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Being and Nothingness: An Essay on…
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Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (1943)

by Jean-Paul Sartre

Other authors: マルティン ハイデッガー (Contributor), ジョルジュ バタイユ (Contributor), モーリス ブランショ (Contributor), アルベール カミュ (Contributor), フランツ カフカ (Contributor)2 more, ジャン-ポール サルトル (Contributor), 埴谷 雄高 (Contributor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
It goes without saying that Being and Nothingness is a quintessential book in regards to studying existentialism. Nevertheless one must keep in mind that Sartre is the only philosopher to have claimed to be an “existentialist.” Existentialism is not a system, and it is not going to be found solely in Sartre’s Opus. The range of writers – from those that were dead before the thread was acknowledged to those who denounced the classification of their own work as such but are nevertheless considered to be so – is astronomical. And for those who sympathize with these ideas it should come as little surprise, for personally I feel that all humanism has an existentialist foundation.

It is a wonder though how far we have moved away from those ideas. The radically growing cult of the self that has been snowballing for at least the past decade and which has in my eyes lead us to so much of the world crises that we see today (ironically which were similar social elements that inspired such writers as Sartre, Camus, Heidegger, Ortega, etc. to flourish with these very ideas), portrays a very grim future and a lamentable entrenchment into a solipsism that is so consumed with itself that it can’t even recognize itself as such – a condition which these writers primarily set out to prevent. Even in France today you find novelists such as Michel Houellebecq meeting universal approbation for portraying these very themes in contemporary culture (I guess as a historical moment in European philosophy the case is considered to be settled and left alone; yet another grim estimation of contemporary society).

As for the book in question though, it is a trial to read. Ontology is definitely not Sartre’s strong point, and if the beginning is difficult to get through it’s not just because of its weighty content, but because Sartre himself stumbles through it all quite a bit himself. The primary writers who contribute to Sartre’s thought are Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger – all of which it helps to have a decent understanding of in order to follow where he is going.

Of greatest interest to me in reading Being and Nothingness was Sartre’s essential continuation of Heidegger’s existential analytic. The majority of Sartre’s set-up, despite his repeated “critiques” of Heidegger’s thought (his stumbling through ontology I feel is a direct result of his not fully comprehending him), is in fact derived straight out of Being and Time. It is even rumored that, for what it’s worth, Sartre continually tried to prevent Being and Time from being translated into French.

Either way I was most disappointed with Heidegger for never having broached a social/pragmatic interpretation of Dasein in regards to others and our complex reciprocal relationships – and this is of course just what Sartre picks up and does. This for me is the great wealth to be found in Being and Nothingness. Sartre was one of the first to not be afraid to use literary references in his philosophical writings outside of aesthetics, and his contribution to the arts alone for opening up phenomenological cross-roads between life as it is lived and as it is experienced in art is something that has given me much consolation and inspiration.

As with any work of this scope and magnitude, it would be silly to sit here and try to write a thesis as a review. As such I will leave it at saying, whatever way you may feel about Sartre’s philosophy (or believe you feel from only minor association with his ideas as is the case with most philosophers), it really is an essential read these days. Not everything is a gem, but that does not mean that there are not significant humanistic critiques which transcend the book itself for their ability to make us re-evaluate our relationship is to each other as individuals. The role we play in constructing and understanding ourselves through those around us is an idea that, for as simple and foundational as it is, somehow has almost entirely disappeared from the culture that I at least find myself in. I find myself surrounded by primarily three types of people; 1) Radical egoists, 2) Traditional religious people with their various interpretations thereof, and 3) New agers who like the religious hand over their identity to whatever higher power of their choice is. All of these remove freedom from themselves or others, as well as pass off the responsibility for their own becoming.

Please! We need people to wake back up. I feel sometimes as if culture stopped assimilating philosophy after Kant : (

No one ever said life was supposed to feel good. I see more people suffer from collapses in their egoistic/idealistic bubbles (and I’m not even using those two terms pejoratively) than I care to. It’s a different kind of smile that I bear…
( )
  PhilSroka | Apr 12, 2016 |
wanky. ( )
  behemothing | Oct 25, 2014 |
Here, Sartre follows in the tradition set by Kant, for Professors of Philosophy to set their philosophical systems forth in expansive and difficult works.
Being and Nothingness is 800 pages, and provides an existentialist theory of the self, others, freedom, time, ethics, and psychoanalysis.
In some places, this reads like a solvent poured upon a worn varnished surface, revealing the underlying truth of human being in splendid clarity. But more often than not, either the meaning is obscure and the writing opaque, or just platitudes written in technical language.
Many of the statements seem to violate the law of non-contradiction, and it seems that Sartre has written it this way to give it the air of profundity that these contradictions seem to gain in mystic circles, or among those pretending to understand something they do not. However, if one perseveres, things can be usually reconciled with logic, if we understand these contradictory properties as being held at different times, or in different senses. What Sartre really means though is left to some extent to the guess work of the reader, and could be written in plainer and less ambiguous terms.

The two main concepts integral to this work are "being-in-itself" (borrowed from Heidegger), and "being-for-itself". The former is described as "being what it is" (and corresponds to the physical and unconscious part of us, and also the material world (though the existence of the unconscious is denied)), and the latter being described as "not being what it is, and being what it is not" (and corresponds to the conscious). It is around these two aspects of the self that whole work revolves.
Another recurring concept is the "figure and ground" of Gestalt psychology, which is used in conjunction with a variety of ideas. Unlike the concepts of "being-in-itself" and "being-for-itself", this serves as an aid to understanding things intuitively.

What then are the "Being and Nothingness" of which the title consists? The answer to this is not a single answer, as various things are stated as being and nothingness. The first answer appears to be that the material part of us "being-in-itself", is the being, while the consciousness "being-for-itself" is the nothingness. The appparent contradictions in this are presumably intentional, and, I think only apparent. A second sense in which the world is "Being and Nothingness" is identified in time. The instant itself is a temporal nothingess, due to its lack of temporal extension, while the measurable duration of time is being, due to its temporal extension. This of course has implications for human existence, and consciousness, as thought and ideas are processes that exist in the human mind with temporal extension, and not as point-like instants. Secondly, matter exists in the extension of time, with the revolving of electrons around their spheres and the effect of the exclusion principle, but in the temporal instant has no such material properties. Much of the profundity of this work is achieved by rewording quite obvious things like this so that they appear to be paradoxes, and the interpretation given above is very much a reading between the lines. This isn't to say that the work is useless though, as it provokes thought and provides new vantage points on existence, however this could be done with plainer verbiage and in far fewer pages.

Among the influences that can be seen in this work are Henri Bergson, from whom Satre's "upsurge of being" seems to inspired, Heidegger (whose Being and Time Sartre's whole system builds upon), Freud, and variety of other thinkers.

I would not recommend this work as an introduction to Existentialism, due to its inaccessibility – Camus's essay on the Myth of Sisyphus would be more suitable for this purpose. However, for those with a sufficient interest in Existentialism to tolerate long, predominantly dry, systematical works, this book would be suitable. Before emabarking on this endeavour though, it would be worth noting that Sartre abandoned this system soon after composing it. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Feb 1, 2014 |
Sixteen good pages in an 800 page bag. Read On Escape by Lévinas first or instead. Still, a cultural classic. ( )
  glitwack | Sep 3, 2010 |
All you could ever want to know about Sartre's thoughts on phenomenology and existentialism. Dictionary and Paracetemol handy extras. ( )
  simondavies | Sep 30, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jean-Paul Sartreprimary authorall editionscalculated
ハイデッガー, マルティンContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
バタイユ, ジョルジュContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
ブランショ, モーリスContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
カミュ, アルベールContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
カフカ, フランツContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
サルトル, ジャン-ポールContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
雄高, 埴谷Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barnes, Hazel E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Del Bo, GiuseppeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Modern thought has realized considerable progress by reducing the existent to the series of appearances which manifest it.
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Bearbeitet, herausgegeben und übersetzt von Justus Streller
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Apparso nel 1943, L'essere e il nulla prende origine dai primi saggi su Husserl, dove Sartre scopriva che il soggetto nega il mondo, in quanto ne sconfina, in particolare con l'immaginazione, la quale è appunto un'attività negativa. Tale principio dà vita a una fenomenologia delle situazioni negative dell'uomo. Il libro descrive il fallimento dell'uomo che pretende di idealizzare l'assoluto.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0671867806, Paperback)

Jean-Paul Sartre, the seminal smarty-pants of mid-century thinking, launched the existentialist fleet with the publication of Being and Nothingness in 1943. Though the book is thick, dense, and unfriendly to careless readers, it is indispensable to those interested in the philosophy of consciousness and free will. Some of his arguments are fallacious, others are unclear, but for the most part Sartre's thoughts penetrate deeply into fundamental philosophical territory. Basing his conception of self-consciousness loosely on Heidegger's "being," Sartre proceeds to sharply delineate between conscious actions ("for themselves") and unconscious ("in themselves"). It is a conscious choice, he claims, to live one's life "authentically" and in a unified fashion, or not--this is the fundamental freedom of our lives.

Drawing on history and his own rich imagination for examples, Sartre offers compelling supplements to his more formal arguments. The waiter who detaches himself from his job-role sticks in the reader's memory with greater tenacity than the lengthy discussion of inauthentic life and serves to bring the full force of the argument to life. Even if you're not an angst-addicted poet from North Beach, Being and Nothingness offers you a deep conversation with a brilliant mind--unfortunately, a rare find these days. --Rob Lightner

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:20 -0400)

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Sartre explains the theory of existential psychoanalysis in this treatise on human reality.

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