- Paperback: 864 pages
- Publisher: Washington Square Press; Original ed. edition (August 1, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0671867806
- ISBN-13: 978-0671867805
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.5 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 126 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,372 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Being and Nothingness Original ed. Edition
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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
"There can be no doubt that this is a philosophy to be reckoned with, both for its own intrinsic power and as a profound symptom of our time." (The New York Times)
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Sartre begins with a framework on nothingness and negations. Nothingness does not have being but is supported by being. It comes into existence through the for-itself and allows consciousness to exist. Negations are acts which contain negativity as part of their structure (ex: absence.) He then progresses to an examination of Bad Faith. This is essentially a false consciousness which a person pursues to flee from their own freedom.
The most theoretically important part of the book regarding ontology is Sartre's explanation of Being-for-itself and Being-for-others. Being-for-itself is an examination of the works of Descartes, Husserl, etc, into the nature of the individuals being and consciousness. "The Other" is a concept from Hegel that Sartre alters to explain others around us. For Sartre "The Other" is in a constant battle to deprive the other person of their freedom without extinguishing their being.
The second half of his treatise deals with issues mostly empirical in nature. Sartre has an impeccable knowledge of philosophy and the physical science up to 1943 (philosophy, biology, psychology, pyschics, etc..) He uses the theory of ontology to reexamine empirical issues where he finds scientific fields lacking. In the end Sartre devises a `Existential Psychoanalysis' (Existentialism) to examine psychological phenomenon through an ontological lens.
For Sartre humans are thrown into the world, in a situation, but have absolute freedom over choice. They are responsible for their choice. Whether they chose to actively pursue something or passively submit THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE. This responsibility is not meant as an ethical judgment but rather a statement of fact.
Sartre almost completely eschews ethical judgments in "Being and Nothingness." His objective throughout the work is to explain the ontological foundation of being. He reserves 2 pages at the end of the book discussing ethics. His advice is to strive for a synthesis of the being-in-itself with the being-for-itself (a true single consciousness between body and mind.) A person can then strive to attain their values (which are subjective in nature.)
Note: Sartre assumes his readers have read essentially every existential philosopher since Plato. He gives brief descriptions of each philosopher's theory but I strongly recommend you read their work before "Being and Nothingness." Sartre also uses incredibly obtuse language (which is made worse through translation.) While not as bad as other philosophers his work forces the person to actively read everything he says. Sartre commands an excellent understanding of science but actively rejects some of its most basic premises because science fails to ask the right questions. While some of the science he talks about has long been disproven for the most part his understanding of science remains valid.
Note #2: I read the Gramercy edition.
I strongly recommend "Being and Nothingness" to anyone interested in ontology with a strong background in philosophy and the psychical sciences.
His personal life was also unique, particularly for his lifelong relationship with Beauvoir a.k.a. The Beaver, his numerous affairs with beautiful, brainy women (even though he was only 5 foot 3, wall-eyed, and, as Nelson Algren put it, "not only ugly but unprepossing too").
Alas, for me his career of genius was marred by his "existential Marxism", which led to his being a brazen apologist for Stalin (which he later admitted was lying for the sake of "the masses"). He rationalized the worst crimes of tyranny by arguing that Communism was a superior system in theory than capitalism, despite its "errors".
However, in his first, almost apolitical period, he wrote the volume under review, which I would argue is the greatest philosophical work of the 20th century, building on, and surpassing, the work of Husserl and Heidegger, his major influences. Only Wittgenstein rivals Sartre, but the "linguistic turn" that began with Ayer and Wittgenstein is a dead end, in my opinion, "huis clos" in Sartre's phrase.
To use another phrase of Sartre's, BEING AND NOTHINGNESS will definitely "crack the bones in your head". A very helpful aid to comprehension is Catalano's commentary, but even so this volume, like all great work of philosophy, has to be studied and rererereread.
NAUSEA, Sartre's first novel, is a good prolegomenon to reading BEING AND NOTHINGNESS, because it's one of the few examples of a novel based on a philosophical position that is also great literature.
Sartre was inimitable, and warts and all he deserves to be read in depth by anyone who wants to understand the currents of 20th century philosophy and literature.