Any Sartre experts out there?

I’m reading Sartre’s Being and Nothingness - well, the wikipedia article on it. There’s this passage that concludes introduction II:

I’m not so sure I understand this. I understood everything up to this point. What does he mean by an “appeal to being”? What does “transphenomenal” mean? And there’s the last sentence: “It is not coextensive with its appearances, as the object is with its own appearances.” What is “it” in that sentence?

the unknowable thing in itself…


This is what “it” means?

This seems like a contradiction of what he was saying in Introduction I. In Introduction I, he seems to be doing away with the thing-in-itself, replacing it with a “series of appearances” which itself is an appearance. He then goes on to posit the “phenomenon of being” which is also an appearance but in the form of an a priori concept. I’m taking the latter to be the general and most abstract notion of “being” - that is, that there is being in existence, not just the being of any one phenomenon in particular. Am I following along so far?

The paragraph that I quoted above seems to bring this “phenomenon of being” into question, asking where it gets its foundation from. The answer seems to be that it is an “appeal to being” and that it’s foundation is “transphenomenal”. Now, what is Sartre doing here? It sounds like he’s posit something beyong phenomena (that’s the only way I can interpret “transphenomenal”), like the unknowable thing-in-itself that you pointed out. But wasn’t his entire aim in Introduction I to avoid doing this? Is the “phenomenon of being” an entirely different kind of “being” than that found in the series of appearances? If so, what ties it into the “being of phenomena”?

“Phenomenon” derives from the Greek verb phainomai, “to appear”. So a phenomenon - something that appears - requires a foundation that is transphenomenal - beyond that which appears.

he is trying to have it both ways… he is using a different a priori metaphysic called “being of phenomena” to mean the same thing as thing in itself… e.g. that which underlies appearance… it fails for all the traditional reasons as well…


Well, like I said in my previous post, this seems to contradict the conclusion Sartre came to in Introduction I. In Introduction I, he seems to want to say that there is nothing “beyond” the appearance or series of appearance - that its being is there to behold in the phenomenon itself.

At least, this is how the wikipedia article interprets it. One way it puts it is this:

So instead of the dualism of phenomena and noumena, we have the dualism of a finite appearance and an infinite series of appearances.

It is also important to understand that Sartre’s work was mostly in French. So , always examine translations. Beyond that I think and Sau are dead on.

What was Sartre specifically an expert on that WE should are not experts on and perhaps should be?

He knows as much about Being and Nothingness as the cutest caterpillar that ever lived.

But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta to do and in most cases that means pretending!

The reality is wine, women, song and money and Sartre certainly had some real actual expertise in all of those.

After re-reading Introductions I and II, I’ve come to the conclusion that the “being of phenomena” and the “phenomenon of being” must refer to the same thing. I think Sartre is simply trying to say that every phenomenon manifests its own being, and thus has a “being of phenomena”, but at the same time, this being, in manifesting itself, is also a phenomenon, thus the “phenomenon of being”. Then Sartre asks the question “what is the being of the ‘phenomenon of being’?” or in other words “what is the foundation of being?” and concludes that it must be “transphenomenal”.

I’m not so sure that this necessarily re-introduces the thing-in-itself into his metaphysics. I think he still intends for the thing-in-itself, or “being”, to be a manifest phenomenon, and thus within the scope of the appearant (he admittedly identifies his philosophy with Berkeley’s, after all). I have a feeling that the direction he’s taking the “transphenomenal foundation for being” is into his customized conception of “nothingness”. This will, of course, be tied directly into consciousness as a form of nothingness (thus NOT a thing-in-itself) that serves as the basis for all being.

I haven’t read passed Introduction II, so I may be way off base, but I know enough about Sartre’s ideas to make predictions on how it all hangs together. Am I on the right track?

Here’s some more Sartrian illogic:

At one point, he says:

…and further…

…but then…

So consciousness “is not supported by anything” and “The existence of consciousness comes from consciousness itself” yet “the existence of any consciousness is necessarily supported by a being which is not itself.”

As far as I’m concerned, the only way Sartre will be redeemed in my books is if the author of this wikipedia article comes forward and admits to his disgraceful interpretation. Otherwise, Sartre was a very confused man.

You are correct about the authors misinterpretation. The above premise was never used by Sartre.

Guess SIATD was right…only I didn’t bother reading the whole page. I suppose that wiki’s weakness is when writers don’t directly quote the material they are writing about and instead give their own interpretation. This is fine to a degree but when dealing with premises and axioms…one should quote them as they are.

You can find B&N online in adobe format.

You know, detrop, I tried reading B&N one time and couldn’t get through it 'cause it was too confusing. When you get statements like:

it just ties knots in my intellect and I go cross-eyed.

You seem to know a thing or two about Sartre. You should take up the project of writing a wiki article yourself. I’d definitely read it.

What Sartre is stating in that sentence is a paradox: it’s supposed to be impossible, just an example to prove his point. Your reaction is perfectly normal, however if one thinks about it it does make sense.

For Sartre, being conscious of a table (or maybe one should say: being able to perceive a table) is not enough, one also has to realize that one is perceiving it. If not, one is not conscious of it.

The unknowable thing in itself does not exist. It’s a figment of your imagination.

The ‘unknowable’ thing is not just imaginary. Remember, it’s symbolic, too.

And I’ve even got another one for you: there’s a kernel of it that’s real, too!

The ‘thing’ (in Sartre at any rate) connects our consciousness to an outside-itself. We are always mediated by things, in our relationships with other people. I can recognize myself only through my materiality, my possessions – my “properties.” So what becomes of the property of ‘being-yourself’?

Well, it collapses. There’s too much strain, too many myths to follow. Atheism, nihilism, depression, rejection-feelings, of course. The ‘death of God’ and the heavy toll. But these are still echo guilt-feelings. We haven’t worn off God’s passing yet. The fact that He’s dead has reached us and yet has not: we still fight wars in his name, still allow social injustice to persist under the superficially religious guise of the state and capitalism. This particular triangle of identity formation was especially threatening to Sartre, and it was one of the reasons he became so involved in the social movements of his time.

Atheism doesn’t of course mean amoralism. It doesn’t just mean calling religion out as fake, though it is important to call people out for being fake, for living a life which is a copy of a model of desire. This is a broken cycle, a selfish circuit which doesn’t allow the individual to transform itself with the group-in-fusion. Sartre deals a lot with groups in his second long work (his Critique of Dialectical Reason) which of course gets read less than Being and Nothingness.

But back to the point. (Sorry!) The unknowable thing has an imaginary component – in a sense, the ‘unknowable’ is a model of the virtual, the what-is-becoming, the exactly new. Everything strange and beautiful is attached to the memory of a surprise.

Symbolically, of course, the ‘unknowwable’ is the sexual act, in particular, that of being touched by the Other… what is not known isn’t what will happen, but rather – what will constitute the event (of lovemaking,) what shall be its micro-textures? Here can understand Nietzsche’s connection of the most absolute and radical freedom welded onto a complete and utter necessity. Sex is chaos and order in one; it is a veritable transcendence. Sex alone ought to prompt us to get religion, as it were – but we are more cynical than that today.

It’s enough today that someone else believe, and care, and do something about the unknowable. Our scientists have been crippled by narrow, specialized educations. Our whole society has been stratified, digitized, nullified. This is the ‘real’ unknowable – what have we sacrificed? What have we given up for this “life”? What is beyond? … Maybe our children will understand. The ‘unknowable’ is the future, perhaps, more than anything else. A second sense of the future, of course – not the future which follows naturally from all that came before, but rather that aspect of the future which presents us with something completely new and unexpected, something which causes new movements

‘Be yourself’ - whether you mean relax or be what you want to be, you can do both to a greater or lesser extent.

I don’t consider myself a expert on his writings but I do like him.

Well, with Sartre, it would be pretty trite to say he’s asking us to be ourselves.

We should read him as saying something more radical. He’s saying choose who you are and accept it fully, be responsible to yourself and to others, and when you make commitments to others, keep them. It’s neo-Kantian, from a certain angle: our freedom consists in knowing freedom is always in jeopardy, ready to regress into slavery or indolence. We can’t want freedom for ourselves unless we want it universally–that is, our desire for freedom is in bad faith, it is hypocritical, if we don’t also desire everyone else to have a similar level of freedom.

As to our existential position, it is indeed written for us – as a script which we could meticulously follow, if we so desired. If on the other hand it strikes our fancy to improvise, then that’s fine, too! Either way, we’re choosing what we’re going to become. It’s not really about being yourself – again, this is almost to subvert the message – it’s more about taking care while becoming ourselves, doing so responsibly, even ethically.