his mimic to his consciousness, because both are parts of the same world - his world - and can be subsumed under the category of causality, which is provided by his own mind.)

This difficulty, which arises for Kant's version of idealism resembles the well-known problem, which is related to Kant's concept of the "thing-in-itself": the thing-in-itself causes the sense-data and is therefore a cause of the world, as it is represented in mind. But the thing-in-itself is by definition outside of perception and experience, so how can it act as a cause inside of my system of knowledge? How is it even possible to talk about the thing-in-itself? - The idealistic philosophers, who succeeded Kant drew therefore the conclusion, that it's the best solution to abandon the thing-in-itself and thereby a reality, which is independent of consciousness. On this occasion the individual mind was promoted to the universal mind.

Sartre discusses a possible letout for transcendental idealism: the concept of "another consciousness" might be a "regulative idea". A regulative concept in Kant's view is e.g. the concept of infinity. The concept is provided by the mind, like the forms and categories, but its purpose is not to refer to reality (and it leads into contradictions, if it is interpreted this way), but to top the system of my experiences off, as an ideal completion. Infinity is the ideal concept of a totality, which can never be accessible to us (there is merely the unlimited possibility to proceed in recognizing). - Sartre refuses the argument by hinting at the fact, that every regulative idea has to organize my experiences. But the concept "other consciousness" refers indeed to the experiences of someone else.

Has the idealistic view to surrender, concerning the problem of other minds? - No, because there is still the possibility to regard the concept of an "other consciousness" as a virtual concept, which doesn't contribute to my experience, and which is therefore eliminable. With this in mind, Behaviourism (not exactly an idealistic position, but the approach is possible for realism as well) tries to disregard consciousness and confines itself to descriptions of behaviour, assuming, that science doesn't need the concept. - It is hard to argue against that position, but obviously it doesn't resolve our problem.

 The Relation to the Other Consciousness as an Internal Negation

What's basically wrong about the analyzed views? - According to Sartre, idealism and realism agree about one point: they assume, that the relation between one consciousness and another consciousness is an external relation. - We remember, that external negations connect both items of a "is-not"-relation outwardly, without affecting the items. In contrast, internal negations determine the essence of at least one item, not in the sense of a statical logical dependence, but in the sense of a dynamic determination. - External negations require a witness:

The negative fact, that a bird is no inkpot, exists due to an observer (and doesn't exist for birds and inkpots), whereas the fact, that the consciousness is not the things, determines the essence of consciousness and doesn't require a witness, who establishes the relation from an external point of view. - Sartre thinks, that the external negation is marked by a distance between the items (an actual distance), while the internal negation is without any distance. (To elaborate this picture: there is no distance between being-for-itself and being-in-itself, since being-for-itself exists merely as a negation of being-in-itself. Being-for-itself and being-in-itself "touch" each other, the being-in-itself is immediately given in the being-for-itself - what leads to the consequence, that it is possible to infer the existence of an outer world solely on base of the Cogito. The bird and the inkpot don't touch each other in this sense.)

The relation between my consciousness and the consciousness of some other person is according to transcendental idealism most certainly external, because there is on principle no possibility, to integrate another mind into the system of experiences of my mind. - But wouldn't it seem more appropriate, to say, that there is no relationship at all according to the idealistic point of view, because it isn't even possible for a Kantian mind to form the concept of another mind? - The problem doesn't arise from a realistic position: as a mind in the realist's sense, I can imagine the consciousnesses of other people, although the assumption never exceeds the state of an arbitrary hypothesis. According to Sartre, the realist needs God to confirm the hypothesis. But God's relation to my consciousness and to the other consciousness has to be internal, because otherwise another witness is needed, etc. - It seems odd to me, that Sartre assumes, that God could confirm a relationship between two Kantian minds as well, since the existence of such a relationship seems generally impossible, as mentioned above. An idealistic consciousness wouldn't even be able to believe, that there are other consciousnesses. They were totally outside of its scope of view.

We know already Sartre's argument against the citation of God in this context. Either God is identical with both consciousnesses (then they are merely thoughts in God's mind, and no consciousnesses at all), or he is not, and in this case his relation to both consciousnesses is just an external one. - Sartre concludes, that only one presumption can ensure the existence of another consciousness and thereby the falsehood of solipsism - the presumption, that there is an internal relationship. - Subsequently Sartre focuses on three recent theories, which share this presupposition (according to Sartre). He will state, that they provide a real advantage, but still are not able to resolve the problem.

 Husserl, Hegel, Heidegger

Husserl's theory can't be found in his works, but that doesn't mean, that he never held it (according to P. V. Spade). - Its main point is the following argument: I perceive the world as an objective entity, and if a thing is objective, it can be perceived by other people as well. Thus my base relation to the world presupposes the existence of a plurality of consciousnesses. Due to the fact, that my material ego is an objective part of the world as well, my own self-image presupposes other consciousnesses, if I regard it as objective.

The theory doesn't seem to be compatible with Husserl's theory of cognition, because objectivity means in its context merely, that the object stands for an infinite number of Abschattungen (there is no intersubjectivity required). - But Sartre rejects Husserl's theory for some other reason: its issue is in fact the material ego, not the consciousness. As a transcendental idealist, Husserl can't relate consciousnesses to each other, for the already mentioned reasons. Husserl's theory presupposes indeed an internal negation - because my self-image is defined by the fact, that there are other egos - but it connects the wrong items (egos, not consciousnesses).

The next surveyed theory is Hegel's, the one that is expressed in his well known master-servant-dialectic (it can be found in the "Phenomenology of Spirit"). I confine my rendering to Hegel's main thesis, as it is understood by Sartre: in the primordial state consciousness is simply identical with itself and it has no concept of itself, which arises later during an encounter with another consciousness. "The other one is that, what excludes myself, insofar as he is the one who is excluded by me, if I am." - The internal negation is obvious. There has been no "I think" in the primordial state and after that it means rather "I think, and not he thinks." Hence the other consciousness is given in the Cogito.

Sartre's objection against Hegel's view refers to the fact, that Hegel defines consciousness in concepts of cognition. According to Sartre, consciousness is essentially a being. The relation between two consciousnesses is not a cognitive relationship, it's a relationship of beings. - What does that mean? We know, that consciousness is always consciousness of consciousness. There is no primordial state of consciousness, during which consciousness is unconscious. The system mirror / mirror-image exists even without an encounter with another consciousness, while Hegel suggests, that it owes its existence to some conceptual cognition, which arises first during the encounter. - Apart from that, Hegel describes the primordial state of consciousness as an identity with itself. And we know it: a Sartrean consciousness can never be in such a state.

Consciousness in Sartre's sense exists as a being and not as a cognition, since it exists earlier than the conceptual cognition of itself (consciousness of consciousness is not cognition of consciousness). And this aspect, which is the crucial point in Sartre's eyes, is ignored by Hegel. - And there's another problem with Hegel's theory: if I grasp another person as an object of cognition, I grasp it as being-in-itself. But a consciousness, which is given to me merely as being-in-itself, isn't given to me at all, since consciousness is essentially being-for-itself. The relation to another consciousness has to be more than just conceptual knowledge, because the other consciousness cannot be grasped this way on principle (in contrast to another material ego).

Heidegger identifies the "being-with" (Mit-Sein) as an ontological feature of the "Dasein" (i.e. the individual human being in Heidegger's sense - the "Dasein" is "always mine"). I grasp myself always as being-with-others and never as an isolated subject, especially if I deal with the things of the world, which present itself as utensils for me and for others. According to Sartre, Heidegger states virtuosly, that there is a relationship of being between me and the others, but is not capable, to establish it, so that he leaves us with the unproven claim. - We should remember, that Sartre is convinced to have a solid ground of evidence for his own ontology, namely the Cogito / the pure reflection. Heidegger refuses it to understand the "Dasein" as consciousness, thus he lacks this base and his ontology is speculative.

And Sartre argues, that a generel law, even if it conveys, that there is a relationship of being between the "Dasein" and other consciousnesses, doesn't provide for the possibility, to infer individual cases. - If Heideggers general law could be concluded from the structure of the mind, we were thrown back into transcendental idealism. (E.g. in Kant's sense the infinity of space is a truth, that's valid without empirical knowledge, because it refers to a form of intuition, which is part of the structure of my mind.) But Heidegger's law isn't either an inductive law, it has not been found by means of generalization of individual cases, it is a priori. - Sartre wants to say, that there are merely two types of laws, which allow to infer individual cases, inductive laws and a priori laws in the sense of Kant. Heideggers law is neither the one nor the other, hence it is unusable, even in the case of its truth.

There's room for misunderstanding at this point. An a priori law, which refers to individual cases, can always be used to infer logically individual cases, assumed, that it is true. From the claim "All humans are mortal" you can conclude, that Sokrates is mortal, even if the claim is not an empirical judgement, but an a priori law. In the same way it is true, that the claim "The (each) Dasein is in a relationship of being to other consciousnesses" allows it, to conclude that Sokrates is in a relationship of being to other consciousnesses, insofar as he is a Dasein. - Sartre wants to make another point: A sentence like "Sokrates is in a relationship of being to other consciousnesses" is still too abstract in Sartre's eyes. Instead he searches for a possibility, to find the structure of "being-with" in Sokrates' concrete relationship to a particular person. The simple claim, that Sokrates has some special ontological structure doesn't allow to infer, that a particular concrete case is an instantiation of this structure (and not something else).

But Sartre's own theories - aren't they a priori in a non-Kantian sense as well? Yes, but in contrast to Heidegger's claim they base on the Cogito (on pure reflection), and the Cogito shows immediately the concrete (e.g. my concrete perception of somebody's eye). Theoretical statements, which are won by means of pure reflection are already connected to the concrete, the reference to the concrete case has not to be established afterwards.

 The "Look"

Sartre formulates some requirements concerning (successful) theories about other consciousnesses. He thinks, that his own theory meets those requirements: the existence of the other one has to be more than just probable (otherwise it's a unprovable hypothesis) and the Cogito has to lead me to the other one immediately by means of an internal negation, in the same way, as it leads me to being-in-itself. Another requirement demands, that the other one isn't an object of cognition, since objects of cognition are merely a matter of probability. - We have to remember, in which sense the Cogito leads us to being-in-itself: the Cogito reveals, that there is being-in-itself (being, that's independent from consciousness), whereas it does not reveal, that the one or other object of my perception actually exists.

Now we need an example for a concrete situation, during which the other consciousness becomes noticeable in the Cogito. Sartre gives a very trivial one: I am alone in a park, contemplating the scenery. A man appears in my field of vision. I observe him for a while, but suddenly the man takes notice of me and looks - in turn - at me. (The latter is the ontologically crucial change, according to Sartre.) - The situation has developed in three stages:

1. Without the attendance of another human being I perceive some lifeless things (e.g. the trees).

2. I perceive moreover a human being, who doesn't see me.

3. The human perceives me, and I'm aware of it, because he looks at me.

In stage 1 my world is a world, whose parts are oriented merely to myself. I am the center of this world, not just because I'm the spatial central point, which is surrounded by the other things, but because the qualities of the things (e.g. the green colour of the lawn) are merely, what they appear to be in my eyes. - In stage 2 a human being appears in my field of vision, and that has a totally different effect than the loom of some lifeless object (e.g. if the clouds reveal the sun). What's the difference? - Well, the man is a perceiving being like me and therefore the center of a world. And there are things part of this world, which are parts of my world as well. Our fields of vision intersect, and the things, which are part of the intersection refer no longer merely to myself, but they refer to him as well. Sartre calls the resulting state "disintegration", the decomposition of my world. - Fortunately, this decomposition still belongs to my world, and it refers therefore to myself. Why? - The things, which are perceived by the other one, have indeed a reference to him, but this reference is itself a part of my world. - Thus my disturbance is still controllable.

What happens in stage 3? In stage 2 the other one has been an object of my perception, but now I'm the object of his perception (and I'm aware of it, the issue here are not situations, in which I am observed without my knowledge). Thus I become objectified, and this objectification is not simply the other one's business, but it concerns myself in a fatal way. - The phenomenon is part of our daily experience: I feel the "penetrating look" of the other one, without perceiving it in the usual way. I experience his attendance abruptly as an unquestionable reality, and simultaneously fear, shame or proud arise in me (the latter is just a variant of shame, as we will learn).

During the "look", the other one disappears as an object for me - he is attendant "as a freedom" and no longer as a matter of my perception (that doesn't mean that I become blind, but merely, that my ability to perceive objects takes a backseat in contrast to my new awareness of the other one): "If this fat and ugly pedestrian, which aims skippingly for my location, suddenly looks at me, his ugliness, his fatness and his skipping are gone - as long as I feel myself seen, he is pure freedom, which mediates between myself and me." ("Myself" = "being-for-itself", "me"= "me as an object for the other one")

But isn't it a fact, that other people look at us very often, and without any consternation on our side? I think, Sartre would admit that. But he would venture the guess, that the experience of the "look" often shrinks from overpowering concomitants. Merely in exceptional cases (like the described situation in the park) the "look" becomes apparent in its entire glory.

Because Sartre has promised to us, that the "look" isn't merely an interesting psychological phenomenon, but something very important (the relation between my consciousness and another consciousness, which is open to pure reflection), the desire for an ontological clarification arises in us. The change of the situation, which occurs in the moment, when I grasp the "look", what does that mean on the level of being?

 The Ontology of Being-for-others

On the level of being the described situation presents itself as very intricate. - The experience of the "look" is the experience of the attendance of the other one at my consciousness. If we follow the directives, which Sartre has formulated previously, the attendance must be in the form of an internal negation. We know an analogous case - the attendance of being-in-itself at the consciousness - therefore it seems promising to transfer the scheme of this case to the present case: I grasp the foreign consciousness, insofar as I negate to be it. - But unfortunately the circumstances are more complicated here. Why? - On the one side the relation of the consciousness to the being-in-itself is not reciprocal. Consciousness defines itself as not being the being-in-itself, whereas the being-in-itself doesn't define itself as not being the consciousness. However, in the present case the reciprocity is obvious: my consciousness and the other consciousness are both being-for-itself. Thus we have to assume, that not only my consciousness denies to be the other consciousness, but that the other consciousness denies to be my consciousness as well.

On the other side, a direct negation isn't possible at all, since both items of the relationship belong to the same category of being. I am not being-in-itself, but I am being-for-itself. Insofar as I am being-for-itself, I cannot deny the other being-for-itself. Sartre concludes from this fact, that there is the danger of a possible assimilation by the other consciousness: if being-for-itself is attendant at being-for-itself, why isn't there only one being-for-itself? - At this point one might raise the objection, that there is indeed merely being-for-itself in this situation, but anyhow this being-for-itself and that being-for-itself, two of them and not one. Why isn't it sufficient, to insist, that I am one being-for-itself and not the other one. - But we talk about numerical diversity, and Sartre hints at the fact, that numerical diversity is an external negation: it needs a witness. In the immediate attendance both consciousnesses touch each other, and there is no witness, which could provide for their diversity.

However, there is seemingly still one possibility, to negate the other one without the risk of amalgamation. We have seen it in stage 2 of the described situation: the other one becomes an object of my perception, and indeed, I am not the objects of my perception. But is this really a negation of the other consciousness? Of course not, because the other consciousness is being-for-itself. If I transform it to an object, that's part of my world, I grasp it as being-in-itself, and the only negated item is this being-in-itself (it is attendant at my consciousness like the lifeless objects of my perception).

According to Sartre, there is on principle no possibility, to define myself in contrast to another being-for-itself as not being this being-for-itself. But what happens during the "look"? Obviously the event doesn't lead to a merger of both consciousnesses, and Sartre has maintained, that the event involves an internal negation. To answer this question, we have to deal with shame. This feeling emerges automatically - according to Sartre - if I feel seen (and it's independent of my actual appearance, I needn't to be in some ridiculous state). It is obvious, that shame refers to my image in the eyes of other people. We are not ashamed of our actual properties, we are ashamed of how those properties are seen by others. Not the fact, that I am naked, is shameful, but the fact, that other people observe me during my nudeness. Shame hints at another aspect of the "look": the other one is not only attendant at me, but he transforms me into an object. We have met the phenomenon in stage 2: on the one hand, I distinguish the other man in the park from the lifeless objects, i.e. I am aware, that he's a center of his own world, but then I integrate him together with his relations to the things in my world.

This object, that I am in the eyes of the other one, Sartre calls my "being-for-others". Sartre believes, that it prevents my consciousness to merge with the other consciousness, and he believes, that it allows me to negate the other one in an indirect way. Oddly enough, this happens, when I accept the object, that I am for the other, because it's the only way to seperate myself from the other consciousness (the other one is not my-self-as-an-object). The object-ego constitutes an outer border towards the other consciousness, which keeps it away from me. - My unavoidable approval for the object, that I am in the eyes of the other one leads to the fact, that I always feel shame, if I'm seen, even if I'm totally blameless. The shame is the awareness of my defencelessness, because I'm not capable, to control the object-ego, he's made out of me: it is subject of his freedom.

But how about cases, in which I search for the looks of other people, because they stir up my pride? - Sartre considers pride to be a kind of Bad Faith, namely the attempt, to escape shame by manipulating the other one by means of my object-ego. The attempt is Bad Faith - i.e. self-contradictory - because I must regard the other one as a subject, to obtain my object-ego, and simultaneously I must regard him as an object, if I manipulate him. - Therefore pride is just a concealed variant of shame.

But shame is not the only sincere feeling, which could arise from the experience of the "look". There are fear and haughtiness / arrogance as well. The fear doesn't need further explanation, it results simply from the fact, that I am part of the possibilities of the other one, as long as I am an object (e.g. he can intend to murder me). The haughtiness comes after the shame, namely if I react on the shame by objectifying the other one. His possibilities lose their threatening character, because I can transcend them by means of my own possibilities (e.g. I can thwart his murder plan, if I murder him preventively). - One might ask at this point, if pride shouldn't be interpreted more easily in a similar way.

 The Problem of Solipsism

Sartre has promised, that his theory is apt to refute the limited variant of solipsism. To achieve that, the consciousness of the other one hasn't to be merely probable, it has to be evident. Does Sartre's ontology fulfill the promise? - Indeed, Sartre is right, if he states, that the attendance of the other consciousness is unquestionable during the described situation. But from the fact, that I'm not able to doubt, doesn't conclude, that I'm in fact confronted with another consciousness. - Sartre is aware of this difficulty. He admits, that it's always possible, that the eyes, which are directed at me, are just imitations of eyes. The problem becomes clearer, if we remember the fact, that there is not much needed, to feel yourself seen. Sartre gives examples: a rustling in the bushes, the sound of steps can be sufficient to throw you into shame. And experience teaches us, that mistakes are not only possible, but occur quite often. - Doesn't that mean, that the consciousness of the other one is still merely probable and solipsism still unrefuted?

To save his theory, Sartre tries a peculiar manoeuvre: the consciousness, that's attendant at me during the "look", is not the consciousness of a single human, but the consciousness of all other people as well. The "look" is just the occasion on which I become aware of this attendance: "Every look lets us experience concretely - and in the unquestionable certainty of the Cogito - , that we exist for all living humans, i. e. that there are consciousnesses, for which I exist." - If one realizes, that this attendance is permanent, he can be tempted to regard the common consciousness, which is attendant at his consciousness, as one single subject, and so the concept of an allseeing God emerges.

By means of this manoeuvre Sartre wants to meet a danger, which has arisen from his analysis of the "look": obviously the cogito can deceive us! Sartre can circumvent this fatal consequence by assuming, that not the evidence has been wrong, but merely our interpretation of this evidence (but that's not covered by the phenomenology of the "look", I think). - If we follow Sartre in this direction, the things present themselves in a similar way as the attendance of the being-in-itself: I am not the entirity of being-in-itself, hence I am attendant at all being-in-itself. The difference is, that deceptions concerning the existence of particular things are not suited to endanger the existence of the universal being-in-itself, since this existence is ensured by Sartre's "ontological proof" - maybe, I "intend" (in Husserl's sense) wrongly on the world outside, but even then I "intend" at least on the world outside. But there is no universal being-for-itself, since consciousness is always single consciousness.

Assume, that you are unwittingly the only genuine human being. All other people are merely unconscious fakes (the falsehood of this assumption is just a probable hypothesis): in this case, there is your consciousness but no other consciousnesses, which could become evident in the "look". Sartre has to presuppose, that you feel no shame, if you experience the "look" of one the imitations. Assume further, that there has been another genuine human somewhere far off until yesterday - unfortunately he has died at night. This means, that you have felt shame yesterday, if one of the fake-humans has looked at you, whereas today you don't feel shame anymore, if they look at you - and the new situation is totally unexplainable to you. - This is a necessary but odd consequence of Sartre's view, I think.

I want to mention a statement Wittgenstein's concerning the common use of language: there is fallacy (error) and there is infatuation. The latter one concerns matters, where no doubt is possible. E.g. I cannot doubt, that the man, who I'm talking with, is conscious. If this turns out to be wrong (because he is a robot from out of space), I have not made a mistake, but I have been infatuated. - In this sense the consciousness of the other one is really evident during the "look", but that doesn't mean, that it is totally ensured, that he is conscious.

Sartre's ontology of the being-for-others leaves room for another objection. It concerns the questionable ontological state of the being-for-others. Sartre tells us, that it's neither being-in-itself, nor being-for-itself. It can't be being-in-itself, because it refers to the freedom of the other person, and it can't be being-for-itself, since it's an object. - This seems to contradict the sharp distinction of the kinds of being, which Sartre has established until now.

 The Struggle of Consciousnesses and their Totality

We have mentioned it implicitly, but we have to say it again, because this keynote provides the base structure in Sartre's later observations concerning the phenomena of human coexistence: the relationship of the consciousnesses presents itself as a kind of struggle. As long as I experience the "look", I feel threatened and I am in a state of shame or fear. On the other side I am able to put me in a state of haughtiness, during which I see the other one as an object. In this case I'm not subject of his "look" anymore. - Obviously we are confronted with a power game. The one who looks, exercises power over the one, who's looked at. But not by means of the risk of a merger, because this risk has been eliminated by the creation of the object-ego. What's the base of his power?

As long as I'm seen, I am part of the possibilities of the other one, and I'm not able to integrate those possibilities in the system of my possibilities (I can't do this until I "look back"). I'm at the mercy of his possibilities. Even if they concern merely my being-in-itself (because the other one perceives merely my outside, the apple and not the worm inside, and he isn't able to affect my free being-for-itself), I'm in danger, inasmuch as the other one can eradicate my being-in-itself, if he kills me. And in this case my being-for-itself would be eradicated as well, because my being-in-itself and my being-for-itself are identical with each other. - Therefore the situation is very unfavorable for me, and the advantage lies entirely on the side of the other one (Sartre's description reminds me of crime stories). - The object-ego, which has emerged (my being-for-others) is under his control, and I can't deny it, because it is needed to distinguish me from the other one.

So my desire must be, to escape the situation. The expedience is my identification with the object-ego: if I acknowledge it, I notice simultaneously, that I've already transcended it, because I could never be an object as a being-for-itself. As such, I'm in the position to objectify in turn the other one and to integrate his threatening possibilities in my own system. The being-for-others disappears, it is replaced by hypotheses concerning his intentions. At this point my image in his eyes is just an image, which can perhaps be manipulated.

If I've achieved it in this way to see the other one as an object, his consciousness disappears from my Cogito. It transforms into an interiority, which is not directly accessible to me, but expresses itself as behaviour - like the inner workings of a machine, whose functionality I don't know. - What's left of the other one's being-for-itself is the fact, that I refer his behaviour to purposes, something I wouldn't do in the case of a machine. If I construct hypotheses concerning the other one (e.g. if I interpret his mimic as an indication of anger), those hypotheses are not related to some hidden subjective feeling of anger, but merely to possibilities of behaviour (is it probable, that he will strike me?). His anger is not a matter of his consciousness in my eyes, it's just a disposition to act in a special way.

We perceive the objectified other one not much different from a machine. But he is a machine of a special sort: it cannot be used in the same unhesitating way as e.g. a calculator (and not, because I don't know exactely his functionality). Every human can suddenly become the one, who "looks" at me, which leads to my objectification. The tool "human" is - according to Sartre - an "explosive" tool. The permanent risk, to fall victim to the "look", provides for a principled inhibition, when we deal with others. In Sartre's words: "My permanent worry is, to keep together the objectivity of the other one, and my relations to the objectified other one are essentially tricks, to make sure, that he remains an object. But one look of the other one suffices, to make all my tricks fail and to make me experience the metamorphosis of the other one anew."

At the end of this discussion, Sartre asks, why there are other consciousnesses at all. He states, that the question can't be answered, but he asks a second question, which suggests a kind of answer: isn't the possibility of a contact of consciousnesses (during the "look") inspite of their seperateness a hint, that there must have been a primordial totality of consciousnesses? - We remember, that reflection is an attempt to split consciousness. The system mirror / mirror-image becomes a quasi-object for another system mirror / mirror-image. The attempt fails, and the fission isn't complete. - Sartre speculates, that the existence of a multiplicity of consciousnesses might be due to some earlier attempt of this kind, which has been successful.

 The Body as Being-for-Itself

As a material thing, the body belongs to the area of being-in-itself, but not before the death of consciousness this is the whole truth. As long as a human exists, his body has several aspects, which are analyzed by Sartre one after another. - (1) For the consciousness, "whose" body it is, the body is indeed a matter of being-for-itself. (2) If we perceive the bodies of other people, this perception occurs in a special way, which is different from the perception of lifeless things (the body as "body-for-others"). (3) And finally it's a fact, that I can perceive my own body under certain circumstances as an object (as a being-in-itself), even if there are no other people involved.

Since our schooldays, we are accustomed to the view, that the body is a complex of bones, blood, muscles, nerves, etc.. The nature of those components is obviously material, i. e. they are identical with itself, it's possible to isolate them (e.g. by a surgery) and perhaps, to transfer them to another person. Therefore it doesn't seem plausible, to call such a thing being-for-itself. - To understand this, we have to remember Sartre's concept of facticity. The contingent fact of my existence is part of facticity, and the circumstances of my existence as well (my spatial position, my social function, my gender, etc.). Under which circumstances I exist, is a matter of contingence, whereas it is necessary, that I live under certain circumstances at all. With this in mind, Sartre says: I have not to be a teacher or a worker, but I have to be something.

The world, as it is grasped by consciousness, is not simply the entirety of the things and the relationships, which hold between them. And neither is this entirety the issue of our non-judgemental cognition. Traditional science presupposed such a concept of the world (Sartre knows indeed, that modern paradigms, like the theory of relativity or the quantum theory, repudiate the concept). But this concept is merely a problematic derivation from the genuine world, which is essentially related to a subject. The real world is a world, which is experienced by somebody, and this experience requires a center, by which a perspective is defined. It isn't possible to perceive something without a spatial perspective (Sartre regards this as a logical truth). Hence a perceiving consciousness is not possible without the facticity of a location, on which it dwells. But this location is the location of my body:

"It would be impossible for me, to realize a world, in which I were not and which would be a mere object of withdrawn contemplation. On the contrary, I must lose myself in the world, to make it exist, and to provide for my possibility, to transcend it. So it is one and the same, to say that I've entered into the world, come into the world, or to say that there is a world and that I have a body."

Therefore my facticity is basically the facticity of my body. Facticity is part of being-in-itself, but we remember its special relation to my being-for-itself: my being-for-itself is identical with its facticity, and is not identical with it, because it has always transcended it. This peculiarity spreads to the relationship between the consciousness and the body: the consciousness is identical with the body and it is not identical with it. - Insofar as it is identical with the body, Sartre regards all theories as wrong, which state a radical separateness of body and mind. The consciousness can't be a soul, which is banned from heaven into a kind of material dungeon, from which it will escape some day, because a soul (if we equate this concept with "consciousness") is inconceivable without a body. Even Descartes' view, which regards man as the meating area of the thinking and the extensive substance, has to be refused on the base of this insight.

It might be a support for Sartre's view, that a spirit seer like Swedenborg or even modern esoterics assume, that the isolated soul of a dead person still sticks in some kind of body (e.g. the so called "astral body"). Seemingly a bodiless human consciousness is hard to imagine, and even the explicitly invisible christian God needs an iconography, in which he is pictured as the human being Jesus or as an old man. And sometimes Muhammad seems to be more important in Islam than the very abstract Allah.

The identity of consciousness and body implies, that the body is initially not an object for us, but acts as a not perceivable center of the world order. My body is indirectly present in the spatial relationships of the perceived things (e.g. in the fact, that a certain object is to the right of some other object). - But according to Sartre the body isn't merely a center of the spatial order. Otherwise we were thrown back into a contemplative understanding of the world. In reality, the things are not simply things, but they are utensils (we grasp them as possibilities, to achieve the "value"). The body is therefore not only the center of the spatial order, but it's the center of the order of utensils as well. - Sartre illustrates this fact by means of two examples: That the wineglass stands on the little table, means that you have to be careful, when you shift the table. That the tobacco lies on the fireplace, means that you have to walk three meters to stuff a pipe.

In this context Sartre states, that the primary space is not the geometric space but the hodologic space. - What's this? The concept was developed by the social psychologist Kurt Lewin. It means the space of the practicable ways in contrast to the geometric space. An appropriate example are ancient Roman road maps (e.g. the famous Tabula Peutingeriana). Such a map depicts the system of the Roman roads with their intersection points and the names of the locations, which they meet, but without any regard for the length of the stretches or the precise geometric location. A Roman road map answers one practical question: How can I reach the location X? A road presents itself not as a paved way, which stretches for a certain number of miles, and crosses thereby woods, mountainous landscapes, etc., but merely with respect to one purpose, which is to reach a certain location. The geometric distance isn't important, since there is only one way for a Roman to reach a certain location, and that's the roman road system. Seen from this angle, even the actual course of the road isn't important (important is merely the order of the intersection points).

If man perceives the things as parts of an hodologic space, he perceives them with respect to their importance for the achieving of certain purposes, respectively for the execution of certain actions. The hammer is not seen by me as a wooden stick, which is attached to a piece of iron, but as a something, which I can use to hammer down nails. The hammer is the symbol of an action, which I might perform. (The hodologic space can change according to circumstances - if one wants to hammer down a nail, and the hammer is missing, the things in his environment present themselves as striking tools.) - Each utensil refers to other utensils, the hammer refers to the nails, and the nails refer to the wooden board, ect. In this sense, the things refer always to the future (which is the possibility to perform the regarding action).

But the order of the utensils refers to an abstract endpoint, which is likewise the body: the hammer refers to my hand, which uses it, whereas my hand is not another utensil, but identical with me. If someone hammers down nails, he uses a hammer and not his hand (is this the common use of language?). - The endpoint is no longer a perceived thing, just as little as the spatial center of my world is a perceived thing. My genuine reference to my body is not cognition: the things refer to my body due to the organization, in which they present themselves. Sartre finds a proper formulation to emphasize this fact: The body is a viewpoint of the consciousness, and consciousness can't adopt a another viewpoint against this viewpoint.

 The Body as an Object

On the one side, the body is identical with the facticity of being-for-itself, as the way, in which the being-for-itself lives this facticity. On this level, there is no physiology of the body and no sensory organs as well, e.g. my eyes are identical with the vision / seeing (I will deal with Sartre's discussion of the sensory perception in the following paragraph). Such aspects present themselves not until the body appears as an object for another person. - While I can't adopt a viewpoint against my own body on principle, it is necessary, that I adopt a viewpoint against another person's body. - While my own body is not my instrument, but the endpoint of a row of utensils, which refer to each other, I am able to perceive the body of another man as his tool: the other one sees with his eyes. And the other one is no endpoint of utensility, but an utensil for me.

As long as I'm in a vivid conversation with him, the body of the other one belongs merely to the background of my perception. But if I suddenly take notice of his body, it appears to me in a special way. Sartre says, it appears as "flesh". - Why do we need this new term? Isn't it sufficient to say, that I can see the body of the other one in the same way, as I see some other thing? - But Sartre thinks, that I can perceive a human body as a thing in only one case, namely if I'm confronted with a corpse. I perceive a living human body in a totally other way: I perceive it as related to the actions of the person. The latter aspect is primary, e.g. I don't see a moving arm, which is attached to a torso, but I see a human, that raises his hand. All parts of a human body I see in the context of an acting totality.

We've learned, that the anger of another person is merely a disposition to act in a certain way. In the present chapter, Sartre adds: we don't conclude the anger of a man from his mimic, but we see the anger imediately in his mimic, the mimic doesn't merely express the anger, it is the anger. - Are those two statements about anger compatible with each other? I question it. Even if Sartre is right concerning the assumption, that the subjective "inner life" of the other one isn't involved in my grasping of his anger, a certain mimic cannot be identical with a disposition. The mimic can merely adumbrate the disposition. - Obviously Sartre ignores the possibility of disguise, the possibility, that the (seemingly) angry mimic isn't connected to the respective disposition. - But Sartre insists on his second statement, and he generalizes it: the body of the other human is for me identical with his psyche, the other one is on principle given without any secret.

It can happen, that - analogous to the being-for-others - my body becomes a body-for-others, if it is looked at. Just as my being-for-itself alienates from me, if it becomes an object for the other one, my body becomes alienated from me in this case. The state of shyness is accompanied with such an alienated "body feeling". - The essential difference between a man or body, which is an object for me, and my being-for-others / body-for-others, which emerges, if I become aware of my objectiveness for another person, is the inaccessibility of the latter ones. Of course I know, which kind of object the other one is for me, whereas I don't know which kind of object I am in the eyes of the other one ("Oh Lord, I must have blushed, and everybody's looking at me!").

Sartre is a bit terse, when he deals with the possibility, that I grasp my own body as an object, without the involvement of other people. This case is given, if I press my left hand on my right hand, to increase the force of my pressure. One hand uses the other one as a tool, and that presupposes, that I've grasped it as an object. - Sartre states, that this phenomenon is merely a contingent marginal issue, that doesn't deserve further explanation, because the existence of bodies is conceivable, which are not able to look at themselves.

 Sense Organs and Sensations

We've seen, that my body as an invisible endpoint of utensility-relations cannot be my tool. In respect thereof, Sartre doesn't distinguish between the body and its parts: even the eye is not an utensil for seeing, it is not comparable with spectacles or with binoculars. Nevertheless, it is quite common to interpret the sense organs as tools, which are used to grasp the world and which function better or worse. Sometimes they even break down, and they can be "repared", "improved" or "adjusted" by medical means. - Sartre doesn't criticize this view, as long as its onesidedness is known: it can only be applied in the case of the bodies of other people, but not in my own case. Some problems arise, if this view is regarded as the only possible view of the body.

A first problem emerges from the interpretation of my body as a tool, if one asks for the operator of the tool. Sartre thinks, that this question leads automatically to the irrational concept of a non-material soul, which uses a material tool. Another problem is epistemological, it arises, since science has absolutized the body-for-others:

Science presupposes the existence of an objective world, which causes (e.g. by means of light waves) changes in the human sense organs, which in turn cause perceptions / sensations. Because our contact with this world is mediated by the sense organs, and inasmuch as those tools are rather defective and unreliable, our sensations / perceptions are likewise uncertain, and that means subjective. This can be demonstrated by laboratory experiments: e.g. it has been put out, that test persons can perceive one and the same luminosity as entirely different brightnesses. - What's the problem with this view?

On the one side - according to Sartre - the seemingly clear difference between the subjectivity of perceptions and the objective description of the world, as it is done by science, is merely virtual. Even the scientists, which read out their measuring devices, use their sense organs for this purpose. Thus it can be concluded, that even scientific truth bases on perceptions / sensations! The duality objectiv / subjective arises first, when discrepancies occur. In this case we have to choose between two different descriptions of the world, which are both based on sensations. The rejected one is downgraded to a "merely subjective" view, while the other one is promoted to the "objective truth". - If this approach is absolutized (if the body is merely "body-for-others"), a fatal problem arises: the objectivity of science bases on the subjectivity of perceptions, which is described by science itself. According to Sartre, this leads to the self-abolition of science. - Hence the body as a body-for-me is indispensable, and it has to find its place in the system of science.

Moreover, Sartre states that sensations are not verifiable in the Cogito. There is no "sensation of red", when I see something red, I simply perceive a red thing. The concept of a peculiar "sensation" is a feeble construction, which is required by the contradictoriness of several descriptions of the world. Sartre calls it a "dreamery of psychologists". - If you deny the level of subjective sensations, the consequence is, that all perceptions are equally objective, and that's indeed Sartre's opinion: the shortsighted or the colorblind doesn't misperceive the world, he lives merely in another world as a person with normal sight.

The concept "sensation" (german word: "Empfindung") isn't limited to the area of sensual perceptions (e.g. color sensations, sensations of smell, tactile sensations), but encompasses pains as well, which are indeed verifiable in the Cogito. Therefore Sartre deals seperate with the category of "body-sensations".


The body is my facticity, i.e. it is being-in-itself, but as identical with the consciousness. As such it is accessible to me merely implicitely - as a viewpoint or as a center of my perceptions - and not as an object in the world. Perceivable and cognizable for me is the body of the others. I am able to objectify my own body, but merely by seeing it, as if it were the body of another one. We might conclude from Sartre's arguing, that a man, who has never met another human being, can't adopt this objectifying view. Anyway, it is not the primordial and genuine kind, in which my body is grasped by me.

But from Sartre's description of the immediate relationship between me and my body (the body-for-me) can't be concluded, that there are "body-sensations", e.g. pain. And doesn't this fact serve as a refutation, because my pain is seemingly a way to become aware of the aching part of the body as an object? Isn't pain a kind of self-perception, concerning my body? And isn't the difference between eyestrain and pain in the stomache, that the object is different?

Sartre denies it. In a state of eyestrain I do not perceive my eyes, but the pains are rather the "material of my consciousness", while I'm reading. And Sartre adds: those pains are beyond cognition, since they are in itself the act of cognition. - How can we understand this? As long as I read, my eyes are merely indirectly given as a spatial reference point of my perception of the letters. The aching eyes are indirectly given as well, namely by means of the fact, that the book presents itself as a book, which has to be read as fast as possible. - Another example: somebody has walked two hours under a cloudy sky. Accidentially two things happen simultaneously: On the one side, the sky opens up and the sun appears. On the other side the hiker notices, that his legs hurt. - It seems natural, to interpret the second event in a similar way as the first event: The hiker perceives suddenly the muscels in his legs, and equally he perceives the sun, which has been invisible before the event.

Sartre would claim, that the second event cannot be compared with the first event. The hiker becomes aware of his muscels not because he perceives them, but because the road seems to be longer or more difficult. The pains in his legs are the material of his awareness of the road! - One might object, that it happens very often, that pains or aching parts of the body are thematized. The hiker could e.g. exclaim: "Oh, those painful legs!" or "Oh, how terrible, this pain!" - Wouldn't it seem more plausible - assumed, that Sartre is right - that there occur merely outcries like e.g. "Oh, what an exhausting and tiring way!"?

The objection ignores the duality of the levels of consciousness. On the pre-reflective level there is merely the road, which is more difficult to walk than an hour ago. Not until the hiker reflects on the road, a psychic object "pain" appears, and this reflection is "impure", because in the Cogito there is only a special quality of the awareness of the road (its "material") provable. Not before the hiker sees his body as a body-for-others, the object pain refers to other objects, e.g. the muscels of the thighs. - The hiker's outcries presuppose a preceding impure reflection. - If the impure reflection continues, it might interpret a momentary object "pain" as the appearance of an object "pain", which exists for a long time, and which is - like the sun - sometimes visible and sometimes not: "They are back, those bloody leg-aches!"

Sartre attempts, to defuse another objection: isn't it a rule of thumb, that I feel often pains, which are not related to my momentary actions or to my momentary percipience? E.g. during my reading my fingers might hurt as well. Sartre thinks, he could meet the objection by recalling the distinction between the foreground of perception and the background of perception. There is an associated difference between the foreground of my body-awareness and its background. - What does this mean? The foreground of my perception is e.g. the page of the book, in the background e.g. the surface of the table, on which my hand lies. This background perception can have a quality of pain as well.

One might ask, if Sartre's view is still plausible, if pains are very intense and unable to be influenced, so that they fill the entirety of my consciousness: doesn't the world disappear totally behind the pain in such cases? - In spite of those problems, I think, that the discussion of the body and the sensations is one of the most interesting parts of Sartre's book.


Sartre has told us in his "Introduction", that there is an immediate access to being (being-in-itself), which can consist e.g. in boredom or nausea (disgust). In the discussion of the body Sartre catches up on the explanation: if I'm rid of pain and other explicit body-sensations, there is still some body-feeling left, a kind of "bland aftertaste" which is the base quality of a consciousness, which has no particular qualities (doesn't consist of a particular "material"). This feeling he calls "nausea", and it should not be confused with the common disgust against repulsive things (even if it's the base of ordinary disgust, according to Sartre).

But how can "nausea" as a kind of general body-sensation provide an immediate access to the being-in-itself? (The access is immediate, since it is not done by means of the perception of things.) We should remember the fact, that our body is identical with our facticity, and that means, that it is being-in-itself. - Nevertheless Sartre is blamable for self-contradictoriness, because the body-sensations are explicitely no perceptions of something in Sartre's eyes. Thus "nausea" can't provide for an immediate perception of being-in-itself. But if it's not a perception of something, you could ask, what kind of "access" it is - probably a mystical one.

 Excursion: Sartre's Theory of Emotions

The "Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions" (published 1939) was written before "Being and Nothingness", but unlike "The Transcendence of the Ego" it isn't a prestage (for the predominant part). It's more like a genuine chapter of "Being and Nothingness", and Sartre presupposes its theories in "Being and Nothingness". - Since the issue is important in the context of Sartre's discussion of the interpersonal relationships, I provide a short summary. I skip merely the part, which deals with horror (the feeling, that arises, if you suddenly perceive a face on the window pane), because it seems to be outdated by Sartre's theory of the "look".

As a preliminary remark: emotions differ from sensations (perceptions), since they lack any reference to the body. The location of a pain may be the leg, the location of nausea (in the common sense of the word) may be the belly or even the whole body, and optical sensations (we've learned, that they don't exist) are sensations in the eye. On the other side, anger or depression, jealousy or joy are not connected with a part of the body or with the body as a whole (even, if they are accompanied by bodily concomitants, e.g. quiver or blushing in the case of anger).

Sartre identifies the major defect of most theories of emotions: they localize the awareness of emotions on the reflective level. We remember, that psychic objects emerge altogether on this level, originated by impure reflection. According to Sartre, a similar process provides for our ability, to talk about our anger or our depressions. - The emotion as a psychic object appears as an on principle autonomous state, although it is caused by worldly events, and this is exactly the interpretation, which is represented by the questionable theories. But in fact the emotion doesn't exist independent from the world. According to Sartre, there is no hatred on the pre-reflective level, there is just a person, which is perceived by me as hateful. I'm not depressive, but my situation appears as a gloomy situation: the emotion is related to the appearing of things.

Then Sartre describes the pre-reflective level of consciousness - most of it is already known to us: there are no actions and no acting ego. Instead there are objective demands and objective obstacles, to realize the demands. Even if I'm enforced to choose between options to act, on the pre-reflective level there is no choice, which is performed by me, but rather a struggle of my possibilities (a struggle of objective demands), and the finally realized one has shown itself as the strongest one. - But what happens (on the pre-reflective level), if there are merely obstacles, and the demands become apparent as unrealizable? According to Sartre, at this point the emotion enters the scene.

If I'm not capable, to fulfill the demands, which I'm confronted with, there is still one outlet for me (which is a little bit shabby): I transform the world, which is unkind in such a way, into another world, where the demands don't have to be fulfilled. Sartre thinks, that the emotion is nothing more than the sojourn in the newly created world. - The meaning of this becomes apparent in Sartre's discussion of particular emotions.

What happens e.g., if I am in a state of fear? I provide for the disappearance of the world, whose dangers I can't cope with, by means of escape or faint (the lion disappears from my eyes, if I turn around and flee, or if I pass out). And if I'm depressive, I transform the world into a world, where everything is indifferent. This will seem more plausible, if we regard the reasons for a depression (according to Sartre): I become depressive, if familiar options to act have disappeared (e.g. due to a death in my human environment), and I'm enforced, to find new ones. I avoid this unpleasant task, when I retract into a world, where each acting is equally absurd. (Obviously, the whole process is a flight from anguish.)

Sartre thinks, that the explanation of anger is so obvious, that he can leave it to the reader. I am not as optimistic, and I present two possibilities to choose from. The first one emphasizes the aggressive aspect of anger, the second one the implied repulsion. Either Sartre means, that anger resembles fear, e.g. if I remove my computer-problems by throwing the damned thing out of the window. Or he thinks, that anger has to be analyzed analogous to depression: I am not responsible for my problems, because the transformed world is populated by viscious objects (e.g. my computer), which can be blamed for everything, and whose natures can't be changed.

Even more difficult is Sartre's explanation of joy, because this emotion differs from fear, anger and depression in an important aspect: obviously, it is not a response against a threat. - Sartre's explanation amounts to the claim, that there is nevertheless a threat. At first he distinguishes between two kinds of joy. On the one side there is a "silent" delight in the present. Its character is not emotional, the feeling is merely a kind of equilibrium. (Obviously Sartre isn't mindful of unfounded euphoric states.) On the other hand, there is the joy, which emerges, if I'm informed, that I will achieve a desired object. This feeling (you can call it "pleasant anticipation") is really an emotion.

Against which thread joy (in the latter sense of the word) serves as a defence? - We have to remember the "ontological frustration", which raids us, if we have fulfilled a desire. The origin of this frustration is the fact, that the "value" isn't achieved, even if the desire is fulfilled. This principled pointlessness is accompanied by other more practical problems: the money, that I've gained, has to be invested or expended, and if the loved woman has accepted my proposal of marriage, I have to live with her, etc. - My pleasant anticipation serves as a defence against the knowledge of those problems! In a state of joy the world appears to me as if I am already in possession of the desired object, without any delay and without ontological disappointment: the possessed object is exactly what it should be.

The worlds of the depressive, fearful, joyful and angry person differ from each other, whereas they share one similarity: the usual causality is no longer relevant. Normally, the world appears as a world of utensils, which can be used by me, because they are affectable and because they behave in predictable ways. Such an adjustement doesn't exist in the emotional worlds, and therefore Sartre calls them "magical" worlds. The world of the fearful one is magical, because it is possible in it, to remove a threatening thing by non-perceiving it. The world of anger is magical, because the things are viscious and responsible (second interpretation). And the inhabitant of the depressive world lives in a world, where the things are not demanding anymore (remember the objectivity of the demands). Finally the world of a person, who lives in a state of pleasant anticipation, is a world, in which the desired and announced thing is already there - as a result of magic.

Since consciousness generates the emotions - they perform a specific function - two questions arise: why are emotions often tantalizing, and why is it often not possible to get rid of them? The first question can be answered this way: indeed, an emotional world fulfills a function, but there are undesirable side effects. The depressive person has successfully removed his responsibility concerning the problems, which have triggered the depression, but his world doesn't leave room for hope either, because all decisions and actions are senseless. - Sartre's answer of the second question is more difficult:

Yes, myself has created the transformed world, but this world is nevertheless the place, where I live - I believe in its existence. I am captivated in my belief: it's like a dream, from which I can't awake. Sartre thinks, that this is not a surprising fact, because my consciousness is on the pre-reflective level and cannot deny "without reflection" the things, which are produced by it. (Sartre's arguing doesn't seem plausible here: even the normal world is produced by myself, and if pre-reflective consciousness can accomplish it to replace it, why isn't it likewise capable, to replace the new world as well?) - Hence reflection is the only way out of emotion. But normal, impure reflection isn't apt, because it interprets the emotion as an autonomous entity, and fixes therefore its uncontrollability. The reflection has to be pure, and that means, that the depressive one has to realize, that he's living in a self-generated world. - (The consequence might be, that no man ever was capable, to defeat his fear - until Sartre: because Sartre's explanation of fear is a new approach, it is quite likely, that he is the first one, who has been able to purify his reflection in an appropriate way.)

You could ask, how anguish has to be interpreted in the context of this theory. According to Sartre, emotions are essentially non-authentic, they disown reality. If anguish is an emotion, it has to be the only authentic one, since e.g. depression turns out to be a flight from anguish. Or are the emotional worlds of equal value as the normal world? (Remember, that even the "normal" world is subject-created by means of an injection of nothingness.) - There are more possible objections. - I think, that Sartre's theory of emotions is a rather weak part of his philosophy. - Maybe we should bear in mind, that the function of this theory in the entirety of Sartre's reasoning is very important: emotions, which can "assault" us, to which we are subject, provide a strong argument against Sartre's claim, that the consciousness is totally spontaneous. His theory of emotions attempts to refute this argument by demonstrating, that even emotions emerge from the spontaneity of consciousness.

 The Concrete Relationships to Others

The analysis of the "look" has demonstrated, that there are merely two possible attitudes, when I'm confronted with another man, which exclude each other: either I perceive him as an object, which is part of my world of utensils, or I am subjected to his "look", i.e. I become myself an object for the other one and I am at the mercy of him. In the latter case my being-for-others comes into existence - the object which I am in the eyes of the other one, and which is me as an alieneted myself. - This dichotomic scheme is the base for all concrete relationships to others (e.g. sexual desire (including deviations), love, indifference towards other people).

Until now, the only possible way to get out of the dangerous situation of the "look" is to veer into the other attitude, i.e. to degrade the other one to an object by "looking" at him. Here Sartre introduces another possibility, to deal with the "look": while I've removed my being-for-others, while I've changed the attitude, the intention is now, to use it for my own purposes. But what use does the alienated self have? - We know, that being-for-itself is always occupied with the effort, to realize the "value", i.e. to be a self-grounded and therefore godlike bastard of being-in-itself and being-for-itself. The being-for-others provides another possibility, to reach this goal (but it's of course unrealizable).

Being-for-itself thinks in the following treacherous way: the being-for-others, although it's alienated, is still me. So why not try to bring this object under my freedom - maybe, I can base myself this way? But it's clear, that I can subject the object merely, as long as it remains an object. The other one must therefore on no account become an object himself (otherwise my object-me dissolves), and I have to remain in state of the one, who's "looked" at. But simultaneously the freedom of the other one has to be subjected to my freedom, so that I'll be enabled, even by means of a detour, to define (and thereby to base) my being-for-others. Sartre calls this attempt the attempt, to assimilate the freedom of the other one. - We will see, how this attempt presents itself in practice, and why it fails.

 The Ideal of Love and the Language

You can distinguish between love (to love) and infatuation (to be in love). Like hatred, love has a long-term character, it's essentially a disposition to act in certain ways. Thus it's possible, that I think wrongly that I love somebody. Other people may realize earlier than myself, that I don't love really (e.g. because they keep track of my behaviour, and know better, how often I behave towards her in a non-solidary way). - But if I'm "in love", if I'm fond of a person, I know this fact necessarily better than other people. - If Sartre talks about "love", he refers less to love in the first sense (the love, that helds e.g. between an older couple), but rather to infatuation.

According to Sartre, the ideal of love is the assimilation of the freedom of the other person, as mentioned above. (This kind of assimilation should not be confused with the merger of consciousnesses, which is the primary danger, if I'm "looked" at.) - What does that mean? We have seen, that it's the purpose of the attempt, to make the freedom of the other one conditional on my freedom, but without destroying it. I don't want to rule the other one, or to confine her freedom (even if she hates me, I could achieve this). Instead my desire is, that the other one confines her own freedom, in a way, that's advantageous for me. That's the only way for me, to preserve the "look" and thereby my being-for-her. I don't want to destroy my being-for-her, but to control it. - In this context, Sartre emphasizes, that love is more than just the desire for sexual contact. The latter one I could try to buy by one means or another, whereas such a thought would never cross the mind of a person, who's in love.

One might think, that a free decision of the beloved one is all I need, namely the decision, to love me (it's not important at this point, if such a decision is possible at all). Why does this seem disconcerting? Obviously in this case the freedom of the beloved one is still too free for my purposes. In Sartre's words: the lover wants to be loved by a freedom, but a freedom, which is not free anymore. The beloved one is supposed to bow to her passion for me, and this passion is supposed to define her image of me (and that's the important point). And I want the beloved one to remain a free person insofar as her surrender has to be voluntary. (At this point, one might anticipate the reasons, why the attempt goes astray.)

The lover wants to remain an object for the beloved one (he wants to be "looked" at), but simultaneously the beloved one shall bow to her passion for this object. Hence the object has to be totally fascinating for the beloved one, it has to be the final purpose for her. Therefore it is the policy of the lover, to turn himself into an object, that's suchlike absolute. For the beloved one the lover wants to be the be-all and the end-all - i.e. he wants to replace the world as a entirety of things with himself, so that he's the one and only object for her. At this point, he has reached his aim: since he is the highest purpose for the beloved one, he's no longer in danger, to be used by her as a tool for unknown purposes - the "look" isn't threatening any more. Simultaneously, the lover has obtained a reason of his being, his facticity is justified by a purpose. And this grounding is actually a self-grounding, because the lover has turned himself into the fascinating object!

Before we talk about the reasons, why this beautiful state can't be reached after all, we have to mention the part in this drama, which is played by language. Sartre defines language as the entirety of human means of expression, thus the concept involves linguistic means as well as non-linguistic, bodily means. As such, language is identical with my being-for-others. At the beginning, the expression is involuntarily (my actings are always acts of expression), and its use as an instrument is a secondary phenomenon. In the case of love, I use language as the language of seduction, whose purpose it is, to evoke fascination. At the beginning of my project I use it blindly, because the other one is free, to compose her image of me from my words and gestures. - It's an interesting fact, that Sartre mentions the language of seduction (the conscious, methodical seduction), but not the more frequent case, that the other one is fascinated simply by my good-looking appearance. The reasons for this we can find in Sartre's biography: according to his war-diaries, Sartre's only way to impress women was his talking, and his approaches failed, when his language skills were not sufficient (this happened to him in Germany at the beginning of the thirties).

How is love related to pride? We've learned, that pride is an insincere way, to deal with the shame, which is caused by the "look". It is insincere, because it is the attempt, to manipulate the other one by means of my object-me - the attempt is impossible, inasmuch as the other one has to become an object himself, to be manipulated, and simultaneously he has to remain a subject, to conserve my object-me (my being-for-others). We've seen, that to "look" and to be "looked" at exclude each other. - But is this attempt not identical with love? Isn't it the desire of the lover to manipulate the beloved one, who "looks" at him, by means of the language of seduction? - Obviously in the context of Sartre's theory it's not easy, to isolate both phenomena (love and pride) from each other. And while pride is impossible from the beginning (it's just Bad Faith, to believe, that you could manipulate the one, who's "looking" at you), in the case of love the manipulation seems at least to be possible.

 The Failure of Love, the Benefit and the Hazard of Love

The one, who loves, wants to conquer the freedom of the other one to obtain an indirect self-grounding. This amounts to the fact, that the lover tries to seduce the other one, to love - in turn - him. And if this has been successful, the other one loves the lover and tries, to arouse (or to preserve) the love of him. Sartre summarizes: "Love is the desire, to be loved." - We have to notice, that this project is a free project: without the decision of the other one the fascination, which is caused by the language of seduction, remains solely fascination (like e.g. the fascination, which is caused by an artist). - The manipulation can merely evoke a kind of appropriate atmosphere, whereas it can't cause the other's love-project. It can recommend the lover as an absolute object, but manipulation can't enforce, that the beloved one follows the recommendation.

It's easy to see, that a love couple, which thanks its existence to such processes, has a problem: Every part wants to preserve the other part as a freedom and wants to remain fascinating object. But if the other part tries in turn, to become a fascinating object, he abandons his freedom (in this regard). Hence he cannot provide for the self-grounding of the lover anymore. - The lovers, who are fascinated from each other, get nothing, as far as the ontological aim of love is concerned. No part of the love couple is able, to realize the "value". In the moment, where the manipulation has succeeded, the lover experience the disappointment, that the supremacy of the other one disappears.

So you could think, that it might be better, to avoid the problems and troubles of love, and to narrow down your projects to the fulfillment of sexual desires. Fortunately, Sartre doesn't think so. Although love is on principle frustrating, it has an additional value for both partners: both are protected against the "look" of each other. As long as both parts are for each other the final purpose, they can't be exploited by each other. - But the stability of this state is always threatened:

On the one hand the lovers are still free consciousnesses, even in the state of fascination. So it can happen all the time, that one part returns to the objectifying "look" (if he loses his love), and that the other part is degraded to a tool. - On the other hand the labile system becomes endangered, if a third person enters the stage. If the third one "looks" at the couple, both partners become objects for him, and their love relationship as well. And apart from the possibility, that the third person might be able to destroy the relationship (by means of manipulation), his presence has the consequence, that the lovers feel "looked" at, so that they generate object-egos for him. The resulting insecurity - "How does he see me and my love?" - is one more threat.


According to Sartre, there is another phenomenon of the interpersonal area, which amounts to the attempt, to exploit the being-for-others. While the lover is anxious, to control the freedom of the other one without negating his own freedom, the masochist tries to lose his freedom entirely, and to reduce himself to the object-for-the-other-one. The purpose of this object is not, to fascinate the other one or to enamor him. On the contrary, the other one shall use the object as if he uses a tool. - What's the purpose of such a maximal subordination? Insofar as the masochist denies his own freedom totally, he identifies himself with the other one's freedom. Insofar as the freedom of the masochist is a tool of a freedom, which is identical with his freedom, he achieves a reason of being! - Like every human behaviour, masochism aims for the self-grounding of consciousness.

We might expect, that Sartre regards masochism as a desperate business. And indeed: it is in fact impossible, to identify myself entirely with my object-for-the-other-one and thereby with his freedom. I remain a free being-for-itself, and I transcend this object by means of my own freedom. This impossibility shows itself in the absurdity of the fact, that the masochist has to manipulate the other one, to achieve to be treated as an instrumental object. (This happens, when the punter pays the flagellatrice.)

Sartre doesn't mention explicitly the sexual component of masochism. He will come back to it, when he discusses sexual desire. - What's the similarity between love and masochism? The starting point of the attempt is in both cases the object-me for the other one, and the endpoint is in both cases, that the consciousness finds itself as a free being - i.e. as a subject. Sartre will deal now with some other attempts, to reach self-grounding by means of interpersonal contacts, whose starting point is in contrast the free subject.

 Biological vs. Ontological Sexuality

Sartre tries to meet an obvious objection against an ontological approach on sexuality: isn't the sexuality of man first and foremost dependent on his biology? Isn't it unavoidable, to explain the gender-segregated sexual desires on the base of the contingent biological sexuality? The libido seems to be a part of the psyche, that has to be excluded from any ontological description. (Sartre thinks, that Heiddeger follows this line of thought, when he describes man, as if he were genderless.)

It's easy to see, that the objection marks a crucial point - the total sponteneity of consciousness isn't compatible with a biological nature of the libido. Sexuality would be an opaque foreign body in the translucidity of consciousness, and that must be impossible (according to Sartre), because consciousness can't contain unconscious parts. - Sartre's counter-argument shows the far distance between his view and the scientific worldview, and moves his philosophy near an idealistic philosophy of nature:

It isn't true, that there are at first sense organs, which enable then the contact with the world? Of course, not: on the contrary, consciousness is immediately related to being-in-itself (remember the "ontological proof") and not conceivable without this reference. The sense organs are therefore the product of the ontological relationship between being-for-itself and being-in-itself! Consciousness is essentially in contact with the being, which is independent from consciousness, and it's equally essentially body (since an awareness of the world is impossible without a viewpoint / perspective). - Hence the presence of sense-organs is likewise necessary, according to Sartre. And the same necessity subsists in the case of the genitalia: the sexuality of human consciousness is a necessary consequence of the ontology of consciousness (we will here about it later), so that there must be genitalia. It's part of the nature of consciousness, to possess a body (or: to be a body), which is equipped with sense-organs as well as with sexual organs.

We can conclude from this, that the lacking or failing of sexual organs isn't capable, to make the sexuality of consciousness disappear. And that's exactly Sartre's view: children, eunuchs and old men are sexual in the same grade as adults with functioning genitalia. - I don't ask, if this thesis is compatible with empirical knowledge, but I want to emphasize, that it's a consequence of Sartre's thesis, that the state of the sexual organs can't affect the sexuality of consciousness. If we take Sartre seriously, the libido-changes during the age of puberty cannot be explained by biological reasons as well. - And it should be noted, that Sartre doesn't mention reproduction at all.

 The Ontology of Sexual Desire

Sartre reckons the described interpersonal phenomena among the ontological structures of consciousness. Why is this justified? Well, it's part of our ontological nature, to strive for the "value" and it's part of our ontological nature, that there are merely two base attitudes towards other people - to "look" or to be "looked" at. But those structures doesn't have a determining character, according to Sartre. It's not true, that we use necessarily in certain situations love, to achieve the "value", and necessarily in certain other situations masochism. Within the scope of the structure, which enforces us, to adopt an attitude towards the other one at all, we are free, to choose this attitude. - Sartre thinks, that we can feel compelled, to choose another attitude, if one attitude has failed, quasi as a consequence of the ontological frustration.

To obtain the "value" is not the sole ontological sense of interpersonal behaviour. We know, that it's dangerous for us, to be "looked" at: the freedom of the other one is threatening, because it provides us with the character of an object, which cannot be controlled by us. Our behaviour towards other people serves therefore always the purpose, to render this freedom harmless, even if it's not possible to use it for self-grounding, and we have learned, that love is temporarily successful in this respect. - How can we analyze sexual desire with regard to this? We will see, that the second aspect is the important one in this case.

Love and masochism share the same starting point - to be an object for the other one. In contrast sexual desire (and sadism, indifference and hatred as well) progresses from the alternative starting point, namely the free subject. (There are merely two possible starting points, as a consequence of the dichotomy between "to look" and "to be looked at".) - But why do we meet several attitudes, which arise from the same starting point? Isn't it sufficient, to control the other one by means of the "look", i.e. by means of his objectification? - Sartre thinks, that this is not enough to remove the worry with his freedom. If the other one is degraded to an object, his freedom disappears merely superficially, but is in fact still there. What's controlled, is merely his facticity, i.e. the apple and not the worm inside! The one, who "looks", is still in danger, to be "looked" at: as long as I don't control the freedom of the other one, he remains a possible source of disturbance.

Sexual desire is the attempt, to achieve such a control. To understand this, it's required, to look at the phenomena, which are associated with desire. What happens, if I desire another person in a sexual way? Sartre starts with the statement, that it's not the sexual satisfaction (the orgasm), which is the object of desire, but a human being. Otherwise it would be inexplicable, that even children, who don't know the practice of sexuality or the possibility of an orgasm, are capable to develop sexual desire. The other one is desired, but not as a body, which is equipped with a sufficient number of sexual triggers, but as a conscious human being. - (Don't worry about those rubber dolls. They are means of masturbation, and masturbation is merely a substitute - the rubber doll triggers a mental image, whose item is a conscious human, which is the very object of desire.)

But if that's a fact, why do we meet the widespread assumption, that the aim of sexual desire is the coitus / orgasm? The misapprehension arises on the reflective level of consciousness. It's a wrong conclusion from the fact, that an orgasm stalls the desire. - Sartre admits, that there are exceptional cases, in which the coitus is methodically used to remove the desire. But such an attempt presupposes the reflection upon a desire, which has become insufferable, and on the pre-reflective level this desire is still the desire for a person and not a desire for the lust, which arises when the desire disappears. - An analogous case is hunger: it's not the desire for the cessation of hunger, or for the joy of eating, but it's simply the desire for food, although I may decide, to remove the hunger by other means (e.g. cigarettes or anoretics) to achieve my ideal body weight.

(But what does it mean, to desire an object - e.g. food? My hunger isn't removed, if I possess food, I have to eat it. Perhaps the desire for a something should be interpreted more adequate as a desire to do something.)

According to Sartre, sexual desire differs from other kinds of desire, because of its "stirring" character. Sexual desire is overwhelming and hypnotizing for a human. While the consciousness of a hungry man isn't remarkably altered by virtue of his hunger, the consciousness of a man, who's in a state of sexual desire, has become another one - because the world, with which it is confronted, has changed (we remember, that emotions are associated with similar effects). In which world lives the one, who's in a state of sexual desire? His world doesn't consist of utensils anymore, but it consists of matter. The things are no longer perceived as tools, but as a sensuous being. Their haptic and aesthetic properties come to the fore.

The description hints at the fact, that Sartre doesn't distinguish very sharply between sexual desire and sexual arousal. - But it leads immediately to the ontological function of desire. If I bog down in the sensuosness of things, I really bog down in my body: the things in their changed nature reveal my body, not as a reference point but as "flesh". The increased sensuousness of things is in fact an increased body feeling. - However, Sartre has described the general body feeling as "nausea". Implicitly he has reckoned it hereby among the unpleasant feelings. But the described feeling seems to be a pleasant one. How can we explain the difference? - Normally, there is a certain distance between myself and my - always transcended - facticity. But if I'm in a state of sexual desire, I want to be facticity, as my body I want to be a part of the material world! But is this compatible with the claim, that the free subject is the starting point for desire? If I identify myself with my facticity - isn't that the attempt, to deny my subject-character?

The objection ignores the fact, that my "incarnation" isn't an end in itself. It is directed towards another person (the one, I desire), and it serves as an instrument, by means of which I acquire the other person. I achieve this acquisition, if the other one bogs down in his "flesh" as well. What's my profit? - We have seen, that the simple objectification by means of the "look" isn't sufficient, to remove the disturbance, which is caused by the other one. The one, who "looks", has indeed the control over the object, whereas the other consciousness is not involved. The object is merely the outside of the other one, thus it is always possible, that the situation goes into reverse, i.e. that the one, who's "looked" at, becomes the one, who "looks". And this risk disappears, if the other one is lost in his "flesh". In this case his freedom is - in Sartre's words - "agglutinated in his facticity", and therefore innocuous. The freedom of the other one is no longer beyond his body, but it fills out his body. So if I possess his body, I possess his freedom!

But since the game has two players, not only I possess the freedom of the other one, but the other one possesses my freedom as well. This way a mutual contact between the consciousnesses is achieved, which is no longer threatening for both partners. Each partner controls the freedom of the other partner by "stroking" the other one (the word denotes in Sartre's use every sexual act, which increases the arousal of the other one). Therefore the whole thing is a win-win situation, a state, that we meet not often in Satre's descriptions of interpersonal behaviour.

And which is the roll of orgasm in this game, if it's not the aim of desire? Sartre answers, that the orgasm is nothing else but the failure of desire, because it amounts to a sudden focus upon my own "flesh". Therefore it is the termination of the mutual contact. The very purpose of desire becomes buried in oblivion, when I am overwhelmed by the orgasmic lust. - The desire fails in another respect, if the pleasure, to be stroked, gaines the mastery over the pleasure, to stroke. In this case something happens, which is already known to us: the instrumental character of my "incarnation" disappears, and it becomes a self purpose. I identify myself with the body of the other one, and I want the other one (as the one, who "looks") to treat me like a tool. - This attitude is masochism, which is in this context sexual masochism. - Finally, Sartre describes another form of the failure of desire, which is obviously restricted to men: If I penetrate into the partner, I try to take possession of him actively: I am busy. But who's busy, isn't absorbed by his "flesh" anymore (the absorption is a contemplative matter), and therefore not able, to reach the other one's freedom by means of his "flesh": Again, the partner is reduced to an object.

If sexual desire is an attempt of being-for-itself, to defuse the threat of the other one's "look", the question arises, why it can't be induced deliberately (anyway not in a direct way). The sexual organs are hardly controllable by their owners. - Sartre states, that this fact is not at all an indication against his view, but to the contrary a support: my "incarnation" is a sinking into the facticity of the body, and the latter one is as such contingent and not subjected to my will. Hence the uncontrollability of my sexual organs is not an accident, but an ontological necessity! (But how is this compatible with the stated purposeness of the happening?).

I save the trouble, to criticize the ontology of sexual desire. I just want to note, that Sartre doesn't mention gender gaps, and that he lacks a theory of homosexuality as well. But it isn't difficult, to add both: Since sexual behaviour is freely chosen, inherent differences of sexual desire are excluded (therefore homosexuality doesn't need further explanation). - But unfortunately the question for the facticity of the sexual organs arises again. In Sartre's sense, we have to assume, that the embryo determines freely his development, to gain sexual organs, which are compatible with his base project. (I think, the ontology of sexual desire is not exactly a peak of Sartre's work.)


Different from the desiring man, the sadist isn't in a turmoil. He is not lost in his "flesh", but he's in the state of a person, who "looks". In Sartre's words: he is "cold" (i. e. he is not sexually aroused, or he keeps his distance from his arousal). - We've already seen, that such a state provides for a certain control over the other one, but still contains the risk that the other one "looks" in turn. Like desire, sadism is the attempt, to cope with this latent dangerousness of the fellow human. For this purpose, the sadist uses the "incarnation" of his victim, which he enforces (it's possible to achieve the "incarnation" by bodily torture as well as by sexual desire). - The sadist, as a cold observer, who uses the other one like a tool, is confronted with someone, whose freedom is "agglutinated" in his "flesh" and has therefore lost its threatening character. Seemingly he controls the freedom of the other one without counterperformance, because his own freedom is not defused (in contrast to mutual desire).

Sartre states, that the sadist's victim hasn't simply become "flesh", he has become obscene "flesh". In this context Sartre quotes a definition of Bergson: the obscene is a sub-category of the non-dainty. A body is dainty, if it appears as the body of an acting person. The body and his movements are "justified" by their reference to acting, respectively to the purpose of acting. Nothing of these appear redundant. Even if it's naked, the body of the dainty person isn't perceived as "flesh", it's perceived as the expression of a freedom. - Reversely, the non-dainty arises, if the body or some of its movements lack such a justification. E.g. a limping man isn't dainty, because the limp seems like a redundant ingredient of the movement. The bodily non-dainty is obscene, e.g. a naked body, which is lying limply on a bed (like in classical nude-pictures) or a wobbling fat belly, whose movement is as redundant as itself.

If it's obscene, the body doesn't present itself as the expression of a freedom, but as "flesh". Because of this, its sight perhaps can affect sexual desire, namely if the sight signalizes the erotic "incarnation" of the other one. One might add, that the obscenity obviously decreases in this case, because the body can be referred to carnal intercourse (i.e. to some kind of act). Contrariwise, the obscenity peaks, if the viewer isn't in the state of sexual desire. And this maximum of obscenity is exactly the state of his victim, which is achieved by the sadist. Why? Since the freedom of the victim has become invisible, the victim is solely "flesh". (Remember the human pyramids of Abu Ghuraib, if you want to appreciate Sartre's theory of sadism.)

Even torture, which is used to extract a confession, wants the total identification of the victim with his "flesh". But if the pain becomes too strong, and the victim breaks down, the breakdown is the result of the victims choice, according to Sartre (a consciousness can't be coerced), even if the breakdown is inevitably: the victim could always withstand a minute or even a second longer. "He has decided on the moment, in which the pain became unbearable." If the victim confesses, to end his torture, he has identified himself freely with his body, even if the confession has been forced by the sadist. In such a moment the sadist doesn't enjoy merely the invisibility of the other one's freedom, instead he enjoys the control of his freedom over the other one's freedom.

Since the attitude of the sadist excludes or narrows his sexual arousal, Sartre's remarks aren't applicable to sexual sadism. According to Sartre, sexual desire arises not until sadism fails. This is the case, if the sadist has (seemingly) achieved the total "incarnation" of his victim and doesn't know, what to do further. In this moment sexual desire can emerge as a compensational attitude. - Apart from this, sadism fails as a matter of principle, because the other one can't lose his freedom at all. Even the sadist's control over his freedom is only virtual: the tortured one is always capable, to "look" at the torturer and to remind him of his subsisting freedom (anyway if he's not hooded, like the prisoners in Guatanamo).

In his final remark, Sartre reckons sadism among the category of sexual attitudes (in spite of the missing reference to sexual sadism). Sartre distinguishes between two sexual base attitudes, on the one hand love and desire and on the other hand sadism and masochism. One might say, that the first attitude implies reciprocity, while the second attitude is marked by onesidedness. - Sartre adds, that those base attitudes are the skeleton of all complex human behaviours, e.g. they are involved as well in pity, admiration, aversion and envy. Hereby Sartre's view comes close to Freud's theory of libido. He distances himself from Freud by emphasizing the consciousness of the sexual component. The reason for its unrecognizability in the context of more sophisticated human behaviour patterns isn't the unconsciousness of the sexual element, but rather its tight merger with other attitudes. - Furthermore Sartre states, that the sexual base attitudes attempt either to absolutize my subjectivity or my objectivity for another person (we remember the different starting points). If they fail, they are directed to the respective contra-attitude.

 Indifference and Hatred

In a state of indifference, I have adopted the "look" as my general attitude, i.e. I confine myself to objectification and exploitation in my interpersonal relationships. The guidebooks, which teach, how to manipulate people, and which were popular in the 18th century, are a result of this attitude. - In a state of indifference I ignore the "looks" of other people, but that doesn't mean, that they don't "look" at me. The disadvantage of indifference is therefore, that my being-for-others still exists, even if I don't know about it (since I avoid the experience, to be "looked" at), so that I'm not capable to react against it. - The freedom of the others presents itself for me as a vague disturbance, so that I'm forced, to manipulate them preventively. But manipulation eventually doesn't reach its goal, because it can't affect the freedom of the other one. So it doesn't provide for my reassurance, and the attitude of indifference has failed.

According to Sartre, all attitudes towards other people fail. If somebody has gained this insight, he might be tempted, to think like this: if there is no suitable way, to control my objectivity for other people, I can still get rid of it, if I kill the other people. This attitude is called hatred. - If somebody really murders people out of hate, he kills usually merely few people, who have objectified him in a torturing way (remember the rampages of bullied teenagers), and rarely all people in the world. But that's not the whole truth, according to Sartre: the actual victims represent symbolically all other people. If somebody hates, he hates in fact all people, and that's the reason, why hatred is rejected even by such persons, which are not personally affected.

Because hatred is one of the attitudes towards other people, we might assume, that it shares the fate of the other attitudes: it fails. Why? The one who hates wants to annihilate the object, which he is for the other one, by means of killing the other one. But although the hated person has died, the object does still exist, namely as a past object. And all the worse, it has become unalterable: as a living person, the other one might change his image of my person, but with his dead this possibility is gone for ever. Therefore the murderer has gained no benefit.

If all interpersonal attitudes fail (a human is essentially "unhappy consciousness"), the question arises, if this is the end of all effords to reach salvation. - Sartre denies this, but he utters merely some mysterious suggestion, which can be related (I think) to the achievement of authenticity by means of pure reflection: "Those deliberations doesn't exclude the possibility of an ethics of release and hail. But it has to be reached at the end of a radical conversion, we can't talk about at the present point."

 Community Awareness

Because we can perceive other people either as subjects or as objects, but never simultaneously as both, interpersonal relationships are necessarily unstable. As we've seen, they look more like a battle ground than like a Woodstock. - But is this finding compatible with the fact, that we often experience a kind of community awareness or some feeling of togetherness? The word "we" seems to express a stable relationship between humans, which reckognize each other as subjects. But if we follow Sartre's previous arguing, such a mutual acceptance is impossible, because my acceptance of another one as a subject implies, that I'm an object for him myself.

Sartre indentifies two kinds of community awareness, which are called by him "object-WE" and "subject-WE" (capitalization by me). The "object-WE" emerges, if some people share a common experience of the "look", the "subject-WE" emerges in turn, if people "look" together at other people. It's a presupposition for the "object-WE", that two people (whose mutual relationship is otherwise conflictual) feel suddenly "looked" at. In this case - analogous to the "being-for-others" - in both persons arise object-WEs. If a single person feels "looked" at, he feels shame. In the same way the people, who constitute the object-WE, feel a common shame towards the one, who "looks". - But the scope of the analogy is wider: if a single person, who's looked at, responses by "looking" back, to regain his subjectivity, the group responses by means of the emergence of a subject-WE.

The object-WE provides no problems for Sartre's ontology of interpersonality, because it doesn't imply, that the relationship between the group-members transform into mutual recognition. The group-members are together objects, but merely for the foreign person, who "looks". Their conflictuous relationship with each other isn't transformed. Therefore Sartre denies the ontological character of the object-WE, he thinks, it amounts simply to the psychological phenomenon of a community awareness, a merely "subjective experience".

 Class-Consciousness and Mass-Consciousness

Subsequently, Sartre applies his distinction between two kinds of WE-awareness to social phenomena. Hereby he presupposes the Marxist model of a class-society. - The class-consciousness of a oppressed class reveals itself as a kind of object-WE: the exploited feel "looked" at by the members of the exploiting class (e.g. the workers in a factory building by the foreman). They response with collective shame. And since it's even possible for a lonely person, to feel "looked" at, namely if he's aware of the fact, that the other one as the potential "looker" exists, the object-WE of the exploited remains, even if no member of the exploiting class is actually present.

From this experience the exploited can develop a subject-WE. Hereby Sartre hints at the fact, that there are two kinds of class-consciousness for the members of the oppressed class, a shameful, passive one and a confident one, which may be the basis for an active class-conflict. - Sartre thinks, that the experience of the "look" is the necessary presupposition for the emergence of a class-consciousness, which cannot be caused by the misery of the exploited alone.

Are the oppressors (Sartre means the bourgeoisie) class-conscious as well? Sartre thinks, that they are not able to constitute a subject-WE, because of the fact, that the burgeois ideology denies the existence of classes at all. Nevertheless they can develop an object-WE, if they feel confronted with the proletarian subject-WE and therefore feel "looked" at. (Why isn't this the trigger for the emergence of a burgeois subject-WE? I think, we've learned, that this consequence is somehow inevitable? How can an ideology prevent it?)

According to Sartre, there is another, more general subject-WE, that simply results from the common use of the goods, which are produced for all people. This subject-WE is associated with Heidegger's "das Man" ("one" "anyone"). It's on the same stage as the subject-WE of people, who want to achieve a collective goal (e.g. a group of marching soldiers). According to Sartre, Heidegger is wrong, if he associates "das Man" with an ontological structure of human beings ("Mit-sein", "being-with"). It's just a psychological phenomenon, which presupposes the genuine ontological relationship of consciousnesses.

Sartre adds some remarks concerning mass-psychology (which is in Sartre's case rather a "mass-ontology"). Insofar as a mass of people can develop a common object-WE, they can also develop a common attitude towards a subject, which "looks" at them. We've seen, that love and masochism are attitudes, which proceed from an object-me: in the case of love consciousness tries to fascinate another person by means of its objectivity, in the case of masochism it tries to deny its subjectivity entirely, to become an instrument for the other one. - Both attitudes can be adopted by masses, as attitudes towards the leader. A masochistic mass wants to be an instrument in the hand of the leader. It's the purpose of this kind of masochism, to enable the single member to flee from anguish. (You could wonder, how it was possible that those passages passed the German censorship in occupied France.)

 Doing, Having and Being

Starting point for the fourth part of "Being and Nothingness" is the claim, that all human behaviours can be subsumed under the concepts Doing, Having and Being. The cognitive behaviour, whose classification isn't obvious, has to be interpreted as a variant of Having. - In fact this part of the work deals with the themes acting, freedom, ethics, possession and with "existential psychoanalysis", which is Sartre's counterdraft to Freud's psychoanalysis. Apart from this, there are many repetitions of earlier theses and reasonings.

Many of the views, which are expounded in the context of this part, can be appreciated independent from Sartre's ontological base theses. The most essential presupposition for Sartre's theory of freedom is merely freedom of choice - it's undoubtedly possible to share this presupposition without any reference to Sartre's ontology. - A hidden sense of the following passages is Sartre's struggle against traditional or anyway possible denials of freedom of choice.


Before we can deal with the question about the freedom of doing / acting, we have to figure out the essence of doing / acting. Sartre states first, that there must be an intention: if I upset involuntarily a wineglas while shifting the table, this event is not an action, even if the shifting of the table is an action. - Sartre distinguishes three elements / aspects of acting: motives, drives and purposes. The word "motive" is used by Sartre in a narrowed down sense: it means only the state of affairs, which shall be changed by doing. E.g. the fact, that merely 60 percent of the expected taxes come in, can be the motive for an administrative reform.

What's the relation between motives and purposes? Is a purpose the consequence of a motive? Sartre thinks, that it's exactly converse: the motive can be associated with an existing lack. But as we've seen, the concept "lack" is necessarily related to some future state of affairs, where the lack is removed. This state is the purpose of acting, hence the purpose must be the primal aspect. That merely 60 percent of the expected taxes come in, is in the first place an arbitrary fact, which doesn't require an acting. Not until this state is grasped as a lack, i.e. with respect to some future state of affairs, where all taxes come in, it becomes the motive for an administrative reform.

A state of misery can't trigger the actions by itself, which aim for the change of this state. The concept of a future state, that's rid of misery, is required: as a purpose, it renders the present state a state of lack. - Remember the opposition being-for-itself / being-in-itself. The perfect being-in-itself is rid of negativity, which has its source in the incomplete being of the consciousness. Therefrom it provides for the fact, that being-in-itself appears as a world of things. Since consciousness is entirely spontaneous, and because every negative fact has its origin in consciousness, the grasping of negative facts must be uncaused.

What does this mean, if we turn again towards the example case of the administrative reform? The fact, that 60 percent of the taxes come in is simply a positive fact. But if this fact is perceived as a lack (by adding the world "merely" - "merely 60 percent of the taxes come in"), the same fact is grasped as a negative fact. This kind of grasping isn't motivated by the fact in itself, but is due to spontaneity of consciousness. Hence the determination of purposes (and thereby human doing) has to be free!

 Determinism of Motives

Sartre doesn't deal at this point with scientific determinism, which leads back human actions to brain-processes and explains those processes by reference to genetic and environmental factors. Instead of this, the issue is an older philosophical discussion of the theme.

If one assumes, that actions are determined by motives, he will meet a special kind of problem, which can be illustrated by means of the story of "Buridan's donkey" (Buridan was a medieval philosopher, who was involved in a contemporary debate about motive-determinism). A hungry donkey is confronted with two bales of hay, which are exactly equal. Inasmuch as both bales are motives for the donkey, the donkey is confronted with two motives, which are exactly equal. If motives determine actions, the donkey must die of hunger, because both motives inhibit each other - no action is possible.

The supporters of the freedom of actions hint at the fact, that a real donkey would simply start to eat one of the bales. They conclude from this, that motives can't be the sole cause of actions. (I think, they could conclude as well, that a total equality of the strength of two motives is an impossible border case, like the total equality of all properties of two complex objects.) - That the motives of the eating donkey rescind each other, amounts to the fact, that there is no motive for its eating at all. Therefore the supporters of freedom are forced to claim, that actions without motives are possible.

At this point the motive-determinists can object, that actions without motives are obviously inconceivable. Actions refer to purposes (future states of affairs) and thereby to motives (present states of affairs). If free actions are actions without motives, they are no actions at all, but rather senseless movements. - Sartre considers the objection to be justified: if acting is free, this freedom can't be found in the lacking of motives.

But Sartre thinks also, that both views are fallacious. His alternative proposition can be expressed this way: our actions refer indeed to motives, but that doesn't render them dependent, because the purposes, which precede the motives, are freely chosen. The motive is not a motive by itself, but it becomes a motive, if it's perceived as a lack. The supporters of freedom have not found the right point, where indeterminism comes into play.

 Passions and Causality

An action, its purpose and its motive constitute a totality, which is merely dependent on the spontaneity of consciousness. - At least now the question arises, why Sartre hasn't mentioned the will, the drives and the passions. It's a normal assumption, that especially the will is free - otherwise we would not talk about "free will", wouldn't we? And the motives - aren't they effective, since they cause drives? And isn't it sometimes a hard task, to enforce the will against the passions? And doesn't this enforcement fail sometimes? - In contrast, Sartre denies the importance of the will and he denies the existence of drives. Furthermore, he thinks, it's impossible, that passions contradict my freedom.

Common sense agrees, that my will is indeed free, whereas my passions are determined and capable, to put up resistance against it. Sometimes they can even paralyze it. - It's natural for Sartre to refuse this view, because it contradicts the translucidity of consciousness: if there are determined elements in consciousness, these elements are unconscious (opaque) and its a contradiction, to assume unconscious parts of consciousness. - Hence the passions are either no part of consciousness at all (in this case they cannot confine my freedom, since they are part of the world outside), or they are free. Sartre takes the latter view. Everything in consciousness is totally spontaneous, even the passions. - We've already met this view (theory of emotions), at this point it is connected to the concept of "action".

Sartre states, that it is impossible, that freedom and determinedness dwell together in one and the same consciousness, because it is not possible, that a spontaneity can affect a determinism, that is "already constituted". - (Does this phrase mean, that consciousness could start a causal chain? No. The concept "constitution" is meant in an idealistic sense: it is conceivable, that a spontaneous consciousness emits a whole system of causal relations. On this line of thought, Kant thinks, that causality results, when the categories are applied to spatially and temporally preformed sense-data. The mind constitutes thereby the causal world.)

Sartre denies, that elements inside of a causal system can behave in an uncaused way. He emphasizes, that consciousness is totally outside of causality: neither it's possible, that anything affects consciousness, nor it's possible, that consciousness affects anything (remember the principle of action and response). - We've already seen the unpleasent consequence, which arises from this thesis: on this understanding it must be impossible, that free decisions cause effects in the world outside (e.g. the lifting of a hand). - However, Sartre draws the conclusion, that there are merely two conceivable solutions: man is totally determined (but that's "unacceptable, because a entirely determined [...] consciousness ceases to be consciousness at all") or he's totally free.

Altogether, Sartre's remarks concerning causality are rather unsatisfactory. Since Sartre's philosophy of freedom regards freedom explicitly as outside of causality, it's not understandable, why he spares a detailled discussion. (It's possible, to conceive freedom of will / freedom of actions without any reference to indeterminism, namely under the assumption, that the contrary point of view misunderstoods the common use of the word "freedom".) - Paul Vincent Spade interprets Sartre's statements as a total denial of causality. I think, it's more plausible, that Sartre assumes a gapless causality, as long as being-in-itself is concerned. In this sense the human as an object is a utensil for the other one - utensility presupposes causality. In the "normal" world (which is not transformed by emotions) every change has still its cause, in Sartre's eyes.

Remember Kant's theory of causality: the concrete actions of a man are caused, because the category of causality is applied generally, when the mind constitutes the world (each thing has to be in time and in space, and its changes have to be caused). - On this level, which is the level of particular actions, a man cannot be free. Instead of this his freedom is located on the level of the things-in-itself: man is free, insofar as even he is a thing-in-itself (and this freedom can't be proven, it's just an idea). - Maybe, Sartre wants to go in a similar direction, but he lacks the clarity of Kant's view. And he insists on the freedom of single actions!

Because Sartre considers emotions to be functional (they defuse threatening situations, by changing the structure of the world), they have to refer to a purpose. And that's the key to their particular role: they are special means to reach freely chosen purposes. And insofar as we choose the means to a certain end as well, passions are the result of free decisions. I decide, to achieve a purpose emotionally or dispassionately, in the same way, as I decide to use a car instead of a plane, to reach a special location.

 The Will and the Drives

Passion is regarded as "blind", on contrast the involvement of the will is associated with some kind of "cold" consideration (that's Sartre's use of the word "will"). The difference between volitional actions and non-volitional, "emotional" actions can be led back to the different levels of consicousness. If I'm on the pre-reflective level, and I beat a man, because he's got a "face to smash in" (Sartre's example), this action is non-volitional. On the pre-reflective level there is no will, and the purpose presents itself simply as a demand in the world. Nevertheless the purpose is a product of the spontaneity of consciousness, and therefore freely chosen.

But if I consider the fact, that my momentary situation is inappropriate for a violenct act, because the potential victim is surrounded by his friends, and if I decide, to wait until I meet him alone in a dark street, my doing is on the reflective level: I act volitionally. According to Sartre, the will does not affect freedom at all, since it neither changes the motive, nor it changes the purpose. - Even the so called "drives" find their explanation in the difference between the levels of consciousness. They are not some irrational, subjective factor, which can be used to explain actions, if there are not enough objective motives provable, and which perhaps contradicts the motives. A drive is simply the motive, as it appears on the pre-reflective level. The face of the potential victim - the demand which is raised by the world - is equivalent to my drive, to slam. As a motive the face appears not until I reflect upon it. Hence conflicts between motives and drives are impossible.

My reflection might tell me afterwards, that there has been a drive (as a psychic quasi-object), and this might lead me to the assumption, that the drive has been so intense, that I'm not responsible for my violent deed (that's Bad Faith, of course): "My urge, to strike this man, was unbearably strong - I couldn't resist!" - In fact drives and motives are merely two kinds, to grasp the same item, and since I choose my motives freely, the drives can't have some irresistable power by themselves.

If we dwell on the example, the question arises, if Sartre's remarks are the whole truth. If I act volitionally, my action is de facto another one (I delay the realization of the purpose, and I use other means). But because the means are freely chosen as well (they refer to purposes), this amounts to the fact, that there must be other (more) motives than on the pre-reflective level (e.g. the motive, to recoup myself). - I will outline Sartre's presumable answer, when I discuss the "base projects".

 The Irrationality of Freedom

Implies the uncausedness of our decisions the irrationality of freedom? To illustrate the problem, Sartre falls back on Epikur's concept "clinamen". Epikur held the view, that the movement of the smallest elements of the world is not entirely determined. The atoms move on certain trajectories, but sometimes they sheer away a little bit. Such deviations are called "clinamen". According to Epikur, the world is at large ruled by the laws of nature, but there is also some random factor involved. - If our decisions are free, doesn't that mean, that human actions are not entirely predictable, like the trajectories of Epikur's atoms? And isn't unpredictability a sign of irrational behaviour?

You might remember a theory, which has been popular some decades ago. - As is well known, modern physics assumes, that there are non-determined processes on a subatomic level, which resemble Epikur's "clinamen" and which provide for a certain element of randomness ("Heisenberg uncertainty principle"). And this non-determinedness is not merely a theoretical fact, but it has visible effects in the everyday world: e.g. the not determined decay of a single radioactive atom can cause me to die of lung cancer (if the atom sticks in my lungs). - The mentioned theory connects these facts to human freedom: it maintains, that a free decision bases on some not determined subatomic process, which is somehow amplified in the brain (which contains in this way a "genuine random generator").

It seems obvious, that the behaviour of a human, whose decisions depend on such a mechanism, is not more free, but at the most more unpredictable. - One might think, that it makes sense at this point, to question the opposition freedom / determinedness. But Sartre's arguing adopts a different course: the rationality of my actions results from the fact, that they are dependent on a base project, which unites all my particular projects. Therefore a particular decision can't be called irrational, but merely the base project itself, which is on principle not justifyable.

However, we will see, that each particular decision is capable, to defeat the actual base project and to replace it by another base project. In this case it is still possible, to mark each particular decision as irrational, I think, because it's not predictable, whether a particular decision will question the base project or not. Humans are conceivable, who change their base projects every minute - this possibility arises from the spontaneity of consciousness. - To meet this objection, Sartre must emphasize the rule of thumb, that such conversions are rare. But the factual endurance of the base projects is merely a "contingent fact": it's always possible, that the dice shows the same number ten times in succession.

 Example: Inferiority Complex

The Original Choice is the choice of the base project, the one decision, to which all my concrete decisions refer. The issue of this decision is my overall relation to the world. - Here is one of those points, at which the reader is desirous of some illustrating example. Fortunateley, Sartre provides even two examples. - Assume a man, whose projects in life fail, almost always. He is never qualified enough for his jobs, therefore each of his employments ends in disaster. The women, he's interested in, are never interested in him, etc. - Nevertheless, the reason for his failure is not, that he's especially ungifted or unsightly: on the contrary, the base defect of his efforts lies in the fact, that all of his projects aim too high. The man targets always more, than he's able to achieve, hence his projects fail necessarily.

One might think, that the man helds (by mistake) a too positive opinion, concerning himself. Sartre's interpretation of his behaviour is another one: the man has an "inferiority complex". This expression is used widely in a misleading way: commonly, it is attributed to people, who feel themselves inferior. Sartre presupposes the original sense, in which an inferiority complex is more than just a (possibly justified) negative self-evaluation. Instead it means a special kind of project, which aims to prove and to ensure the inferiority of the acting person. The man's projects don't fail, because he's too optimistic, they fail, because they should fail! In his original choice the man has chosen himself as inferior (compared with other people), and all of his actions aim for the realization of this base project.

Obviously, Sartre is influenced by psychoanalysis in this context (the example refers more to Alfred Adler than to Sigmund Freud). A base thesis of psychoanalysis conveys, that seemingly irrational and pathologic behaviours have a hidden sense, which can be revealed by the analyst. - But Sartre denies the existence of the Freudian subconsciousness, thus we can expect, that his interpretation diverges from the psychoanalytic one. - While the latter one claims, that the affected man cannot be aware of his inferiority complex, and has to be informed about it by the analyst, Sartre regards the complex as conscious: it consists in a decision, and each human decision is conscious.

But how can someone decide voluntarily, to suffer the permanent indignities, which are inevitably the accompanying symptoms of an inferiority complex? - Here it becomes apparent, that the inferiority complex isn't itself the base project (Sartre has misleaded the reader in this case). It still has a deeper sense. As we already know, all human actions lead back to the desire of consciousness, to ground itself, and to the desire, to flee anguish. The inferiority complex can be explained this way: The man attempts, to get rid of his freedom, by making himself a passive thing (if he acts in a way, that all his plans fail, his acting annihilates itself - actually, the man doesn't act at all). As a passive thing - we may add - he would be a self-chosen being-in-itself, and therefore self-grounded.

The permanent feeling of humiliation, that the man is subject to, as long as he attempts, to realize his base project, reveals itself as a kind of undesirable side effect (we've already learned, that the very purpose of our acting is never the achievement of pleasure). It is necessary, that the man regards his plans as promising, as long as he is on the reflective level, and therefore suffers disappointment, if the plans fail. The error concerning the actual purpose of his actions is a means to this purpose! - The man can't seek consciously for the failing of his plans, since otherwise his failure would be success, and this would contradict the base project.

Impure reflection, which tells the man, that his aims are achievable, is part of the very action. - At this point it becomes apparent, why the will isn't able to change the purpose: volitional consideration is in itself a means to a purpose. If someone acts merely "according to instinct", he follows another base project related to some other purpose than the one, who's always considering his actions. To pursue a purpose volitionally cannot change the very purpose, because the (base) purpose is simply another one, if the actual purpose is pursued merely on the pre-reflective level.

 Example: Weariness

Insofar as the subject finds himself, after he has passed through the "circle of selfness" (the world is perceived as a possibility for self-grounding, it hints therefore at the subject as a future being, which is the realized "value", which is in-itself as well as for-itself), and insofar as the base project aims for self-grounding, the base project correlates with a certain kind of world. This doesn't mean, that I look at the world merely through the alienating spectacles of my base project, and that there is another world, the "real" world beside it. Because the world consists of demands, it is inherently refering to the base project. The only being, that's independent from the subject, is the amorphous being-in-itself, and not a world of things.

Assume, you're on a hike: It depends on your base project, if you regard a sudden hill on your way as a demand, to overcome it, or as a demand, to sit down and stop walking. (And that's Sartre's second example.) - Assume, you have companions: in your eyes, the hill is a signal to surrender, but not in the eyes of your friends, who address reproaches to you. And you can't defend yourself by hinting at your weariness. Why not?

Your weariness is value-neutral, it is nothing more than the way, you feel your body under certain circumstances. You can use it as a justification for your surrender not until you reflect upon it - you have to give it a value. And this evaluation is done within the frame of your base project! Merely because of impure reflection you think, that this value is no result of your freedom, but an objective property of your weariness. (The weariness is a psychic quasi-object, merely as such it is "insufferable".) - Why goes your evaluation in this direction, while your friends don't think, that their weariness is insufferable?

Sartre explains this fact by recourse to different base projects. One base project - the one of your friends - amounts to the attempt, to become being-in-itself by bogging down in the body-feeling (remember sexual desire). Against the background of this base project, weariness seems positive, because it marks a special way of "incarnation". But your base project is another one: you don't want to become immediately being-in-itself. Instead of this, you want to become being-in-itself by means of becoming an object for other people. Hence you are very interested in social communications, whereas you think very little of physical exercises under the open sky. - While your act of surrender is rational, insofar as it is done against the background of this base project, the base project itself is totally irrational. (Therefore different base projects cannot be discussed. If your base project differs from the base projects of your friends, the difference is irresolvable.)

 Revision of the Original Choice

While it's not possible, that actions contradict the base project (even, if it looks like that), there can be aspects of an action, which are indifferent towards the base project. It's not important, whether I abandon the hike at this point of the way or a few hundred meters ahead. - Indeed, an action can be explained, if it is led back - step by step - to the highest purpose (the base project). But the reverse way isn't practicable, because of the freedom of details. It isn't possible to conclude the actions of a man from his base project. Maybe, I can conclude from the inferiority complex, that the affected man will search a job, which he doesn't measure up to. But I can't conclude, what kind of job it will be.

Since the original choice is a result of freedom, it can be changed freely (Sartre calls this change a "conversion"). A human can at any time change his base reference to the world, one concrete action, which contradicts really the previous base project, is sufficient (you can decide suddenly, to resume the hike and to regard your weariness as a positive feeling). - The only way to salvation, which is accessible for the man with the inferiority complex, is the revision of his original choice, since every acting on the base of the previous original choice will lead him to failure and humiliation, even the attempt, to remove his complex by means of a therapy. Unfortunately the revision of the original choice can't be justified against the background of the previous base project. The crucial action, which contradicts the base project, is already related to the new base project. Therefore it is impossible, to strive for a change of the original choice on the base of the previous choice (unless the real aim is to fail again). The total irrationality, which has been attributed to non-determined acting, is a fact, insofar as this crucial first action is concerned.

In spite of its irrationality and in spite of the fact, that the revision of the original choice doesn't have to amount to an easier life (the original choice cannot be referred to another purpose, e.g. the purpose, to make my life easier), Sartre gets lost in poetical heights, when he talks about it: "These extraordinary and wonderful moments, where the previous project dissolves in the past, illuminated by a new project, which arises from its ruins, and which is for the moment only a hint - where humiliation, anguish, joy, hope marry each other, where we leave hold merely to grab, and where we grab merely to leave hold ..."

According to Sartre, the "conversion" is the "liberating moment". At this point we have to remember the discussion of time: Sartre has strictly denied, that time can be splitted into moments. Why do we meet the concept "moment" (instant) in this context? - Together with consciousness, the world comes into existence and simultaneously present, past and future as a totality. If the original choice changes, the world becomes another one and the temporal totality emerges again! Every base project corresponds to a temporal totality, and therefore the moment of change between two temporal totalities is the only moment, which is not illegitimately abstracted from a totality. (I'm not really sure, if this thought is compatible with Sartre's ontology of time.)

We've seen, that my past is indeed facticity, but a facticity, which is identical with myself. Thus it is not possible, to distance myself from my past in a fundamental way (if I do so, it's merely Bad Faith). - The revision of the original choice changes this situation: insofar as my past is related to the previous base project, it becomes really past, and as such it will not haunt me any longer. And because my future is essentially related to my purposes, it changes as well.

Sartre adds, that the original choice is not merely an event between the temporal totalities. Every single decision can change the original choice, and therefore every single decision, which occurs within the frame of the previous base project is a recapitulation of the related original choice. The original choice is renewed with every decision, that follows its direction.

 The Coefficient of Adversity

Sartre's concept of freedom differs from a common use of the word "freedom": according to the common concept, the freedom of a man consists in his ability, to reach the aims, he has determined. In this sense, a prisoner, who is bound in chains is less free than his custodian. - In contrast, it's a consequence of Sartre's concept of freedom, that each man is equally free as every other man. Different grades of freedom are not possible at all, the limit of freedom is merely itself - i.e. we can't choose, to be unfree. Freedom in this sense is the freedom of choice, the freedom, to determine aims. It doesn't imply, that the aims are achievable aims. Nevertheless freedom of choice presupposes, that at least a try is made, otherwise the choice can't be distinguished from a mere wish. - Therefore Sartre states, that the prisoner is as free as his custodian, since he can try anything and everything (e.g. to escape).

But is it true, that really every man is free in this sense? Assume a man, who's totally paralyzed, but wide awake (quasi a bodyless living brain). If there is no possibility, to accomplish a move, is it still justified to talk about purposes, which this man could try to realize? - Sartre might answer, that this man is indeed able, to determine purposes, but maybe merely mental ones (e.g. he can try to recapitulate in his mind a poem, he's learned in his youth). (And he could still try, to move a limb, although it's de facto impossible.) - Here as everywhere Sartre lacks a discussion of peculiar border cases, e.g. the consciousness of children, of highly developed animals, the dream-consciousness, drug-induced highs, and mental illness. (He makes a comment about insane persons in a footnote: they realize the "Conditio Humana" in their own special way. He means, that even mental illness is a result of a certain original choice (the Conditio Humana is the human nature), so that it's not required to explain those phenomena with respect to some other kind of consciousness or humanity.)

It seems, that the paralyzed has less possibilities of choice than other people. Analogous would be the case of a man, who's informed, that his life will end in ten minutes. Obviously all projects concerning the following day are senseless in his case. So it could be possible to define different grades of freedom by means of different numbers of possibilities. (But is the believe of this man, that he will die in ten minutes, perhaps interpretable as the result of some kind of decision? In this case, the number of possibilities increases again.)

It's not only required, that there are possibilities of choice, but it's also essential for the freedom of choice, that they can't be realized immediately. Otherwise the whole thing happens merely on some dream-level: the determination of a purpose can't be identical with the realization of the purpose (or the word "purpose" loses its meaning). According to Sartre, there has to be a break between the "mere conception and the realization". This break he calls the "coefficient of adversity". Sartre summarizes: "Without obstacles no freedom."

The concept leads to a special kind of problem: whether a thing is an obstacle or an expedient, depends on my determination of purpose. The boulder blocks my way merely, if I intend to reach the other side of it. If it's my intention, to enjoy a panoramic view, the boulder isn't an obstacle, but rather a means, because I can realize the aim by climbing it. - But what happens, if I decide, that the boulder is "too hard to climb"? Do I denote this way a real property of the boulder, or is this qualification just a result of my determination of purposes (a result of the fact, that the importance of the aim is low - which depends on my base project)?

Sartre thinks, that both options are true, but that it's impossible, to distinguish the two components of the coefficient of diversity. The adversity of the boulder is rooted in the being-in-itself, but I'm not enabled, to grasp this root in isolation. Why? - My purposes reveal themselves in the way, in which the things appear to me. If the climbing of the boulder is too hard for me, this fact informs me about my evaluation of the climbing, and nothing else could do this! Sartre regards it as necessary, to assume a component of the adversity, which depends on being-in-itself, since there could be several ways, to realize the same purpose (there might be two boulders, which I could climb, to reach a panoramic viewpoint). If the coefficients of both ways are different (e.g. if one boulder is harder to climb than the other one), this cannot depend on my project (because the purpose is the same).

Assume the following, simple case: I intend to go for a long walk, but a look out of my window teaches me, that a thunder-storm comes up. I abandon my plan with a shrug. - Is this example a demonstration, that adversities can force me to abandon my projects, and isn't it true, that they limit my freedom this way? - Sartre denies it. On the one hand he hints at the fact, that merely minor projects can fall victim to the adversity of the circumstances, but never my base project. Why? Because my evaluation of adversities is itself determined by my base project. On the other hand, it is not really true, that obstacles are capable, to force me, to give up my projects. I can walk, even if it's stormy and raining, and somebody with another base project might enjoy it (e.g. because he's a masochist).

 Living Past and Dead Past

The inextricable coaction of being-in-itself and being-for-itself, which becomes apparent in the case of adversity, hints at a paradox of freedom: our freedom exists merely in a certain situation, but the situation is dependent on our freedom (our purposes determine the appearance of the world). - The same paradox exists concerning the past: if I could withdraw everything from my past, that is dependent on my projects, I would reach a pure past-in-itself. The latter one is therefore merely an unrealizable ideal.

The past appears to us interpreted under the light of the actual project. Sartre gives an example: somebody experiences a religious awakening, when he's 30 years old. It leads him to some variant of rigid christian faith. Assume, that the same man has experienced a religious crisis during his puberty 15 years ago. In the light of his present conversion he must interpret the past crisis as a prelude of his awakening, and he's not capable any more to regard it as a temporary aberration, caused by sexual fears. - One might think, that it should be easier, to abstract a pure past, than to abstract a pure adversity, due to the fact, that the mere concept of "adversity" presupposes an evaluation: the concept doesn't make sense at all without a project behind. Seemingly "objective" adversities (e.g. if a hiking trail is characterized as "difficult" in the guidebook) depend on an assumption e.g. about the motivation of an average tourist, and this assumption is appointed to be the norm.

In contrast my past receives its sense, if it's referred to my actual project. So why isn't it possible, to seperate the sense from the concrete events? Presumably Sartre would hint at the different levels of consciousness. An "objective" past is a phenomenon on the reflective level, while on the pre-reflective level my past is entirely dependent on my projects. On this level the past "haunts" me, in spite of the fact, that it's not thematized (it constitutes the "background" of my consciousness, and e.g. it motivates me to do something). - And Sartre believes, that the "objective", common past is merely derived from the unreflected past (remember the discussion of time).

Sartre distinguishes a living and a dead past. The past lives, if it's carried by the actual base project, and thereby permanently confirmed (example: wedding). But the past is dead, if it's referred to a past base project, which I've rejected by means of a renewed original choice. I think it's part of Sartre's opinion, that merely the living past is able to "haunt" a man. - If the base project has changed, dead parts of the past can suddenly be revived. Hence the meaning of the past is never fixed definitely (even in the case of my death my past receives still its sense - from the projects of other people).

Sartre states, that there's an analogous difference in the case of collective pasts. France's support for the american army during the war of independence has been revived, when the USA have come into the first world war as an ally of France, and not as an ally of Germany. In the contrary case this historical fact would have become a dead fragment. In Germany, large parts of the german history are dead since worldwar II, which have been very vivid before it. Merely the living past is in continuity with the present. - Sartre calls outstanding events of the living past "monuments".

 Being-for-Others - the Outer Border of Freedom

The next addressed issue are the (virtual) limitations of my freedom, which arise from the fact, that my world is populated by fellow humans. We remember the "look", the situation, which causes my being-for-others to emerge, and we remember, that this being-for-others cannot be controlled by myself (but it can be eliminated, by "looking" at the one, who "looks"). - In spite of Sartre's insisting, that freedom can merely be limitated by itself, he tells us now, that the being-for-others constitutes a "factual, real" limitation of my freedom. - How can both be consistent with each other? - The crucial point is, that the limitating factor is another freedom - so freedom is still limitated merely by itself.

But the "freedom, which limitates itself" has been until now the freedom of one person, while it's now the freedom of several persons. Isn't that a transparent trick? - Things become clearer, when Sartre explains, that the limitation by the other's "look" is merely an outer border of my freedom, which can't affect my very freedom, since I'm totally free even against this border. I decide, if I remain "looked" at, or if I break free by "looking" in turn.

And if I adopt my being-for-others, I'm the one who decides, in which way it is adopted. Therefore freedom itself constitutes its own borders. And by the way, the adoption can be done by refusal as well. If a Jew denies furiously the Jewish identity, which is given to him by the anti-Semite, his being-for-others doesn't disappear this way, but is in contrast acknowledged by him, because he has taken a stance against it. The being-for-others disappears not until the jew "looks" at the anti-Semite. In this case even his anger may disappear. (Remember, how lightly we take insults, as long as we perceive the insulting person as determined, as an object, e.g. as mentally ill. By the same token you should be alert, when other people don't sanction your misbehaviour any longer - such an indifference indicates, that the other ones regard you as an object.)

In this context, Sartre introduces the concept "Unrealizable". "Unrealizable" is my being-for-others - I can't perceive it by intuition. One can't feel as a Jew, in the same way, as the anti-Semite sees him "as a Jew", even if one is able to infer the attributes of the anti-Semitic image of Jewishness. My guilt is an "unrealizable" fact as well, which leads Sartre to an interesting interpretation of bad conscience: it emerges not from my guilt as such, but from the fact, that I want to regard myself as guilty (because I accept the established morality), but can't do so. I can't identify myself really with my being-for-others, and bad conscience is the awareness of this failure.

 Language as a "Technique"

There's another potential limitation of my freedom: I live in a world, which is full of utensils. But those utensils are not merely for me, they are for a larger number of people, and their utensility is not determined by me. Their meaning is already fixed, is an objective property of those things, before I use them. A car has to be operated in a special way, if you want to drive it, there are operating instructions. The same applies to the road network, and even to the whole social organisation, which is behind it - and to my language as well.

If I ignore the instructions, which apply to the common utensils, I cannot use them anymore and I confine my radious of operation in a crucial way. - Sartre calls those common utensils "techniques". - My affiliation to social collectives defines itself by means of the used techniques. E.g. I'm a Frenchman, inasmuch as I speak french and inasmuch as I ski in a french way (whatever this means). And I'm part of humanity, because I speak some language at all, and because I use tools at all. I am born into those collectives, and that means, into the realm of certain instructions, which prescribe, how "one" has to do it.

To ignore the instructions, limitates my scope of action, but to obey them, as well: indeed, I can achieve many purposes more simply, if I fit into the social organisation, but this benefit sometimes becomes a disadvantage, e.g. if I get called up and have to expose me to the dangers of war (Sartre shared this experience with a large part of his contemporary readership). - Aren't the common utensils in both cases fatal for my freedom? - As you might expect, Sartre denies this. He attempts to clarify the situation by addressing a particular technique, language.

I want to repeat my statement, that Sartre is no philosopher of language. He refuses it, to give language a special philosophic significance. Where he analyzes human behaviour, he never distinguishes between linguistic and other means of expression. At the present point, he regards language as one human technique among other techniques, and his philosophical analysis concerns language as well as the other techniques. - By the way, Sartre seems to know merely two functions of language - expression and designation.

Sartre opposes the thesis, that there are objective linguistic laws, which resemble the laws of nature. - Linguistics distinguishes between two kinds of laws, laws that rule a system of language at a certain time, and laws of language history. - Sartre regards it as incorrect, to interpret the laws of both kinds as a factor, which determines our speech. What is at the basis of language?

Sartre's answer is: the speaking human being. The speech act is the primary linguistic phenomenon, and the speech act is a result of freedom. Since the laws of language emerge from the free actions of the speakers, they can't determine the behaviour of the speakers. Linguistic laws cannot be compared with e.g. the law of gravitation: my movements are in fact determined by the law of gravitation (a walking person must bow to this law, but he can exploit it as well), but the moving people do not create the law. But exactly this is the case, when people speak!

But Sartre obviously misleads us, if he suggests, that objective laws of language would be a limitation of our freedom. Otherwise even the law of gravitation would be a limitation. Assumed, that people speak merely some innate language with a strict and unalterable grammar (e.g. like dolphins): does this imply, that the speech acts of those people are decisively less free than our speech acts? I don't think so. I'm always capable to utilize laws in my free actions, regardless whether they are fixed or changeable by my actions. - But there's a related view, that really contradicts Sartre's view: it states, that each human behaviour is determined by unconscious structures, which resemble a linguistic system, and whose laws can be described. (This view is held by some structuralistic / post-structuralistic philosophers.)

Sartre mentions a problem, which arises from the relationship between thinking and speaking: if I speak, I must know my thoughts, because I want to express them. But how can I come to know my thoughts, before I express them? Language refers to thinking, and thinking refers to language, the obvious result is a circle. - Sartre doesn't lay claim to resolve this circle, whereas he identifies it as a special case of the paradox of freedom. We remember: my situation is defined by my purposes, but my situation is the base of my purposes as well. Situation and choice refer to each other. - I think, we have to interpret Sartre this way: the pre-linguistic thought is part of my situation, the sentence, which has to be uttered is the purpose.

As mentioned, Sartre regards language merely as an example. Each human technique arises together with the concrete doing of particular persons, hence it can't confine freedom. Sartre hints at the fact, that the application of a technique has not to be comprehended by the applicator during his actions. In most of the cases the application of a technique is simply acting in relation to a purpose. (I don't see myself as someone, who applies the technique "hammering", I simply hammer down a nail.) The technique appears as an object not until I am "looked" at. In this case the technique exists for the other one, who can decide freely, if he wants to adopt my technique and for which purposes. - Sartre summarizes: techniques are never autonomous, they always depend on humans, regardless if they are grasped as objects or just applied on the pre-reflective level.

One might think, that a Neanderthal man was less free than a twentieth-century-man, because the number of techniques, which he could use, was very small. Sartre denies this: the existence of techniques is part of the world, in which I live, and the world is the necessary base for my free choices. Whether there are many techniques or few doesn't affect my freedom: the world of the Neanderthal man is as complete as the world of the modern man, it doesn't seem deficient until someone looks back on it from a future point of view.


One might think, that at least death performs an undeniable border of my freedom. - Before Sartre focuses on this issue, he discusses Heidegger's view concerning death. In Heidegger's philosophy, death acts an important part, since it enables man, to reach "Eigentlichkeit". This term is hard to translate, it denotes Heidegger's version of the concept of authenticity. The total individuality of my death ("Jemeinigkeit"), experienced by means of anguish, can get me to acknowledge my whole life as individual, and therefore to withdraw from the "Man" (the "everyone-existence"). - According to Heidegger, the individuality of my death shows itself in the fact, that no other man can take over my dying.

At this point Sartre butts in: he hints at the fact, that it is indeed possible, in a certain sense, to die instead of some other man (e.g. if my bodyguard is hit by the bullet, which has been targeted at me). In another sense it is indeed impossible to take over the death of another man, but that's a very trivial fact: it's also impossible in this logical sense, that another man feels my emotions. - Sartre concludes from this, that death takes up no exceptional position. It can't help me more to individualize myself than any other phenomenon of life. And if I experience anxiously the individuality of my death, the experience presupposes, that I've grasped myself as an individual before.

But Heidegger's view has more aspects: If I've reached the "Eigentlichkeit", I project myself towards death. According to Sartre, this means, that I involve death in my plans and I expect it / wait for it. But is it possible, to expect death? Merely in exceptional cases, e.g. if I sit on deathrow and know the precise time of my execution. Otherwise death is an event, I can merely be ready for. - Sartre illustrates the difference by means of an example: I can wait for the train to come, whereas I can merely be ready for a delay of the train - I can't wait for the delay.

Sartre is aware of the fact, that this characteristic of death depends on the circumstances. It wouldn't be accurate, if people could die solely of old age or by executions. - The unpredictability of death was a more prominent aspect for Sartre, who wrote "Being and Nothingness" in a German prisoner camp, than it is for his western readers at the beginning of the 21st century.

Death can't be used, to give life a sense. According to Sartre, it is merely the end of my possibilities and therefore absurd. It thwarts my plans and cannot be involved in my plans, as Heidegger thinks. - But there are again exceptional cases: e.g. a suicide or a martyr might project himself towards a certain kind of death. Is at least his death apt, to give life a sense? Unfortunately, not. A suicide as well as a voluntarily accepted martyry is an action, and the meaning of an action is determined in retrospect. Even then it's merely tentative, because it might change if I revise my original choice. - My death could have a tentative meaning for me merely if I survived it. Otherwise its sense is dependent on other people (and still tentative). And if the act of suicide can't have a sense for me, it can't give my life a sense as well.

In this context Sartre talks about the relationship between the death and the living: since the meaning of the life of the death is merely a meaning for the living, we are responsible for the death (not in an ethical sense). If a dead person is forgotten, his personal existence has disappeared. It has dissolved in collectives ("the great feudal landowners of the 13th century"). - We have learned, that the "look" causes a momentary alienation of my person, because it becomes an object for other people. This alienation has reached its highest point in the case of death, because the dead one is not able, to "look" in turn. His object-for-others is all, that remains.

Sartre refuses the ontological relevance of death. Death is a contingent fact (I could be thrown into a world, where nobody ever dies. It wouldn't change the ontological nature of my being-for-itself.) Sartre detects Heidegger's major fault in the confusion of death and finiteness. Man is not finite because of his mortality but he is finite because he has to choose one possibility among others, whenever he concepts his projects, and because of the ultimateness of this decision.

Sartre doesn't discuss the possibility of an afterlife. He just hints at the fact, that philosophy has proceeded from a view, which sees death from its other side to a view, which sees death exclusively from the side of life, as a borderline of life. - We could add, that the question isn't really important for Sartre's philosophy. If there is a "life after death", this amounts simply to the fact, that the very death (the end of my possibilities) has not occured yet. The phrase "life after death" is a metaphor. It denotes the possibility, that the annihilation of my body is not identical with the death of consciousness (and "death" in Sartre's sense is of course the death of consciousness), which could survive in some other body - we know the inconceivability of a bodyless consciousness.

We have still not answered the question, if death is a limitation of my freedom. Sartre states, that death is in fact a kind of border, but an unrealizable border - I can never hit upon it. "Because [death] is the item, that's always beyond my subjectivity, there is no place for it in my subjectivity." - Hence it's not a limitation of my freedom. - Sartre's remark goes in the same direction as other, classical judgements concerning death (e.g. Epikur, Wittgenstein). - (The German writer Bertolt Brecht uttered once, when he was sick to death, that he can't miss anything, if he's missing.)

 Situation and Responsibility

The "situation" is my facticity, as it appears in my eyes, i.e. with regard to my purposes. The situation is my facticity, evaluated by myself, and because of the paradox of freedom I am not able to distinguish the evaluation-component from the pure facticity (the concept of an "objective" facticity is again a secondary derivation). In respect of this inseparability Sartre asserts, that the situation is "neither objective nor subjective", but a synthesis of both.

In a strict sense I'm not responsible for my facticity, e.g. I'm not responsible for the fact, that I'm born in Germany. ("in a strict sense", because it is sometimes expressed the other way by Sartre, where he aims for a puchline). In contrast I'm totally responsible for my situation: I decide, what I make of the fact, that I'm a German. (I emphasize again, that "responsibility" doesn't mean ethical responsibility. Sartre defines "responsibility": to be aware of the fact, that you are the originator.)

From the responsibility for the situation Sartre concludes radically, that humans are never justified, to complain about a situation, regardless of its difficulty. Why? Our complaints base on previous evaluations, and therefore on our freedom. - Sartre illustrates this finding by means of an example, which leads back to real dicussions between Sartre and his fellow soldiers during WWII: I have been called up and therefore my life is endangered. I accuse fate, that I'm in this fatal situation. - But why does it seem so terrible for me, to be in life-danger? Because I evaluate my life higher than the purpose of my mission of war. Otherwise the life-danger would be just an adversity, which is attached to the realization of a particular purpose. - Another possibility: I might deny the value of my life entirely. In this case the war would be welcome, because it provides for the possibility, to get rid of my life without suicide (if I reject suicide for ethical reasons). - The life-danger would be no longer an obstacle, but indeed an expedient!

Sartre characterizes the adequate attitude of a man, who hase realized the entire scope of this truth: he doesn't know remorses, regrets or apologies any more. "But, we mentioned it at the begin of this book, most of the time we flee from anguish into Bad Faith." - Obviously, such an attitude presupposes a state of authenticity. (I will come back to the issue.)

 Existential Psychoanalysis: Explanation through the Base Project

At the beginning of his discussion of "Existential Psychoanalysis" Sartre summarizes the difference between the usual contemporary explanation of desires and his own explanation. It's common to explain human behaviour through desires, but this explanation requires two presuppositions: On the one hand desires have to be essentially psychic entities, and on the other hand desires have to produce other desires according to certain laws: concrete desires emerge from abstract desires.

We can illustrate this procedure by means of an example: X earns legally more money than he can spend, but furthermore he evades paying taxes. The common explanation tells us, that X is excessively greedy of money. But why is merely X greedy but not Y, who earns the same, but pays his taxes? The explanation must be, that, in contrast to Y, X is excessively greedy of recognition (which presupposes, that there are people who know and who admire his real revenues). In this manner, the urge, to evade taxes is explained through the desire for money and the desire for money in turn through the desire for recognition. - What's so unsatisfactory about it? - Sartre gives three reasons: On the one side the reduction of the concrete to the abstract can't provide a complete explanation for the concrete case. In addition, the endpoint of the explanation is arbitrary, and finally the assumption, that a desire is a kind of entity, ignores its relatedness to some purpose.

The first point is clear enough: the greed for money must not necessarily lead to tax evasion. It can lead to overtime-work or to bank robberies as well. The individuality of the concrete desire is ignored, if it is led back to the abstract. The farther the explanation goes, as much more gets lost, the unexplained part of the concrete case increases! - Sartre's second argument asks, why we have to stop the explanation at a certain point. Why isn't the desire for recognition explainable through some more abstract desire as well?

Of course, the argument presupposes Sartre's capability to provide a plausible endpoint of psychological explanations. Otherwise one may hint simply at the present state of reseach, which doesn't allow it to proceed further. And indeed Sartre thinks, that he's found a plausible endpoint - the phenomenological / ontological description of being-for-itself. - We remember, that Sartre has dealt with desire before: he has told us, that desires need to be explained through other desires and and that the ultimate desire is the lack of being, which characterizes being-for-itself. (Consciousness grasps itself as an incomplete being. Therefore its "value" is, to become a unity of being-for-itself and being-in-itself.) - The desire to reach the "value" is an ontological property of consciousness, which is shared by all human beings.

But isn't exactly this fact in turn a limitation of freedom? There is obviously at least one project, which is not freely chosen - the project, to reach the "value". - According to Sartre, this objection bases on a misunderstanding. The project to reach the "value" (not to be confuzed with the base project!!) doesn't prescribe our purposes, it's merely their "sense". One could say, that the pursuit of the value acts as a kind of "metastructure", which underlies indeed all free decisions, but doesn't determine them. - The desire for the "value" is too general, to explain concrete human desires and behaviours. Therefore it cannot be the endpoint of explanation. Instead of it, the endpoint is the second position in the hierarchy of projects, the base project.

The base project concerns the most general method, by means of which an individual tries to achieve the "value". We've already seen two concrete base-projects: the project, to reach the "value" by means of a merger with being-in-itself and the project, to reach the "value" by means of identification with the being-for-others. The first base project leads its owner to be keen on sports, since sports increases the body-feeling. In contrast, the second one motivates its owner to despise bodily activity and to prefer acts of communication with other people, because it's their picture of himself, he wants to become identical with. (If you look at those examples, the impression arises, that there are merely a few possible base projects. But Sartre thinks, that there are much more.)

To lead back the concrete desires to the base project - is this procedure really clean of the three essential lacks, which Sartre imputes to the traditional method? - It's out of question, that the desire in Sartre's eyes isn't a psychic entity without reference to the world: a desire defines itself by reference to the desired purpose. And it's also true, that the base project must be the endpoint of explanation (presupposed, that Sartre's ontology is correct). Behind the base project is merely the lack of being, which is shared by all humans. Therefore the base project must be the starting point for all concrete desires.

But what about the described "loss during abstraction"? Isn't Sartre's base project a very abstract concept as well? Has the desire to merge with being-in-itself to express itself under all circumstances by means of bodily activity? - But Sartre's view amounts to the following: the base project doesn't exist in abstract remoteness, but it "expresses itself entirely" in each concrete act. We have to remember, that each decision can change the original choice and thereby the base project. The original choise isn't a decision which has occured earlier than each concrete decision, but every decision wants to realize the purpose of the original choice and determines this purpose anew.

 Existential Psychoanalysis Versus Classical Psychoanalysis

The aim of Existential Psychoanalysis is to determine the original choice of a person by means of an analysis of his concrete actions / desires. But Psychoanalysis can't provide for this aim by itself, it has to receive it from ontology (and insofar as Sartre's ontology is phenomenology as well, Sartre realizes Husserl's program of a phenomenological fundamentation of the particular sciences). The term "psychoanalysis" refers to Sigmund Freud - in which way is Sartre's concept related to Freud's theories? - As we already know, Sartre denies the existence of a subconsciousness in Freud's sense and he denies the existence of psychic entities (like Freud's "drives") as well. Nevertheless Sartre regards himself explicitly as a successor Freud's: the Existential Psychoanalysis wants to be a kind of ontologically revised remake of the classical Psychoanalysis. - Sartre outlines the differences and similarities of both concepts:

Both theories share the approach, to interpret concrete psychic facts as representations of underlying structures, by means of which the fundamental attitude of the regarded human shall be unveiled. The "fundamental attitude" in Sartre's sense is of course the base project, while Freud identifies it with the "complex". (A "complex" in Freud's sense is an unconscious scope of thoughts and interests, which determines the concrete behaviour of a man - e.g. the "inferiority complex" or the "Oedipus complex".) - Furthermore, both concepts share the presupposition, that man is essentially a historical being: his acting has to be explained with recourse to the past and not with recouse to innate behaviour patterns. Man has to be seen as "acting in the world" ("in his situation", as Sartre expresses it). The last agreement concerns the thesis, according to that a man can't analyze himself more adequate (and maybe even less adequate) than some other person. - The thesis justifies the analyst's right to exist.

The last point denotes the difference between both theories: it lies in the respectively invoked explanatory statements. Freud's reasoning is obvious: the complex is unconscious, it can't be grasped by introspection, and it might be a source of resistance against the recognition of its existence. Sartre can't take such an easy way out, since the base project is conscious. Why is the analyzed person even then not in a privileged position, concerning the recognition of his base project?

The crucial point lies in the word "recognition". Every man is indeed aware of his base project, but that doesn't mean, that he recognizes it. - We might feel tempted, to interpret this by means of the old distinction between the pre-reflective and the reflective level of consciousness, but this would be misleading: even if I reflect upon my purposes, this isn't identical with the cognition of the base project, which expresses itself in those purposes. The base project is indeed not hidden from reflection, "everything is accessible", but intuition provides merely for a kind of "raw material", which has to be elaborated conceptually, to lead to knowledge. And this elaboration is done from the perspective of the "look": the analyzed person has to be objectified, to enable the analysis. And insofar as it is possible to look at yourself with the eyes of another person, there is indeed a possibility of self-analysis.

The base project is identical with the being-for-itself's base relation to the world. (Being-for-itself defines itself by means of this relationship - remember the "circle of selfness".) Hence the base project is necessarily beyond cognition, because cognition is an attitude towards the components of the world, which is as such determined by the base project. And here we find the reason, why Sartre regards it as necessary, to objectify the being-for-itself in the case of an analysis. - The gained knowledge can be used by the analysed person (in a second step), to classify the things correctly, which are perceived by him during his state of reflection. (But this knowledge cannot be a real knowledge for the analysed person, merely "quasi-knowledge").

 The Practice of Existential Psychoanalysis

The awareness of the base concept can be used, to explain a phenomenon, which occurs very often in the psychoanalytical practice, and which is - according to Sartre - incompatible with the theory of classical Psychoanalysis: it involves the moment, during which the analysed person recognizes himself, while the resistances disappear at once. The classical psychoanalysist interprets this event as the signal, that the analysis has reached its goal. But how can this happen, if the revealed complex has been unconscious?

As such it can't be compared by the analysed person with the analyst's image of it, therefore the sudden self-recognition must be a deception. - The existential analyst doesn't meet this problem: the patient is not forced to compare the analyst's description with an unconsious entity, but he detects it's conformity with things, which he's always been aware of, even without recognition. The existential psychoanalyst can take the signal serious, without contradicting his own theory.

An important tool for the classical analyst is the interpretation of utterances, actions and elements of dream-tales as symbolic representations. According to Freud, unconscious drives achieve a kind of compensational fulfillment by means of those representations, a fulfillment, which can't be recognized by the psychic censor. - The part, which is played by those compensational fulfillments in Existential Psychoanalysis is not quite obvious, since it denies unconsious drives: nevertheless Sartre holds onto this method. Does a concrete action or utterance represent the base concept symbolically, inasmuch as it refers to it?

Anyway, Sartre confines himself to deny general representations and to insist on their individuality. A catalogue of symbols (e.g. "longish things represent the phallus") is impossible, because the used symbols have to be interpreted mainly with reference to the individual base concept. According to Sartre, it is indeed possible, that the patient changes his original choice during the analysis, and in this case all previously detected meanings of symbols become invalid. - Generally spoken, the existential analyst should regard the individuality of his patients much stronger than the classical analyst: the method has to be adjusted for every single patient.

The very aim of a classical psychoanalysis is not merely, to detect the underlying complexes, but rather to remove the symptoms, the patient (or his dependants) suffers from. The analysis isn't a self purpose, but a means to reach healing. - At this point one might ask, if Sartre's remake is enabled, to pursue a similar purpose: an actual base project can't provide for a motive, to change the underlying original choice, since each motive is a motive within the frame of the actual base project. The analyst can't raise the patient's hope, that his therapy can affect a healing. The only one who's able to revise the original choice is the analysed person himself, no analysis can help to promote a revision. Sartre suggests, that the last purposes, which can be detected by Existential Analysis might be classified, to provide the fundament for a general classfication of human base projects. - And this might be indeed the only purpose of his method.

 Begierde nach Besitz

All desires can be led back to the base desire of being-for-itself, to ground itself. Because this desire is already there, when being-for-itself emerges from the being-in-itself, it's a desire without a desiring person, according to Sartre. All concrete desires aim for the fulfillment of this original desire, which is common to all humans, even if the base projects refer to individual choices. It's this commonness, which allows it to understand the base projects of other people.

The concrete desires can be classified according to their objects. Sartre thinks, that there are merely three classes of desires: the desire to have, the desire to do and the desire to be. The desire to do can be reduced to the desire to have, because each acting (with the exception of genuine playing, as we will see) attempts to achieve some possession: that's true even for sportive activities - the sportsman tries in fact to acquire some part of the world (e.g. in the case of a skier, a pristine snow-area). - But there are still two classes left, the desire for possession and the desire for being. - And where do we find the desire for knowledge in this scheme? Sartre thinks, that this desire amounts to a desire for possession as well.

Each desire tries to achieve the "value", so what about possessiveness? Sartre postulates a very ideal of possession, which is, to become identical with the possessed thing. The owner is ideally identical with his properties, they act as a kind of "emanation" of the owner into being-in-itself. This ideal is more original than the juridical forms of possession, what becomes obvious, if we look at archaic mortuary practices: the rulers are buried with their possessions (e.g. horses, slaves, women). Those facts prove, that the thought of identity has been obvious back then. (In his war-diaries Sartre states, that the widespread assumption, that the dead ruler needs his possessions in the afterlife, is merely a subsequent rationalization.)

Whoever tries to possess something, tries in fact to become identical with a piece of being-in-itself. And if you regard the fact, that the original method, to achieve possession, is neither purchase nor excange, but manufacturing, the whole thing straightens out: the possessed thing is not only being-in-itself and identical with its owner, but it even has a reason of being - namely its manufacturer / owner. Therefore the owned thing is the owner as the realization of a self-grounded unity of being-for-itself and being-in-itself!

Because each realization of the "value" is merely virtual - there is never a real identity - Sartre draws the conclusion, that possessing is a symbolic fulfillment of the original desire for being. (Different from Freud's view, the purpose of the representation is only the surrogate-fulfillment, because Sartre denies a psychic censor, which has to be misleaded.) - In modern times, this representation is superimposed by another one: the manufacturing of a good is replaced by the purchase of a good. Purchase symbolizes the manufacturing - hence a self-manufactured thing must be more attractive, because one level of representation has disappeared. Sartre finds a proof for this assertion in the fact, that smokers regard hand-rolled cigarettes as better-tasting (I support this view).

Sartre doesn't stand still at this point, but he offers a downright theory of smoking, which is used by him to exemplify some aspects of possession. At first the fact attracts attention, that a smoker enjoys his possession by destroying it. How can we explain this fact? The smoker should be satisfied, one might think, to find himself as a self-grounded being in the owned tobacco-filled paper-roll. - But if the smoker looks closely at his cigarette, he may find, that there is no real reference of the cigarette to himself. The illusion of an identity disappears and the thing appears meaningless. According to Sartre, the smoker has still two possibilities left, to renew the illusion: on the one hand the thing can be used by him (the use acts as the continuation of the manufacturing - if the thing changes during its use, this is merely an additional proof, that the thing is grounded by his owner).

The second possibility arises from the fact, that each kind of acquisition doesn't lead to the desired pleasure of possessing, since the "value" is in fact unachievable. This disappointment can mislead the owner into annihilating the possessed thing. What's the benefit of annihilation? It can be interpreted as a kind of assimilation. The thing remains as a past thing being-in-itself, whereas its invisibility seems to render it a kind of being-for-itself. The illusion of identity is therefore more easily preservable than by means of simple use. - And that's the reason for the incomprehensible fact, that a smoker destroys the dearly bought cigarettes by means of fire! Sartre summarizes: "Destroying has to be classified as a kind of acquisition." - Even giving is according to Sartre an example for an acquisition by means of destroying. Hence the first question of the analyst, when he's confronted with a particular generous patient, has to be: "why has this subject chosen the acquisition by means of destroying and not the acquisition by means of manufacturing"? - The manipulation of the presentee is merely a secondary advantage of the giving.

Sartre asks, why the smoker's lust for living decreases generally, if he quits smoking. The simple waiver of the destroying of cigarettes isn't able to explain, why many other pleasures decline simultaneously. (Obviously, Sartre didn't know the concept of an "addiction", or he ignored it, because it is not compatible with the freedom of the subject.) - Sartre thinks, that the reason can be found in the fact, that a possessed thing represents symbolically the whole world - to acquire one thing is to acquire the world, and therefore the loss of one thing (e.g. the waiver of smoking) represents the loss of the whole world.

Cognition is a kind of acquisition as well - the acquisition of a thought. If I'm the first one, who's detected some truth, this knowledge is not only entirely grounded by me, but totally independent from myself as well (because even unknown truths are truths). The possession of a knowledge resembles the sexual act: the woman is possessed by the man, but without losing her independent existence. "The researcher is the hunter, who staggers a white nudity and who rapes her with his looks." - Sartre thinks, that the ideal identity of the researcher (owner) with the knowledge (the possession) helps to promote the philosophical misapprehension, according to which cognition acts as a kind of assimilation of the recognized thing (Sartre alludes to some idealistic French philosophers).

We should keep in mind, that there is another method, how desire searches for the "value", although Sartre doesn't mention it here. He has told us, that desires do not try to annihilate themselves, but to become desires-in-itself. The desire is not merely the desire for something, but always simultaneously the desire to become a completed being (i.e. the completed being of consciousness) as a fulfilled desire.

 Desire for Being and Authenticity

Sometimes Sartre is called "the philosopher of authenticity", thus it's a surprising result of the lecture of "Being and Nothingness", that it contains merely short and adumbrative remarks concerning the issue. It is even more surprising, if you read the war-diaries: Sartre tried very seriously to achieve authenticity, and he annoyed his comrades by accusing them of non-authenticity. And furthermore, his novels from this period deal with persons, who achieve authenticity or who fail to reach it.

Sartre has stated, that sincerity towards oneself is an impossible ideal, because it requires a man, to be what he is - and that contradicts the fundamental non-identity of consciousness with itself. In a foonote he has added, that the ideal of authenticity has not to be confused with this impossible ideal, because it is an "adoption of the tainted being". During the discussion of pure reflection we have been suddenly confronted with the fact, that there is still a possibility, to conquer Bad Faith, namely to recognize oneself as being-for-itself, by means of pure reflection. - And we have seen, that the only non-functional emotion is anguish, so that it can be called the only authentic emotion.

Later on Sartre has demonstrated, that all human attitudes are condemned to failure, because each of them attempts, to achieve the "value". Again this remark seems to imply the inconceivability of authenticity, and again Sartre denies this in a rather obscure way: a "radical conversion", which can lead to "salvation" might be still possible, he states. - Another remark Sartre's in the context of his discussion of responsibility can be refered to some person, who has reached authenticity: "Whoever realizes his situation, to be thrown into a responsibility, which leads back into his thrownness, doesn't know remorses, regrets or apologies any more; he is merely a freedom, which discovers itself as its total self, and whose being is based on this discovery. But, [...] most of the time we flee from anguish into Bad Faith."

In the context of his classification of base desires, Sartre has mentioned the desire, to be. Because each desire is the desire for being-in-itself-for-itself, they can all be led back to a desire for being in one sense. But Sartre mentions a desire for being, which goes in some other direction and which refers obviously to the ideal of authenticity: this desire expresses itself in playing. Of course, "playing" in this sense doesn't mean illegal poker games or games, which aim for some victory over a fellow player. I think, Sartre's concept has much more in common with the improvisation of a jazz musician. "Playing" is the use of freedom, but without denying it: the freedom is intended and accepted. But for which being strives such a player? Not for the completed "value", but for the imperfect being-for-itself, as it is!

Sartre calls the contrary attitude the "spirit of seriousness". A human, who has adopted this attitude, denies his freedom and sees himself (in a state of Bad Faith) as an object, whose behaviour follows certain laws. He regards it as totally impossible, to do something in another way, than "everybody" does it. - Maybe, we should think of certain gloomy warnings, which we were confronted with in our childhood (at least in my generation), if we want to understand, why Sartre uses the word "seriousness" in this context. "Now you are still a carefree child, but the gravity of life will come over you very soon!" - The meaning of the "gravity of life" is of course the fact, that an adult is wedged in between countless constraints, which are unknown to the child. - As we've learned, Sartre regards those constraints as merely virtual. The "player" is the one, who's aware of this fact, and he doesn't flee from this awareness into Bad Faith.

As a summary, the ideal of authenticity amounts to the following: it requires sincerity towards yourself, but not the sincerity of a man, who regards himself sincerely as an object (which is just a variant of Bad Faith). Furthermore it requires the use of pure reflection, to unmask Bad Faith and to recognize yourself as a free being-for-itself. And it requires, that you accept your being as a being-for-itself. - We might add, that such an attitude cannot be merely a momentary event (which e.g. occurs occasionally, when you philosophize), but it has to be an attitude, which characterizes the whole life and which is preceded by some kind of conversion.

But why does Sartre avoid a detailled discussion of this important issue and confines himself to bashful allusions? The reason might be, that Sartre didn't know how to affiliate the ideal of authenticity to his philosophical system (I adopt this thought from P. V. Spade). - I add two supporting points: on the one hand it is impossible (after all), to desire something without aiming for the "value". Therefore the ideal of authenticity can't be desired (without Bad Faith). And the doing of a man, who's reached authenticity, must be still connected to purposes (otherwise it would be no acting at all, but merely senseless movement), and purposes are an issue of desire. Furthermore it is inconceivable, that being-for-itself wants itself as such, if the being-for-itself is essentially the strive for another form of being.

On the other hand, the question arises, why we should aim at the ideal of authenticity? Sartre is obviously convinced, that this ideal isn't merely some private spleen, but in fact something, which is estimable for all people. But how can an ethical concern like this be integrated in a philosophy, which denies the existence of objective values and which leads back all values to the total freedom of consciousness?

 Psychoanalysis of Things

The issue is the psychoanalytic explanation of the preferences (and aversions), which some people have for things with certain qualities, and which can express themselves in e.g. an affinity to special foods, but as well in the choice of particular scenes by a visual artist. The word "quality" denotes properties like e.g. grainy, solid, liquid, sticky, etc. - In this sense the nobel-priced German author Günter Grass prefers dishes with slimy consistency (like innards, mushroom dishes, eel), as he mentioned in his book "From the Diary of a Snail". - In spite of the fact, that such preferences are called "tastes" and that taste is recognized widely as an issue, which can't be discussed, it's a rule of thumb, that people tend to regard their own tastes as universally valid. (If there are other people, who don't share my tastes, they are surely pitiful victims of some deception or some prejudice, which prevents them from real treats.) - How can we explain this phenomenon?

It seems natural to think, that tastes are not a result of pure coincidence, but have some kind of meaning, which can be explained by means of psychoanalysis. To promote a clarification, it might be useful, to find metaphorical usages of the words, which denote the questionable qualities. E.g. we call a person "slimy" (at least in German language), if his cheerfulness seems overstated and raises suspicion, that he intends a manipulation or a cheat. So it might seem plausible, that an aversion for slimy dishes can be explained through the assumption, that the concerned person gained bad experiences with "slimy" persons and now projects this adversity onto the things.

Sartre refuses this interpretation. It presupposes, what it tries to explain. The hideousness of slimy things can't be led back to "slimy" people, because in turn the metaphorical sense of "slimy" bases on the fact, that many people regard slimy things as hideous. Apart from this, it can be shown (according to Sartre), that even children, who have never met a "slimy" person, dislike slimy things. Therefore the disgusting character of slimy things cannot be explained by projections, but is immediately connected to those things.

Fundamentally, the relation from the being-for-itself to being-in-itself consists in a desire for acquisition: man wants to acquire the being-in-itself, to become identical with it and to reach this way the "value". The base project determines the special kind of acquisition. E.g. the quality "liquid" refers to water: on the one side you can immerse yourself in it, whereas on the other side water will slide away from you. The corresponding acquisition of being-in-itself is such, that being-for-itself isn't affected by it - somebody, whose base project goes in this direction, likes probably liquid materials. - Another quality is "sticky". It refers to the possibility, to be assimilated by being-in-itself: a man, whose base project requires, to become being-in-itself-for-itself by means of a merger with being-in-itself (by means of losing his freedom), will love sticky things.

Sartre emphasizes, that the symbolic meaning of the qualities isn't subjected to our free choice. The base project doesn't determine the symbolic meaning of sticky things, but merely, if you like this quality or if you hate it. Therefore the symbolic meaning can be explained without analyzing single humans, so the term "Psychoanalysis of Things" is justified. The symbolic meaning is of course related to the subject, but merely in the way, in which the potencies of things are related to the subject - it's nevertheless objective.

At this point the impression arises once more, that the number of possible base projects must be small, even if Sartre maintains the contrary (why doesn't he offer more examples?). - I skip Sartres discussion of the psychoanalytic meaning of holes. It amounts to the thesis, that children are fascinated by holes, not because of sexual reasons, but because of the fact, that holes have a certain meaning in the explained sense.

 Metaphysical Conclusions

Sartre closes "Being and Nothingness" with some final remarks concerning the issues metaphysics and ethics. The "Metaphysical Aperçus" (an "aperçu" is usually a kind of aphorism, in this context the original meaning of the word - "a volatile look" - is more appropriate) lead back into the core of his ontology. Oddly enough, Sartre defines "metaphysics" as a diachronic science, which is related to ontology as history is related to sociology: the aim of metaphysics is to show, how the structures, which are the issue of ontology, have emerged. - Sartre diverges thereby from the common use of the term, according to which his ontological efforts might be a kind of metaphysics.

In Sartre's sense it's a metaphysical question, why the absolute event - the emergence of being-for-itself from being-in-itself - has happened at all. We remember, that Sartre has described the event as an attempt of being-in-itself, to ground itself. Now he admits, that this description is unsustainable: being-in-itself had to be already consciousness, to have a desire for grounding. Therefore Sartre confines himself to the assertion, that ontology is merely capable to provide for an as-if-description. Everything behaves, as if there has been a project of being-in-itself, to achieve a self-grounding by turning into being-for-itself. It's a metaphysical task, to offer hypotheses about the actual event. (According to Sartre, another task might be, to answer the question, if movement - which implies a non-identity of the moving thing with itself - is such an attempt as well.)

When Sartre has presented the distinction between the areas of being, being-in-itself and being-for-itself, he not only has asked, how a conncection between both is possible, but also, why it is justified, to subsume both areas under one concept "being". Sartre regards the first question as answered - the connection arises from the fact, that being-for-itself is negated being-in-itself (the nothingness in being-for-itself has to be related to a being, and this being is being-in-itself). The being-for-itself emerged from being-in-itself, and it subsists, inasmuch as it defines itself as not being the being-in-itself. This amounts to the fact, that no consciousness is conceivable without a conciousness-independent being, of which it is consciousness: consciousness is the internal negation of being-in-itself. - The second question (Is the subsumation of being-for-itself and being-in-itself under one and the same concept of "being" permitted?) is according to Sartre identical with the question, if there is a totality, from which being-in-itself and being-for-itself are aspects of. What does that mean?

The existence of such a totality requires, that both aspects are not able to exist alone. This verdict Sartre's shows, that the issue here is not merely a logical subsumation of concepts under a genus. (Tigers and guinea pigs are subsumed under the genus "mammal", but they don't perfom a totality in the mentioned sense, because tigers would be still mammals, even if guinea pigs didn't exist any more due to extinction.) The question might be better expressed this way: are both areas of being merely aspects of one and the same thing (the same being)? - Sartre's theory presupposed, the answer is clear: the being-for-itself can't exist without being-in-itself, but being-in-itself can awfully well exist without being-for-itself. Another point is the logical incompatibility of both concepts: how could the concept of a being, which is identical with itself and the concept of a being, which is not identical with itself, present themselves as aspects of one and the same totality? - Therefore on the one hand a totality seems to be impossible, while on the other hand the unilateral dependence of being-for-itself on being-in-itself as well as the absolute event suggest, that there must be nevertheless some kind of unity.

Sartre tries to resolve the dilemma by calling the problematic totality "detotalized", but that (I think) simply amounts to the admission, that he can't resolve the dilemma: being can be regarded as a totality, but it can be regarded as a non-totality as well. A preference for the one or the other can be justified merely by pragmatic reasons: e.g. the assumption, that there is a totality, might serve as kind of "regulative idea" in Kant's sense. - Interestingly enough, Sartre thinks, that metaphysics could be able to explain the capability of being-for-itself to affect being-in-itself (as we've seen, such a kind of causation is actually impossible in the context of Sartre's system).


On the base of Sartre's system the prospects for the development of an ethics are very gloomy. All values, which could lead the actions of a man, are freely chosen and they refer merely to freedom itself and to the impossible ideal of the "value". - If it's the task of an ethic, to detect universal values, which are binding for every human, this part of philosophy must be redundant, because it attempts to find impossible things - as long as we take Sartre seriously.

And Sartre doesn't deny this in his closing remark, which is titled "Ethical Perspectives". He clarifies his view, that all human activities are equivalent. The only difference between acting persons might be the level of clearness concerning the ontological background: "If one of those activities exceeds the other one, that's not due to its real aim, but due to the grade of consciousness, which it shows concerning its ideal aim. In this case it will happen, that the quietism of the lonely drunkard has advantage over the idle bustle of leaders of peoples."

We could add, that in this sense even the actions of Jack the Ripper might exceed the actions of Mother Teresa, if they are performed with more clarity concerning the "value", and we might assume, that Sartre at this point sneaks a universal value in his philosophy, the value of clarity. - In his lecture "Existentialism is a Humanism", written three years after "Being and Nothingness", Sartre will try to reduce the gap between his approach and other views, which aim for moral engagement.

At the end, Sartre asks, if it is possible to abandon the aim of self-grounding and to choose freedom and thereby the ambiguous existence of being-for-itself as an ideal. We've already mentioned, that the ideal of authenticity seems to require such a possibility, and that the givenness of such a possibility questions the whole of Sartre's ontology. So one might say, that Sartre closes "Being and Nothingness" by doubting the theory, which is developed in the book.