Context

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The subtitle of Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, clearly states the central intention of the author. Jean-Paul Sartre is at one with Greek philosophers Parmenides and Plato in his contention that the chief problem of philosophy is the problem of being. Significant differences, however, emerge in a comparison of the ontological investigations of the ancient Greeks with those of Sartre. The adjective “phenomenological” in the subtitle indicates one of these significant differences.

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Sartre’s ontology is an ontology that follows in the wake of German Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy, Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological reduction, and Martin Heidegger’s ontology of Dasein. Being and Nothingness has all of the Kantian reservations about any philosophy that seeks to proceed beyond the limits of possible experience, draws heavily from the phenomenological investigations of Husserl, and exhibits basically the same form of analysis and description as was used in Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (1927; Being and Time, 1962). Nevertheless, Kant, Husserl, and Heidegger intermittently throughout the work fall under some rather trenchant Sartrian criticism. Kant’s chief mistake was his appeal to a “thing-in-itself” that somehow stands behind the phenomena. In Sartre’s phenomenological ontology, nothing is concealed behind the phenomena or the appearances. The appearances embody full reality. They are indicative of themselves and refer to nothing but themselves. The Kantian dualism of phenomena and noumena, appearance and reality, is abolished, and being is made coextensive with phenomena. Husserl comes in for a similar criticism. His hypothesis of a transcendental ego is pronounced useless and disastrous. The fate of such a view, according to Sartre, is shipwreck on the “reef of solipsism.” The faults of Heidegger are not as grievous as those of Kant and Husserl. As becomes apparent on every page of Being and Nothingness, Sartre’s analysis is markedly informed by Heideggerian concepts. Yet Heidegger, argues the author, neglects the phenomenon of the lived body, has no explanation for the concrete relatedness of selves, and misinterprets the existential significance of death.

Being

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Being, in Sartre’s analysis, evinces a transphenomenal character. Although there is no noumena and no thing-in-itself that lies concealed behind the phenomenal appearances of being, being is never exhausted in any of its particular phenomenal aspects. Being, in the totality of its aspects and manifestations, never becomes wholly translucent to consciousness. Everything that has being “overflows” whatever particular categories, designations, and descriptions human knowledge may attach to it. Being evinces relationships and qualities that escape any specific determination. Although being is reduced to the whole of its phenomenal manifestations, it is in no way exhausted by any particular perspective that humanity has of the phenomena. All phenomena overflow themselves, suggesting other phenomena yet to be disclosed. This primordial being, transphenomenal in character, expresses a fundamental rupture into “being-in-itself” (en-soi) and “being-for-itself” (pour-soi).

Being-in-itself designates being in the mode of fullness or plenitude. It is massive, fixed, complete in itself, totally and wholly given. It is devoid of potency and becoming, roughly equivalent to the inert world of objects and things. It has no inside and no outside. It expresses neither a relationship with itself nor a relationship to anything outside itself. It is further characterized by an absolute contingency. There is no reason for its being. It is superfluous (de trop). “Uncreated, without reason for being, without connection with any other being, being-in-itself is superfluous for all eternity.”

Being-for-itself is fluid and vacuous rather than fixed and full. It is characterized by incompleteness, potency, and lack of determinate structure. As being-in-itself is roughly equivalent to the inert and solidified world of objectivized reality, so being-for-itself generally corresponds to the being of human consciousness. These two modes of being, however, are not granted an equal ontological status. Being-in-itself is both logically and ontologically prior to being-for-itself. The latter is dependent upon the former for its origin. Being-for-itself is inconceivable without being-in-itself and is derived from it through an original nihilation (néantisation). Being-for-itself thus constitutes a nihilation of being-in-itself. Being-for-itself makes its appearance as a nothingness that “lies coiled in the heart of being—like a worm.” The being of the for-itself is a “borrowed” being that emerges from the in-itself by virtue of its power of negation. The source of the power of nothingness remains inexplicable and mysterious. The for-itself simply finds itself there, separated and at a distance from the absolute fullness of the in-itself. The for-itself emerges as an irreducible and ultimate datum.

Nothingness

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One of the fateful consequences of the primordial rupture of the for-itself from the in-itself is the introduction of nothingness. Sartre makes it clear that it is through human consciousness that nothingness comes into the world. In his discussion on nothingness, Sartre is intent on rejecting the Hegelian dialectical approach and substituting for it a phenomenological account. For Hegel, being and nothingness are dialectical concepts that take their rise from the same ontological level of mediated reality. Sartre maintains in his phenomenological approach that nothingness is dependent upon being in a way that being is not dependent upon nothingness. Nothingness is not an abstract idea complementary to being, nor can it be conceived outside being; it must be given at the heart of being. Nothingness demands a host, possessing the plenitude and full positivity of being, from which it borrows its power of nihilation. Thus, nothingness has only a borrowed or marginal being. Although Sartre never acknowledges his debt to early Christian philosopher Saint Augustine on this point, his analysis seems to draw heavily from Augustinian sources. Augustine had already described evil as a tendency toward nothingness, the movement presupposing perfect being as a host in which evil exists as a privation of the good. It would indeed seem that in its basic outlines, Sartre’s analysis of nothingness is little more than a secularized Augustinianism. The introduction of nothingness raises the question of its relation to negative judgments.

As Heidegger had done before him, Sartre insists that nothingness is the origin and foundation of negative judgments, rather than vice versa. This foundation finds its clarification in the context of human expectations and projects. Sartre, as an example, tells of expecting to find a person (Pierre) in a café when in fact he is not present. His expectation of finding Pierre has caused the absence of Pierre to happen as a real event pertaining to the café. He discovers his absence as an objective fact. He looks for him and finds that he is not there, thus disclosing a synthetic relation between Pierre and the setting in which he has expected him to be. There obtains a real relation between Pierre and the café, as distinct from the relation of not-being that characterizes the order of thought in simple negative judgments. To make the negative judgment that Pierre is not in the café has purely abstract meaning. It is without real or efficacious foundation.

It is through humanity that nothingness comes into the world. The question then arises: What is it about human beings that occasions nothingness? The answer is freedom. The freedom that is here revealed should in no way be identified with a property or a quality that somehow attaches to humanity’s original nature. Freedom is the “nature” of humankind. There is no difference between one’s being and one’s being-free. As becomes apparent later in Being and Nothingness, Sartre’s ontology of humanity is a philosophy of radical and total freedom. This consciousness of freedom is disclosed in anxiety. “It is in anxiety that man gets the consciousness of his freedom, or if you prefer, anxiety is the mode of being of freedom as consciousness of being; it is in anxiety that freedom is, in its being, in question of itself.” An internal connection exists among nothingness, freedom, and anxiety. These are interrelated structural determinants of human existence.

Bad Faith

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Nothingness, freedom, and anxiety provide the conditions that make possible the movement of “bad faith” (mauvaise foi). Bad faith is a form of self-deception that in making use of freedom denies it. Bad faith is akin to lying, yet not identical to it. In lying, one hides the truth from others. In bad faith, one hides the truth from oneself. In the former there is a duality of deceiver and deceived; in the latter there is a unity of a single consciousness. Bad faith does not come from the outside. Consciousness affects itself with it.

In describing the pattern of bad faith, Sartre develops the example of a woman who consents to go out with an amorous suitor. She is fully aware of his intentions and knows that sooner or later she will have to make a decision. An immediate decision is demanded when he caresses her hand. If she leaves her hand there, she encourages his advances; if she withdraws it, she may well preclude any further relationship with the suitor. She must decide, but she seeks means for postponing the decision. It is at this point that bad faith comes into play. She leaves her hand in his but does not notice that she is doing so. She becomes all intellect, divorces her soul from her body, and transforms her body into an object or thing—into the mode of “being-in-itself.” Her hand becomes “a thing,” neither consenting nor resisting. She objectivizes her body, and ultimately herself, as in-itself, and thus stages a flight or an escape from herself as for-itself. She loses her subjectivity, her freedom, and her responsibility for decision. She exists in bad faith.

Consciousness

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The pursuit of being leads to an awareness of nothingness, nothingness to an awareness of freedom, freedom to bad faith, and bad faith to the being of consciousness that provides the condition for its possibility. People are thus led to an interrogation of the immediate structures of the for-itself as consciousness. The immediate consciousness in which the self experiences presence is what Sartre calls nonpositional consciousness. This consciousness characterizes the level of primitive awareness and is prior to the positional consciousness that is the reflective consciousness of the intentional action. Nonpositional consciousness is prereflective; therefore, Sartre describes it as a prereflective cogito (cogito pre-reflexif). This prereflective cogito quite clearly precedes the Cartesian cogito, which is a movement of reflection, and becomes the foundation for it.

Positional consciousness, on the other hand, is reflective in character, directed toward some intentional object. Sartre has taken over Husserl’s doctrine of intentionality and has made it central to his description of the positional consciousness. Positional consciousness is always consciousness of something. It is directed outward into a world. However, the positional consciousness can also be directed reflexively upon itself. Consciousness can become conscious of itself as being conscious. It is in this way that the ego or the self is posited or derived. Both the world and the ego or self are posited by the projecting activity of the for-itself in its nonpositional freedom, and they become correlative phenomena inextricably bound up at their very source. Without the world there is no ego, and without the ego, there is no world. Both the world and the ego are hypostatized through reflection as unifying, ideal limits.

The For-Itself

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One of the central structural elements of the for-itself is facticity. The for-itself apprehends itself as a lack or decompression of being. It is not its own foundation. It is a “hole” in the heart of being, infected with nothingness, abandoned to a world without justification. It discovers itself thrown into a situation, buffeted by brute contingencies, for the most part superfluous and “in the way.” Facticity indicates the utter contingency and irrevocable situationality of the being of the for-itself. Without facticity, consciousness could choose its attachments to the world—it would be absolute and unfettered freedom. However, the freedom that the for-itself experiences is always restricted by the situation in which it is abandoned. Nevertheless, the freedom of the for-itself is a real freedom, and even in its facticity, the for-itself perpetually relates itself to itself in freedom. One does not become a bourgeois or a French person until one chooses to become such. Freedom is always present, translating facticity into possibility. In the final analysis, the for-itself is totally responsible for its being.

Value and possibility provide two additional structures of the for-itself. Value is an expression of an impossible striving toward a coincidence of being. The for-itself perpetually strives to surpass itself toward reunion with the in-itself, thus achieving totality by healing the fundamental rupture in being. However, this totality is an impossible synthesis. As soon as the for-itself would become coincident with the in-itself, it would lose itself as for-itself. A final totality remains forever unattainable because it would combine the incompatible characteristics of the in-itself (positivity and plenitude) and the for-itself (negativity and lack). The impossible striving for reunion gives rise to the unhappy or alienated consciousness. The for-itself is “sick in its being” because it is haunted by a totality that it seeks to attain but never can without losing itself as for-itself. “The being of human reality is suffering because it emerges in being as perpetually haunted by a totality which it is without being able to be it, since it would not be able to attain the in-itself without losing itself as for-itself. Human reality therefore is by nature an unhappy consciousness, without the possibility of surpassing its unhappy state.” Now possibility, as an immediate structure of the for-itself, provides further clarification of the meaning of the for-itself as lack. The possible is what the for-itself lacks in its drive for completeness and totality. It indicates the not yet of human reality, the openness of its constant striving.

Time

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The structures of the for-itself are ontologically rooted in temporality, which provides their unifying ground. This temporality is understood in Sartre’s phenomenological analysis as a synthesis of structured moments. The “elements” or directions of time (past, present, and future) do not constitute an infinite series of nows, or collected “givens,” in which some are no longer and others are not yet. If time is understood as an infinite series of discrete nows, then the whole series is annihilated. The past nows are no longer real, the future nows are not yet real, and the present now is always slipping away, functioning only as a limit of an infinite division. In such a view, time evaporates and is dissolved into an infinite “dust of instants” that are ontologically anemic. A phenomenological analysis of the time of the immediate consciousness avoids this dissolution of temporality by describing the elements of time as “structured moments of an original synthesis.”

Following Heidegger, Sartre speaks of time as an ecstatic unity in which the past is still existentially real, the future already existentially real, and in which past and future coalesce in the present. However, Sartre differs from Heidegger in refusing to ascribe ontological priority to the future. No ecstasis of time has any priority over any of the others; none can exist without the other two. If, indeed, one is to accent any ecstasis, Sartre maintains that it would be phenomenologically closer to the facts to accent the present rather than the future. The past remains an integral part of one’s being. It is not something that one had or possessed at one time; it is something of which one is aware here and now. The past is always bound to one’s present. One is always related to one’s past, but one is at the same time separated from it insofar as one engages in a constant movement from the self as past to the self as future.

The past tends to become solidified and thus takes on the quality of an in-itself. It is defined as a for-itself that has become an in-itself. It takes on a character of completeness and fixity, but it still remains one’s own, and as long as it remains a part of one’s consciousness it can be recovered in an act of choice. The past provides the ontological foundation for facticity. In a very real sense, the past and facticity indicate one and the same thing. The past makes possible one’s experience of abandonment and situationality.

In contrast to the past, which has become an in-itself, the present remains a full-embodied for-itself. Sartre defines the present as a “perpetual flight in the face of being.” It exhibits a flight from the being that it was and a flight toward the being that it will be. Strictly speaking, the for-itself as present has its being outside itself—behind it and before it. It was its past and will be its future. The for-itself as present is not what it is (past) and is what it is not (future). The future is a mode of being that the for-itself must strive to be. As a mode of being, it designates an existential quality that one is, rather than an abstract property that one has. The future is a lack that is constitutive of one’s subjectivity. As the past provides the foundation for facticity, so the future provides the foundation for possibility. The future constitutes the meaning of one’s present for-itself as a project of possibilities. The future is not a series of chronologically ordered nows that are yet to come. Rather, it is a region of one’s being, which circumscribes one’s expanding possibilities and defines one as a for-itself who is always on the way.

Self and Other

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The temporalized world of the for-itself is not an insulated world experienced in isolation. In the world of the for-itself, the “others” (autrui) have already made their appearance. Hence, the being of the for-itself is always a being-for-others as well. The discussion of the problem of the interrelation of personal selves occupies a lengthy and important part of Being and Nothingness. Sartre begins with an examination and criticism of the views of Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger, and then proceeds to a positive formulation of his own. The “other” is already disclosed in the movements of the prereflective, nonpositional consciousness. Shame affords an example of a prereflective, disclosure of the “other,” as well as a disclosure of oneself as standing before the other. Through shame one discovers simultaneously the “other” and an aspect of one’s being. One is ashamed of oneself before the “other.” The “other” reveals oneself to one. One needs the “other” in order to realize fully all the structures of one’s being. It is thus that the structures of being-for-itself and being-for-others are inseparable.

In the phenomenon of “the look” (le regard) is another example of the prereflective disclosure of the self and the other. It is through the look that the “other” erupts into one’s world, decentralizes and dissolves it, and then by reference to the other’s own projects reconstitutes it and the freedom that one experiences. When one is “looked at,” the stability of one’s world and the freedom that one experiences as for-itself are threatened. The other is apprehended as someone who is about to steal one’s world, suck one into the orbit of his or her concerns, and reduce one to the mode of being-in-itself—to an object or a thing. “Being-seen-by-the-other” involves becoming an object for the other. When the movement of the look is completed, one is no longer a free subject; one has fallen into the slavery of the other.Thus being-seen constitutes me as a being without defenses for a freedom which is not my freedom. It is in this sense that we can consider ourselves as slaves in so far as we appear to the other. However, this slavery is not the result of a life in the abstract form of consciousness. I am a slave to the degree that my being is dependent at the center of a freedom which is not mine and which is the very condition of my being.

It is in this way that the existence of the other determines one’s original fall—a fall that can be most generally described as a fall from oneself as being-for-itself into the mode of being-in-itself. One’s only defense is the objectivization of the other. Through one’s own look, one can seek to shatter the world of the other and take away his or her subjective freedom. Indeed, one seeks to remove the other from one’s world and put him or her out of play, but this can never succeed, because the existence of the other is a contingent and irreducible fact. One encounters the other; one does not constitute the other. The other remains, threatening to counterattack one’s defenses with a look. This creates a constant cycle of mutual objectivization. One affirms one’s freedom by rendering the other into an object. Then the other affirms freedom by rendering one into an object. Then one stages an existential counterattack, and the cycle repeats itself. The upshot is an irreconcilable conflict between the self and the other, with a consequent breakdown of all communication. Alienation remains in Sartre’s doctrine of intersubjectivity. The reader who searches for a positive doctrine of community may search in vain. All forms of “being-with” find their common denominator in an alienating “being-for.”

The Body

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In the relation of the for-itself with the other, the body appears as a central phenomenon. The body is discussed in the context of three ontological dimensions: first, the body as I exist it, second, the body as utilized and known by the other, and third, the body as I exist it in reference to its being known by the other. The body as I exist it is not the objectivized body constituted by nerves, glands, muscles, and organs. Such an objectivized body is present for the physician when he gives me a medical examination, but I do not apprehend my body in this way. I apprehend my body in its lived concreteness as that phenomenon that indicates my possibilities in the world. The body as concretely lived signifies a level of being that is fundamentally different from the body as objectively known. The body as concretely lived reveals an original relation to the world of immediate and practical concerns. I carry out my practical concerns through instruments or utensils.

Sartre, in the development of his concept of the world, draws heavily from Heidegger and defines the world of immediate experience as an instrumental world. Instruments refer to one’s body, insofar as the body apprehends and modifies the world through the use of instruments. One’s body and the world are thus coextensive. One’s body is spread out across the utensils that one uses. One’s body is everywhere in the world. To have a body and to experience that there is a world are one and the same thing. However, not only does one exist in one’s body, but one’s body is also utilized and known by the other. This second ontological dimension indicates one’s body as a body-for-the-other. One’s body as known by the other, and so also the other’s body as known by one, is always a body-in-a-situation. The body of the “other” is apprehended within the movements of a situation as a synthetic totality of life and action. The isolated appendages and gestures of another’s body have no significance outside the context of a situation. A clenched fist in itself means nothing. Only when the clenched fist is apprehended as an integral part of a synthetic totality of life movements is the lived body of the “other” disclosed. A corpse is no longer in a situation, and hence can be known only in its modality of death as an anatomical-physiological entity.

The third ontological dimension indicates the reappraisal of one’s body as a body that is known by and exists for the other. Thus alienation enters one’s world. One’s body becomes a tool or an object for the other. One’s body flows to the other, who sucks it into the orbit of his or her projects and brings about the dissolution of one’s world. This alienation is made manifest through affective structures such as shyness. Blushing, for example, expresses the consciousness of one’s body not as one lives it for oneself, but as one lives it for the other. One cannot be embarrassed by one’s own body as one exists in it. Only a body that exists for the other can become an occasion for embarrassment.

In the concrete relation of the for-itself with the other, two sets of contradictory attitudes make their appearance: the attitudes of love and masochism and the attitudes of hatred and sadism. In the love relationship, the beloved is for the lover not simply a thing that one desires to possess. The analogy of ownership breaks down in an explanation of love. Love expresses a special kind of appropriation. The lover wants to assimilate the love of the beloved without destroying the other’s freedom. However, this relationship of love ultimately founders because it is impossible to maintain an absolute subjectivity or freedom without objectivizing another as the material for one’s freedom. This accounts for the insecurity of love. The lover is perpetually in danger of being made to appear as an object. In masochism, the annihilation of subjectivity is deliberately directed inward. Masochists put themselves forward as an in-itself for the other. They set up conditions so that they can be assimilated by the other; thus, they deliberately transform themselves into an object. Hatred and sadism constitute the reverse attitude. Here there is an attempt to objectivize the other rather than the self. Sadists seek to “incarnate” the other by using their body as a tool. The other becomes an instrument in their hands; in this way, they appropriate the freedom of the other. However, this attempt results in failure because the other can always turn back on the sadists and make objects out of them. Thus, again, the futility of all attempts to establish harmonious relations with the other is demonstrated. This inability to achieve genuine communication leads to a despair in which nothing remains for the for-itself but to become involved in the circularity of objectivization in which it passes from one to the other of the two fundamental attitudes.

Additional Reading

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Beauvoir, Simone de. Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre. Translated by Patrick O’Brian. New York: Pantheon 1984. A discerning look at Jean-Paul Sartre by his long-time companion.

Caws, Peter. Sartre. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979. Presents an overview of Sartre’s philosophical writings. Chapters 4-6 discuss ideas from Being and Nothingness and examine the concepts of being, negation, subjectivity, and “bad faith.” Points out the roots of Being and Nothingness in Sartre’s earlier writings, and especially highlights his ideas regarding interpersonal emotional relationships.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Maine de Biran to Sartre. New York: Doubleday, 1977. Copleston’s clear exposition of Sartre’s existentialism and political philosophy situates Sartre in the French philosophical tradition.

Danto, Arthur C. Sartre. 2d ed. London: Fontana, 1991. A good introductory overview to Sartre’s life and thought.

Dobson, Andrew. Jean-Paul Sartre and the Politics of Reason: A Theory of History. Cambridge, London: Cambridge University Press, 1993. An assessment of Sartre’s perspectives on history and politics, emphasizing that human rationality is always situated in particular times and places.

Fournay, Jean-François, and Charles D. Minahen, eds. Situating Sartre in Twentieth Century Thought and Culture. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997. Sartre scholars offer varied interpretations on the significance of Sartre’s philosophical and literary works.

Fullbrook, Kate. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre: The Remaking of a Twentieth Century Legend. New York: Basic Books, 1994. A worthwhile study of the relationship between two important twentieth century philosophers who helped to establish existentialism as an important movement.

Grene, Marjorie G. Sartre. New York: New Viewpoints, 1973. Contains a helpful discussion of Sartre’s philosophical predecessors and an analysis of his place among twentieth century thinkers. Chapters 4-5 specifically discuss the ideas of Being and Nothingness, which Grene calls “one of the treasure-houses” of philosophy. This view does not, however, prevent her from strongly criticizing the role of Cartesian dualities in Sartre’s thinking such as the division of body and mind. Recommended for more advanced readers of Sartre.

Hayman, Ronald. Sartre: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987. A valuable scholarly study, this biography focuses on the progression of Sartre’s ideas and his changing philosophical stance.

Howells, Christina, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Sartre. Cambridge, London: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Contains helpful articles on diverse aspects of Sartre’s philosophical and literary works.

Jones, W. T. A History of Western Philosophy: Kant to Wittgenstein and Sartre. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1969. A good introduction to Sartre and his place in twentieth century existential philosophy.

Kern, Edith, ed. Sartre: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. Primarily discusses Sartre’s fiction, but parts 5-6 contain evaluations of Sartre’s contributions to philosophy and psychoanalysis.

Kerner, George C. Three Philosophical Moralists: Mill, Kant, and Sartre, an Introduction to Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. A comparative study of three of the most influential ethical thinkers in modern Western philosophy.

McBride, William L. Sartre’s Political Philosophy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. A thoughtful interpretation of the main points in Sartre’s political theory and their implications for the future.

Murdoch, Iris. Sartre: Romantic Rationalist. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1959. A well-written introduction to Sartre’s thought. Discusses Being and Nothingness thoroughly and, to a lesser degree, Sartre’s fiction and politics. Critical of existentialism’s “deficiencies,” but presents Sartre’s views fairly.

Wider, Kathleen Virginia. The Bodily Nature of Consciousness: Sartre and Contemporary Philosophy of Mind. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997. Underscores the emphasis that Sartre places on the embodied nature of human consciousness and relates Sartre’s views to important contemporary theories about the mind-body relationship.

Anne W. Sienkewicz John K. Roth

Bibliography

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Additional Reading

Beauvoir, Simone de. Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre. Translated by Patrick O’Brian. New York: Pantheon 1984. A discerning look at Jean-Paul Sartre by his long-time companion.

Caws, Peter. Sartre. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979. Presents an overview of Sartre’s philosophical writings. Chapters 4-6 discuss ideas from Being and Nothingness and examine the concepts of being, negation, subjectivity, and “bad faith.” Points out the roots of Being and Nothingness in Sartre’s earlier writings, and especially highlights his ideas regarding interpersonal emotional relationships.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Maine de Biran to Sartre. New York: Doubleday, 1977. Copleston’s clear exposition of Sartre’s existentialism and political philosophy situates Sartre in the French philosophical tradition.

Danto, Arthur C. Sartre. 2d ed. London: Fontana, 1991. A good introductory overview to Sartre’s life and thought.

Dobson, Andrew. Jean-Paul Sartre and the Politics of Reason: A Theory of History. Cambridge, London: Cambridge University Press, 1993. An assessment of Sartre’s perspectives on history and politics, emphasizing that human rationality is always situated in particular times and places.

Fournay, Jean-François, and Charles D. Minahen, eds. Situating Sartre in Twentieth Century Thought and Culture. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997. Sartre scholars offer varied interpretations on the significance of Sartre’s philosophical and literary works.

Fullbrook, Kate. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre: The Remaking of a Twentieth Century Legend. New York: Basic Books, 1994. A worthwhile study of the relationship between two important twentieth century philosophers who helped to establish existentialism as an important movement.

Grene, Marjorie G. Sartre. New York: New Viewpoints, 1973. Contains a helpful discussion of Sartre’s philosophical predecessors and an analysis of his place among twentieth century thinkers. Chapters 4-5 specifically discuss the ideas of Being and Nothingness, which Grene calls “one of the treasure-houses” of philosophy. This view does not, however, prevent her from strongly criticizing the role of Cartesian dualities in Sartre’s thinking such as the division of body and mind. Recommended for more advanced readers of Sartre.

Hayman, Ronald. Sartre: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987. A valuable scholarly study, this biography focuses on the progression of Sartre’s ideas and his changing philosophical stance.

Howells, Christina, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Sartre. Cambridge, London: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Contains helpful articles on diverse aspects of Sartre’s philosophical and literary works.

Jones, W. T. A History of Western Philosophy: Kant to Wittgenstein and Sartre. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1969. A good introduction to Sartre and his place in twentieth century existential philosophy.

Kern, Edith, ed. Sartre: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. Primarily discusses Sartre’s fiction, but parts 5-6 contain evaluations of Sartre’s contributions to philosophy and psychoanalysis.

Kerner, George C. Three Philosophical Moralists: Mill, Kant, and Sartre, an Introduction to Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. A comparative study of three of the most influential ethical thinkers in modern Western philosophy.

McBride, William L. Sartre’s Political Philosophy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. A thoughtful interpretation of the main points in Sartre’s political theory and their implications for the future.

Murdoch, Iris. Sartre: Romantic Rationalist. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1959. A well-written introduction to Sartre’s thought. Discusses Being and Nothingness thoroughly and, to a lesser degree, Sartre’s fiction and politics. Critical of existentialism’s “deficiencies,” but presents Sartre’s views fairly.

Wider, Kathleen Virginia. The Bodily Nature of Consciousness: Sartre and Contemporary Philosophy of Mind. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997. Underscores the emphasis that Sartre places on the embodied nature of human consciousness and relates Sartre’s views to important contemporary theories about the mind-body relationship.

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Critical Essays