Customer Reviews: Being and Nothingness
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on July 10, 2004
Not because the white one is better. They are the same translation. The orange one is ABRIDGED, which is mentioned nowhere on this website, as if the two books are the same.
They don't even have the same publisher.
Trust me: unless you can find the 1956 edition from the Philosophical Library, buy the white version from Washington Square Press. The Citadel Press edition is abridged and more expensive. Even if it has a nicer looking cover, don't buy it.
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on June 30, 1999
If you are just getting your feet wet in ontology then this book will be very challenging and often frustrating. As you slowly become accustomed to the terminology and basic ontological concepts, the book becomes more and more readable and enjoyable. If you ever felt you were all alone in your existential dilemmas, then this book will provide great comfort. Everything is here in this book if you are willing to take the time. Contrary to an earlier review, this book makes perfect sence and every concept is backed up with logical analysis. Sartre is very good about providing clear and concise examples to all of his concepts. This is not a philosphical treatise on ethics so it is hard to understand why an earlier review labeled it as dogmatic (that person must be referring to a different work by Sartre). A dogma based on nothingness is hardly any kind of dogma.
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on April 21, 2008
Being and Nothingness is a difficult but great book. This edition is terrible. It omits some of the central passages of this classic. For instance, the beautiful section on the 'Patterns of Bad Faith' are deleted. If you carefully read the inside of the jacket, it does say it is an abridged edition. That would not be bad if they deleted unimportant sections. Instead the publisher deleted key sections which they reprinted in their edition of Essays in Existentialism. So you are forced to buy two of their books.
If you want a copy of Being and Nothingness, get the Washington Square Press edition or the Routledge edition.
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on January 19, 2005
I've read this book twice now, and it remains for me one of the greatest and most influential books I've ever read, certainly in philosophy. Is it a difficult read? Yes, certainly, but it's no more difficult than many other massive philosphical tomes out there such as Heidegger's Being and Time, Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind, or Marx's Capital. Sartre didn't write the book with the general public in mind; what he wanted to do was describe and explain a formal existential philosophy for those who wanted to really get into the technical nuts and bolts. One of the reasons he wrote so many novels, plays and essays is because he wanted to illuminate his philosophy in living scenarios that would be more easily digested by the general public. If you've never read a philosophy book before, then this book is not the best place to start, if only because, in addition to its density and length, it presupposes a certain familiarity with other philosophical sytems. If you're interested in Sartre, you'd be better off starting with his thin essay book "Existentialism", or his novel "Nausea", or one of the popular existentialist anthologies such as Walter Kaufmann's, or William Barret's excellent study "Irrational Man".

I disagree with an earlier commentor's suggestion that you skip the first 2/3 of the book. I think it's important to start at the beginning (especially with Hazel Barnes' excellent introduction!) because Sartre methodically builds upon the ontology and the theory of consciousness that he lays out in the earlier parts of the book, and I think it's important to understand that fully before moving on.

Incidently, one of the remarkable things about the book, in terms of today's thought, is the way Sartre's theory of consciousness so closely anticipates much of today's cognitive nueroscientific theories of consciousness (see for example Nobel prize winner Gerald Edelman's new book). Sartre helped me to understand that consciousness is not an entity, as virtually all philosphy since Descartes has maintained, but an embodied process. Think of it this way: digestion is not an entity separate from the stomach; it is a process in the stomach. Similarly, consciousness is a process of the brain; it does not exist separate from the brain.

Well, I didn't intend this to be a long rambling commentary, so I'll cut it here. But if you're not afraid of a philisophical challenge, and if you are interested in existentialism, then this book is well worth the investment in time and mental energy. It truly is, in my opinion, the principal text of existential philosophy.
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One of the most influential books of 20th-century philosophy, Being and Nothingness, and others by Sartre, has probably been read by more beginning students of philosophy than any other. Sartre's approach to philosophy is eclectic, but he has unique solutions to some of the problems he is attempting to solve, particularly his treatment of the problem of how to handle the negation, a problem of great interest to Hegel, and carried over to a phenomenological setting by Sartre. His discussion of the "experiencing" of negation has to rank as one of the most interesting in contemporary philosophy. It is a topic also that Sartre apparently thought so important that he included it in the first chapter of the book. He does however prepare the reader for the analysis in an introduction to the book. Therein, he argues for the dissolving of the distinction between being and appearance, and to reject (in Nietzschean terms), "the illusion of worlds-behind-the-scene". This discussion also shows Satre's training in the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger. The move away from the dualism of appearance and essence, and appearance and being has its consequences of course, and it is these consequences that Sartre expounds upon briliantly in the rest of the book. One of these, interestingly, is the existence of an infinite series. The dualism of being and appearance is replaced by Sartre with the new dualism of finite and infinite. The appearance is finite, but to be grasped as an appearance of that which appears, says Sartre, it requires the series of appearances as infinite.
In addition, Sartre also discusses his reasoning behind his rejection of the idealism of Berkeley. Having reduced reality to the phenomenon, namely that the phenomenon is at is appears, he discusses why the Berkeley move to equate being with appearance is not a tenable one, in spite of the simplicity of such a move. His discussion expands on the famous Husserlian axiom that consciousness is always directed toward something. But Sartre goes beyond Husserl, and this is because he feels he needs to answer those who state that the requirement of consciouusness does not imply that the requirement is satisfied. He takes Husserl's notion of intentionality, and asserts that consciousness of consciousness of something is equated with intentionality, but that the object is what he terms a "revealed-revelation": it reveals itself as already existing when consciousness reveals it.
It is very interesting that for students of philosophy, this book is one of the first large treatises they read on philosophy, interesting because the hyphenated definitions that Sartre employs throughout the book can be opaque at times. But Sartre was one of the last "system-builders" of philosophy, and also one of the few philosophers who permitted himself to propagate his philosophy into novels and short stories. One can disagree with his politics, his anti-Americanism, and his Marxism, but he was a brilliant thinker and novelist, and philosophy in the 21st century is definitely experiencing-his-absence......
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on January 17, 2012
It is good to have a Kindle version of a good philosophical work, but it is rendered useless when you find a lot of typos. Some of them: in the original says "interiority", this version, "inferiority"; not one time, but several. Even if the work is based on the translation of Hazel E. Barnes, this errors can lead to misunderstanding of the key statements of the book.
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on August 18, 2001
This is a book which takes constant re-reading and reading within context: that is, pick one theme, and read the entire book in search of all Sartre has to say about that theme. This book is completely indispensible to anyone wishing to deal in post-modern philosophy and existentialism: it is a secular philosopher's bible. Dealing in systematic brilliance throughout the experience of life, Sartre delves into psychology and theological ideas while remaining true to his own purely atheistic and philosophical roots.
Dense? Sure... but illuminating examples help to describe the deep thought, almost as parables in the Synoptic Gospels. The crag in the rock, the meeting at the cafe, all these verbal illustrations work into the text very well. Personally, I love the sections on the anguish of man when faced with the facticity of his own freedom. The dualism expressed by Sartre is a theme in philosophy which I usually don't enjoy (like any good post-Hegelian, I enjoy synthesizing opposites), he is able to pull it off with ease and magnificence. Though it is not as eloquent as the existentialism expressed by Albert Camus, it is every bit as enlightening and valuable.
Most people object to its density because they are used to the existential wanderings of the modern novel - Camus' The Stranger, or Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment - but this is the philosophical reflection of the situation of man expressed by such work. Sartre states early on that he is not performing an objective analysis of humankind, but rather a biased and understandably nuanced descriptionof ontology from the perspective of the modern man.
Brilliant and exciting, Being and Nothingness is an essential part of anyone philosopher's bookshelf!
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on July 11, 2004
I picked up this book after reading Sartre's Nausea and after the first twenty pages I decided to put it down and left it there for 6 months. However, after reading the excellent "Sartre: For Beginners by Donald Palmer" and the awful "Introducing Sartre" by Thody I decided to give it a second try. I read this book because I enjoy the tenants of Existentialist philosophy. I didn't pick up this book to learn about ontology even though it was necessary in order to understand the book. This is a very difficult read for your casual reader and even a somewhat well versed reader in Existentialism will find themselves wanting to put it down. The Introduction was the worst and there are some very dry parts (temporality, origin of negation, transcendence, etc.) but those arid pages were well worth it to get to the parts on Bad Faith, Freedom and Authenticity. Freedom and Facticity, The Look.

I would say that if you are truly interested in Existentialist philosophy check it out at your library. If you are serious about reading this book then I highly suggest "A Commentary on Jean Paul Sartres's Being and Nothingness" by Joseph Castalano. Remember, philosophy is not just black print on pulpy paper. It's not something that is argued amongst old men but it is alive and is a force so powerful it has the ability to tear all your foundations and beliefs to the ground. Now I'm not saying I agree with Sartre on some parts ("man is a useless passion") but the basics behind Being and Nothingness should at the very least be thought about. For example, Sartre says since man cannot be all at once he much choose to be each moment of his life, in other words we choose the way we feel and the way we see ourselves. Sartre says that man by his own being is free and so we are not predestined by genes, culture, drives, society, or anything else to act or do certain things. He speaks of how one can be crippled only if one chooses to be crippled and how one is "ugly" only if he chooses to project himself as someone who is ugly for man, as a Being For Itself, is not anything but a nothingness. In other words you are only as ugly as you think you are. These and many other points I will be taking from this book and if you choose to read this book as a beginner in Existentialist thought then I commend you on your journey for it will be daunting. Well, it will be daunting only if you choose it to be.
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on September 2, 2005
Sartre one of our great contemporary intellectuals, a political thinker/activist (Marxist), novelist, playwright, and philosopher has here produced his Magnum Opus.

He builds a FORMAL philosophical system, that while speculative and contingent, remains one of the most solid frameworks for understanding existentialism and the "essentials of being" yet written: The raw materials of his system are: human intentionality, human freedom, individual choice, human responsibility, and the all important notion that only in consciousness does "existence precede essence."

This very dense and uncharted (sometimes rambling and repetitious) volume is an unabridged version of his "Existential Psychoanalysis," or his "Existentialism is Humanism," either of which outlines Sartre's main themes and which the casual reader may wish to refer to as primers before delving into this deeper analysis.

Sartre sees human beings as being thrown into the world with nothing -- having to create both a framework for consciousness and its contents. Identity and Being arise out of ones own intentionality and the actions and choices that follow, all of which constitute the true (and only) raw materials of being.

It is in his exploration of the ways in which we retreat from our choice to be free -- what he calls our inherent "bad faith" and lack of authenticity about our utter aloneness -- that he begins to connect and make what would otherwise be a purely academic and speculative abstract system into a powerful set of emotional truths.

A student of Husserl and an admirer of Heidegger, Sartre has seemingly succeeded in merging and then enlarging upon their ideas, forging them into his own -- arguably, more consistent and more coherent philosophical whole. The end result is an all-encompassing theory of being, which is a fusion of Husserl's "theory of being-unto-death" and Heidegger's "being-unto-other."

In Sartre's ontology of being, consciousness is an a priori philosophical state: an existential blank slate, upon which form and essence must be written: in short, consciousness is the ultimate tabula rasa: the vantage point from which the whole is to be viewed (and thus cannot itself be viewed). To use his own words: Consciousness is "beyond freedom." Consciousness is that tableau upon which all meaning is written; from which all essences are derived, and to which all meaning is resolved and inevitably and eventually must return.

But as a phenomenon, he does not see consciousness as a thing, or an entity at all but as a complex set of mental processes, which in the end are mere byproducts of brain functioning. The true seat of being in Sartre's phenomenology lies in the authenticity with which one faces the internal truth about his own isolation, desolation and aloneness: that is how man addresses being thrown into the universe without a God to struggle to create an identity -- or to construct his own "coming into Being."

Heroism is the reward for an authentic life (for facing straight up, the choice to be); a life of fear and neurosis is the opposite: the penalty for retreating from authenticity and thus from true freedom.

Even if it sometimes lack clarity, few books have the power and emotional impact that Being and Nothingness has. It is a classic still worth reading. Five stars.
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on December 7, 2011
This copy of Being and Nothingness is missing one of the most famous sections of the original by Sartre, without any explanation or warning. The section on "bad faith," one of the most well known and necessary sections of the book, is simply omitted. If you need this book for a class, you are guaranteed to need this section of the book, and this edition will be of absolutely no help to you. All the other sections are the same (I believe) as other copies, but all of Chapter 2 of Part I is missing. Ridiculous.
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