Critical Analysis of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness


Sartre begins his argument by contradicting the Descartes dictum: Cogito Ergo Sum: I think therefore I exist. Sartre says that the consciousness which thinks is a secondary consciousness and there is a primary consciousness called pre-reflective cogito or being in itself. It is from the being in itself that the secondary consciousness emanates and that being is called as the being for itself. And then there is a consciousness of being for others. Sartre starts from the primary assumption of consciousness as an existing state. He fails to define what consciousness is. For me consciousness is God given and its fullness. It’s Freud who has made a dastardly dichotomy as Id, Ego and Super Ego. In our day to day life no man or woman ponders on these three ego states.

For Sartre ego is an aspect of consciousness. Consciousness is individual and specific. Consciousness determines states like love and hatred and these become the ego. The Ego is the interiority of consciousness Both the Ego and World are transcendent objects. The I deals with the unity of actions and the me: the states and qualities. The I does not revert to solipsism and the I proves the existence of being in the world. Consciousness is a free consciousness and should not shield itself from responsibilities. If consciousness is transcendent (it’s an irony here that an atheist like Sartre wants to posit consciousness in transcendence), it should have a conscience. Who planted conscience in Man’s mind? It is not our instinct that forbids us from incest, rape, murder and pedophilia. So we have to convincingly assume that there is a moral law enshrined in man’s heart. Of course deviants who are mentally sick are an exception.

Consciousness must express itself in nihiliation for the absence of objects. Emotion is simply a way in which consciousness seeks to live its relationship with the world. Examples are finding one’s way in the street and the power of persuasion. All existence is absurd neither having reason nor passion. I would like to contradict Sartre’s saying that there is nothingness or nihilation in consciousness. Consciousness always signifies a presence to a becoming whether it is affirmative or negative. How can existence be viewed as absurd? For example: I live in the world; I have a work; I have my family; my life may be easy or difficult but yet I find meaning in my life. Again life is goal and motive driven. Sartre and Camus are notoriously famous for positing that life is absurd. Wasn’t there a purpose when Sartre wrote the book: Being and Nothingness and Camus wrote: The Myth of the Sisyphus. Purpose in life has an ontological dimension. God makes a purpose in life while the nihilists negate life. One can choose existential nausea or angst of the nihilists or one can be saturated with abundance and happiness in Christ.

Being in itself is a consciousness of de trop. Man is a being out of which nothingness comes into the world. How can being in itself an aspect of consciousness, be de trop or unwanted or unwelcome? Consciousness is not a nothingness but fullness or plenitude. Even negation signifies a presence of meaning. There is no pure nothingness of consciousness.

There’s always nothingness between a motive and an act. One encounters anguish. Here again lies a contradiction. If I am making love to my wife, how is it an angst for me? If my desires are fulfilled then how can my life be angst ridden? Desire is irrational. To destroy desire would be to destroy the for itself. The idea of God as a creator leaves no room for human freedom. Dependence on God does not free the individual. One’s life is not free if God determines the end of it. Christianity is paradoxical here as God (Christ) gave free will to man leaving the existential choice to accept or refute God. In order to remove the original sin of Adam and Eve, God sent his son Christ who was crucified and shed his blood so that all mortals may be saved. Christ himself says: that ‘my yoke is light’. Faith in God is not Sartre’s bad faith but good faith. Again I would like to batter my words against Sartre’s dictum: ‘man is condemned to be free’. With God there is no condemnation of freedom. Freedom is catharsis, a celebration, a joy. I am glad that I live in Christ every day.

There are two types of guilt, psychological guilt and existential guilt. Psychological guilt is doing a kind of wrong which to which one is not personally responsible. Here lies bad faith. It is the refusal to face anguish. Existential guilt being made an object of another. Original sin is an example. How can the for itself live… by reason or by passion? Sartre adopts free consciousness and rejects the Freudian ID EGO and Super Ego. Glorify the ID, transcend the Ego and subvert the Super Ego. There is no evil but only choice. The body represents man’s facticity. How do we encounter the other? Sexual desire a deep seated desire to capture the other’s subjectivity. Sex is a failed emotion. With God there is no room for guilt but only repentance. God forgives a genuine repentant heart. How can sex be a failure? Sex is sensual catharsis, a passion of the mind and an ecstasy of the body.


Source by Bose Anand