Critiquing Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being And Nothingness

S.D. Badlands

For Whom Do I Choose?
Concluding Thoughts

Because of the freedom, which I am, I am condemned to face a world of
content as a nothing. I am not, so the world can be. Because I have a
hole in my being, worldliness, spatiality, quantity, temporality, and
instrumentality lie before me. All knowledge is found everywhere
except in the for-itself. What did Midas do with all that gold? Midas
possessed the one thing that he thought could make him happy, but it
didn’t. My knowledge of the world is a consequence of my nothingness,
which, in turn, is a consequence of my freedom. “But am I more joyful
because of this freedom?”

That question could be better answered if I first could answer the
question, “Joy for whom?” I believe, “For whom?” is the essential
question here. Without a “who,” enjoyment is a mere response, a
response appropriated from the outside world. “I ought to enjoy or not
enjoy something” provides the “context for enjoyment.” That’s not
freedom; that’s behaviorism. Sartre has led us down a long and winding
road, but has he taken us anywhere? My lack, hole, nothingness (it
makes no difference how you say it–all are equivalent) allows me a
certain degree of freedom, but this freedom works its magic on already
determined soil. How am I free when my choices are given to me as
already conditioned by my situation?

We are not free for something; rather we are free only to be not
something. The negation of being is our most potent freedom. All
positing is conditioned, and therefore falls short of freedom. We are
only really free in negation. What is negated, it seems to me at
least, is a product of my environment. It is through “acts of
negation” where I experience my real freedom, but what is that, more
gold at the touch of a finger?

Man is free, and freedom is perhaps his most cherished possession.
Yet, what exactly does this freedom do for us? Are we really nothing?
What we recognize as identities the Hindus call Maya, or illusion.
The permanence that we attach ourselves to is simply the putting on
and taking off, of the “stuff” we find in our environment. It’s all Maya.

What can we do with this freedom? Again, we must pause. We can do
nothing with freedom. Freedom, however, does everything to us. It
establishes the connection between our body and things. It allows us
to access our beliefs. Is there a conflict here between the knowledge
that comes to us from the outside world and our inner emotional states
that often times color that knowledge? “No,” says Sartre. Given that
the body is my contingency, freedom still manifests my choice whether
I choose to act with passion, or with reason. Freedom is everything,
yet it cannot be apprehended. It just is.

How do we appropriate our own freedom? Freedom is all we are, and yet
it is not ours to determine. We are the being that is what it is not,
and it is not what it is. We are that being because freedom negates
the being we are, and as such, we are nothing, so we can become
conscious of everything else. We are the lack that continually refers
to the lacked. These conditions permit Sartre to define our
consciousness as: “Consciousness is a being such that in its being,
its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other
than itself.” With all this, can we be surprised to find in our
experience so many unresolved issues, unsatisfied desires, and
questions? I think not.

Finally, is freedom worth the praise lavished upon it? We cannot
determine freedom apart from the determination that makes us be. We
are inseparable from our own freedom. We are confronted by what Sartre
calls, “A point of view on which there can be no further point of
view.” The legitimacy of this point is brought home with another
question, “What if we weren’t free? And here we’re talking about
consciousness where consciousness as we know it ceases to exist. I
suppose Sartre, here, consoles himself with the belief that death is
mere being in-itself. Yet, I am moved by the sheer absurdity of it
all. We do not have a choice not to be, but then the absurdity of
absurdity occurs, and we die. Sartre poignantly describes life when he
says, “It is a wait for a wait for a wait.” I’ll let the
metaphysicians have the last word here, but not until the matter of
Jimmy gets puts to rest. Sartre is probably right. Human nature
doesn’t exist. Our destiny is a product of choice. Jimmy is free to
choose himself. Good or bad, right or wrong, happily or sadly, Jimmy
is free to choose himself. God help us all if Jimmy was
other-determined—a mere puppet on a string.


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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3 Responses to Critiquing Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being And Nothingness

  1. Mèo Lười Việt says:

    A mere puppet on a string. That’s terrible. I think there’s no absolute freedom. You have to choose between freedom in terms of material or worldly posessions or freedom in terms of soul. If you follow your noble dream you have to accept the truth that you maybe put into jail, but no one can force you change your ideal if you don’t want to. I like the sentence of Uncle Ho.

    My body is in jail, but my soul is free! 😀
    Thân ở trong lao, hồn ở ngoài lao

  2. bwinwnbwi says:

    The negation/nothingness of Sartre’s for-itself consciousness—the ~bb of b~b~bb, not only permits solutions to mathematical equations, i.e., logic/affirmative ideal, it also, at the level of the very small (~~b), permits/births cosmos, nature, and the logic that we use to understand cause/effect (classical theory) and you and me.

    “Time of mind,” or discontinuity occurring in continuity (b~b~bb), in any final sense, cannot become conscious of itself because it carries within itself the rift of nothingness that negates. Without this nothingness our capacity for questioning (and logic) would not/could not exist. At the depths of the physical universe where everything is broken up into discreet bits, where behavior exists in a discontinuous, indeterminate, and non-local way, we also discover a rift of nothingness (~~b). This nothingness, the nothingness that separates/connects particles to waves, the nothingness that links different regions of space together (where entangled particles are), is also the nothingness that permits/births—via the per mutation of ~~b into ~bb (life structure) and into the per mutation of ~bb into b~b~bb (Sartre’s for-itself consciousness structure)—the freedom of self-consciousness—the freedom to build civilizations that sustain life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!

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