Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (Routledge Classics) Paperback – 28 Aug 2003
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'A fascinating and intriguing work providing a full-blown metaphysic backed by, and at the same time providing the basis for, a complete theory of man' - Times Literary Supplement
This monumental book, regarded by many as Sartre's greatest achievement, is one of the most influential philosophical works of the 20th century. In it Sartre set out his fundamental views on philosophy and laid the foundations of existentialism.See all Product description
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To be . . . or not to be, that is the question
By Howard Jones
This substantial philosophical treatise from a master of French existentialism is his most important work. Rather than a brilliantly argued philosophical treatise, Sarte's work is really 1001 ways of looking at life. Its philosophical style bears much resemblance to those of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who are not the most accessible of writers from whom to tease out meanings. His novel, The Age of Reason, conveys many of the same ideas but is vastly more accessible. Indeed, Sartre's experience as a novelist helps him in some of the more difficult moments to get his message across - I think!
The title of Sarte's work reflects that of one of his existentialist mentors, Martin Heidegger's Being and Time. The other major influence on Sartre was Edmund Husserl. They were reacting against Descartes' distinction between mind and body, between subject and object. They and Sartre maintained that we humans are objects just like any others in a world of objects. Because of the problems in defining consciousness, Sartre and his predecessors wanted to say that, most of the time, we are not really aware of the contents of mind or consciousness at all. We just get on with the job and exist. We alone are responsible for our conduct in the world: `the destiny of man is placed within himself'.
A key concept in Sartre is his distinction between what he calls being-in-itself and being-for-itself. The first of these applies to inanimate objects in the world; the latter describes the human condition. Our consciousness is always consciousness of something. The fact that we can use our minds to determine the presence or absence of something gives us huge potential, but the objects of the world are simply the objects of our consciousness: `existence before essence'. Instead of agonizing about the nature of consciousness, Sartre was preoccupied with examining the contents of consciousness. Sartre maintains that as soon as we accept a job or role in life, we lose our freedom. Once we embark on that role, whether as a wife or as a waiter, we are no longer free; to renegue on that role then is to Sartre a sign of `bad faith'. But death is an absurdity. When I die, it will then be left to other people to make decisions for me.
There are some interesting ideas here but it's jolly hard work teasing them out, if only for the necessity of working through nearly 700 pages of prose. I have never found existentialism to offer anything as a philosophy that was not more accessibly presented by, say, Buddhism.
Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.
So far as format is concerned, best paperback binding that I know off, far superior page paper than the Washington Square edition.