• “The being of consciousness does not coincide with itself in a full equivalence.” As in, the being of consciousness is in fact, incomplete. For example, consciousness (of) belief is NOT consciousness (of) belief. Why? To equate the terms means to suppress ‘of’ and make belief an object for consciousness. This would make consciousness the determining factor, that consciousness can determine itself in the face of belief. No, consciousness of belief is in fact belief. It exists in order to perform the act of faith. It is impossible to in fact separate the terms.
  • “The law of being-for-itself is to be itself in the form of presence to itself.”
  • Presence to itself means a fissure has slipped into being. This is because the term ‘it-self’ contains the term ‘self’, which implies a presence. Therefore, there is a Nothingness between the ‘self’ and the itself. As Sartre describes,

    “The self refers, but, it refers precisely to the subject. It indicates a relation between the subject and himself […] In fact, the self cannot be apprehended as a real existent; the subject can not be self, for coincidence with self, as we have seen, causes the self to disappear (as that would be being-in-itself). But neither can it not be itself since the self is an indication of the subject himself. The self therefore represents an ideal distance within the immanence of the subject in relation to himself, a way of not being his own coincidence, of escaping identity while positing it as a unity. This is presence to self. The law of being of the for-itself, as the ontological foundation of consciousness, is to be itself in the form of presence to itself.”

  • Basically, the distinction between the ‘self’ and the ‘subject’, the Nothingness in-between it, is the ontological foundation for consciousness, as further elaborated below.
  • The being of consciousness qua consciousness is to exist at a distance from itself as presence to itself and this empty distance is Nothingness.
  • Nothingness is the putting into question of being by being

This is a loaded but fairly concise. Being-for-itself is a being that exists because there is a Nothingness that separates the self from the itself. This is essentially the space for Freedom. Also, it exists because consciousness does not coincide with itself in a full equivalence. The being of consciousness can never coincide with itself (as consciousness). There is a lack.

In addition, Human reality is being in so far as within its being and for its being it is the unique foundation of nothingness at the heart of being. This is because Nothingness is the putting into question of being by being, that is, precisely consciousness or the for-itself. (126)

So, we have learned that consciousness is being-for-itself and being-for-itself is the origin of Nothingness in the world. Human reality secrets its own Nothingness.


Sartre continues to list examples of bad faith:

  • Consider a woman on a date. She knows she will need to come to a decision regarding whether to kiss her date, continue the relationship or otherwise. She knowingly does not read into his flirtation. She becomes all intellect. She leaves her hand lifeless as an object for her date to hold in order to postpone such a decision. In doing so, she
    • First, disarmed the actions of her companion to that of pure empiricism, but enjoys his desire as not being what it is. (Meaning, she reduces the situation to pure facts. He is holding my hand. He likes what I’m saying.)
    • She recognizes herself as not being her own body, becomes passive
  • This woman is affected by bad faith in the following way. She separates facticity from transcendence: “I am not what I am.” She resigns herself from her physical body. She also posits strictly the facts without transcending towards their meaning, that, her date likes her appearance.
  • So, how does this lie to oneself which happens within the same consciousness in an instant appear to consciousness? In order to discover that, Sartre looks at ‘sincerity’, which is a demand.

Sartre will discuss how a ‘sincere’ man is a man in bad faith and one of the most insidious types of bad faith at that. To discuss sincerity, Sartre first uses the example of a waiter.

There is a waiter at a restaurant playing at being a waiter. Society likes to imprison people in their conditions. The water is a waiter in the mode of being what he is not. The waiter is playing at being a waiter because he is not a waiter. His function is that of a waiter but his being is Freedom. If the waiter claims, “I am a waiter. That’s all I’m good at.” and does not consider any alternatives, then, the waiter is in bad faith. He has objectified himself (self-reification.)

  • The Other’s consciousness is what it is not
  • Consciousness to the Other is a perpetual absence because it is Freedom
  • As an example, someone glances at me — it is impossible to hold as fact the meaning of any particular look. I am not privileged to the person’s consciousness.

This is crucial to understanding sincerity. The significance of sincerity is that it is impossible to be sincere within the structure of consciousness. One cannot be what one “is”, one is constantly constituting what he is as his being is Freedom.

Sincerity is a phenomenon of bad faith because no one can be what he actually “is.”

Sartre gives an example-

There is a homosexual in constant guilt. He denies that he is a homosexual. He understands “not being” in the sense of which this table is not an ink-well, he is in bad faith. This is because he is playing on the word being; if the homosexual understood that he is “not a homosexual” in the mode of not being that one is, meaning that human reality cannot be reduced to mere activity, he would be correct, but, likening “not being” to that of a table not being an ink-well is bad faith. Turning himself into an ‘in-itself’ is bad faith (self-reification) and furthermore he is aware that his play on the word being is in fact to deceive himself in order to be deceived. However, the critic, the ‘sincere’ man who demands that the man identify himself as homosexual is also in bad faith and more insidiously so. In Sartre’s words:

“The sincere man constitutes himself as a thing in order to escape the condition of a thing by the same act of sincerity” (109)

Additionally, Sartre writes “But here our concern is only with sincerity which aims at itself in present immanence. What is it’s goal? to bring me to confess to myself what I am in order that I may finally coincide with my being; in a word, what I am in the mode of ‘not being what I am/’ Its assumption is that fundamentally I am already in the mode of the in-itself, what I have to be.” (110)

Sincerity elevates being-in-itself. “What I am in the mode of ‘not being what I am'” meaning to profess yourself as an object in the mode of not being one. This is only possible because human reality is what it is not and is not what it is. Sartre will later claim there are two ways of escaping this: By bad faith or by a continual progression, re-appropriation of the self (Freedom) towards the in-itself which it should be (but will never reach.) As in, I want to be a computer scientist, I know that I not a computer scientist in the sense of being what one is, but, I continually work (transcend) towards the idea of a computer scientist, towards the idea (or value) of one, but, can actually never reach it.

“[The goal of bad faith is to cause] me to be what I am, in the mode of ‘not being what one is’ or not to be what I am in the mode of ‘being what one is” (110)

Basically, this means not only can someone profess to being in the mode of the in-itself, someone can deny himself certain qualities. If a man who has committed a cowardly action claims that ‘he is not cowardly’, he certainly is not, because, he can never be totally synthesized with cowardly as a being-in-itself, but, he is cowardly in that moment because his action was cowardly. Here, one can see how the structure of being affords this denial. [I am basically sure of this analysis but a clarification would help. I’m still reviewing the last part of BF and Belief, but, I think I understand it. ]

“The condition of the possibility for bad faith is that human reality, in its most immediate being, must be what it is not.” (112)

Sartre now begins to integrate bad faith with belief, as bad faith is a “faith”, not a lie. The essential problem of bad faith is belief. Belief defined as “the adherence of a being to its object when the object is not given.”

Bad Faith only requires non-persuasive evidence, it counts itself satisfied only when it is barely persuaded (as does belief.)

What are the conditions for the possibility for such a faith?

  • I believe Pierre is my friend.
    • Hegel calls this an immediate–simple belief
    • Requires mediation and that belief, becoming belief-for-itself, passes into non-belief
    • If I believe that Pierre likes me, then, his actions appear as conditioned by friendship
    • If I know I believe, it is not belief, it is a pure subjective determination.
  • However, “to believe is to know that one believes and to know that one believes is not to believe any longer.” (within the same consciousness.)
  • Why is this? Consciousness continually escapes itself. One never believes what they believe. This is because the mediate and the immediate resides within the same consciousness. Not only is there non-positional consciousness of belief, there must also be consciousness of belief.
  • Belief is a being which questions its own being. It never has adequate fact to transform into knowledge. Therefore when someone knows they believe they always fall short of believing in it.
  • An example– “At the moment when I wish to believe myself courageous I know that I am a coward. And this certainly would come to destroy my belief. But, first, I am not any more courageous than cowardly, if we are to understand this in the mode of being of the in-itself. In the second place, I do not know that I am courageous, such a view of myself can be accompanied only by belief, for it surpasses pure reflective certitude. In the third place, it is very true that bad faith does not succeed in being what it wishes to believe. But it is precisely as the acceptance of not believing what it believes that it is in bad faith.” Therefore I believe in order not to believe and do not believe in order to believe.

Again, it is the structure of consciousness itself that permits this phenomena to exist.

Next- Part Two: Being-for-itself, which, I believe is the most difficult chapter in the entire book-

Sartre begins by defining consciousness again as “a being, the nature of which is to be conscious of the nothingness of it’s being.” Sartre re-defines terms through-out the work, each assuming a greater level of technical complexity. In the next chapter, “Being for Itself”, we will learn the technical word for the being which permits us to act freely.

Based on this definition of consciousness, “What are we to say is the man who has the possibility of denying himself?”

Note, lying is not bad faith. Bad faith implies the unity of a single consciousness. A liar is in complete possession of the truth. Someone engaging in bad faith is lying and is conscious of lying in a single moment.

Bad Faith is a lie to oneself, but, not an intentional lie to oneself.

“How can such a lie subsist if the duality which conditions it is suppressed?” (The duality of the liar/lied is suppressed because it occurs at the same moment.)

Now, Sartre engages in a criticism of Freud which answers this question by positing the triad ego, id, superego and the idea of the unconscious. The unconscious is what permits bad faith. I did not take extensive notes in this section because the criticisms were obvious given Sartre’s ontology – the example of the patient should suffice-

Freud discovered that at the time which a patient was about to be cured, he “removed himself from therapy.” What does this mean?

The patient’s actions cannot be ascribed to the ego ro the id. The ego is conscious of going to the psychiatrist for treatment.

If the patient refused to return to the psychiatrist because he was disturbed by revelations within the session, it is impossible to resort to the unconscious to explain bad faith. (Why?)

A self-censor (or any censor) must be able to discern items to be repressed in order to repress them. There is not a positional consciousness (of knowledge) ignorant of itself. The patient must necessarily posit the reason as an object before consciousness.

The censor here is self-consciousness of being conscious of the drive to be repressed in order not to be conscious of it. This is bad faith.

All psychoanalysis accomplishes is the creation of a permanent autonomous consciousness of bad faith.

Another example is that of the woman for whom extra-marital affairs have made frigid; The woman applies themselves to being distracted during the act of coitus in advance, distracting herself in order to prove to herself that she is frigid. This is another example of bad faith. Though she says she does not feel pleasure, she is aware of pleasure and this is the crucial dimension in the operation of bad faith.

The woman here is non-positionally conscious she is experiencing pleasure but positionally conscious of something else, hence the distraction. Non-positional consciousness does not equal knowledge, so, technically, she did not know she felt pleasure.

Next, Patterns of Bad Faith. I may return to this and add some more notes as I think a more extensive elaboration on Sartre’s criticism of psychoanalysis might be useful.

I would like to point out that I am not a Sartre scholar and my principal interest in Sartre is first Being and Nothingness and then The Critique of Dialectical Reason. I consider myself a student and if a reader would like to point out any flaws in my reading or understanding it would be terribly helpful and I would include any suggested revisions–

I left off discussing Sartre’s example of Anguish: Vertigo

  • When a subject is on a precipice, the subject is anguished before himself because any conduct adopted is only possible rather than guaranteed and the effectiveness of any such action in question is unknown. The subject is fated to make a decision as his being is Freedom.
  • “Consciousness of being is the being of consciousness” (68) This sounds awkward and I stumbled over it a few times, but, it is straight forward. Consciousness is defined as that which it is not, consciousness is a being such that it’s being is in question. This is because consciousness can only be consciousness of something. Reflective consciousness, “consciousness of being”, is another word for Freedom.
  • “I am not the self which I will be” (68) and furthermore “Anguish is precisely my consciousness of being my own future in the mode of not-being” Note that Nothingness has slipped into this example. When I posit my possibilities: Walking slowly along the edge, jumping across, and so forth, I realize that Nothingness separates myself now from myself in the future adopting one of these possibilities or none of these possibilities and remaining stationary.

Sartre uses another example to discuss Anguish: the compulsive Gambler. The compulsive gambler is anguished before the past, anguished that he might chose to gamble again. (69)

  • There is nothing which resembles a debate: “Should I gamble?” “Should I not?” It is not as if within your being there are separate forces at work struggling to decide which force controls your action. No, instead, the dedication to not gamble is always present in your essence
  • The problem is the promise not to gamble is no longer myself. It is non-being (your essence). The promise the gambler made to himself was recognized as an object to his consciousness. He posited that “I will no longer gamble” but given that our being of consciousness is Freedom, this must be renewed constantly.
  • The promise is a memory. Anguish is the notion that nothing separates myself from myself. The gambler must rediscover his pain every time. (70)

Anguish is consciousness of Freedom. This definition runs contrary to psychological determinism, that is, it is not subject to the determinism of motives, in Sartre’s words:

  • The structure of motives as ineffective is the condition of my freedom (71) precisely because,
  • nothingness slips between motive and action. (71). My choice is still based on nothing even though I may believe – I may posit that my choice is based on a particular fundamental part of me, it is only in actuality based on nothing.
  • Furthermore, motives are an object to consciousness, not a precusor to it. I determine my own motives as I determine my own actions. The action is fundamentally the same-
  • Since [motive] arises as appearance, it is basically ineffective (71) Since consciousness posits it, since motive is for consciousness it can not determine consciousness.

On a side note while I consider myself an Existentialist, I do not believe in super-natural human Freedom, that the alcoholic is capable of always saying no but choses to consider drinking. What I take from Existentialism is that, yes, the choice was sprung from nothingness An interesting idea would be to determine the limits to Freedom using Sartre’s methodology while still maintaining the primacy of consciousness. I know that Lacan and Badiou have answers to this paradox but I have not studied them yet– thoughts for the future. Although, studying Sartre has taught me to reject the Marxian idea of false consciousness as well as the often used reductionist, out of context quote “being determines consciousness”, which, is actually an impossibility in the Existentialist framework, it is in fact the reverse- consciousness determines being.

  • Freedom is characterized by a constantly renewed obligation to re-make the self (72)
  • The gambler to stop gambling has to re-discover the self that can appreciate that situation (72)
  • The historical self is the essence of man. Anguish is due to the fact that man is always separated by a nothingness to his essence.
  • Essence is all that human reality apprehends in itself as having been (72)
  • “We must note first of all that the most common situations of our life, …, do not manifest themselves through anguish, it excludes anguish apprehension.”
  • Anguish is in fact the recognition of a possibility as my possibility; it constitutes itself when consciousness sees itself out from its essence. Anguish is anguish of not finding myself in the future, of not becoming the self that the subject wishes to be.
  • In every-day acts, I disclose possibilities by realizing them– (smoking, etc.) But, the whole act of writing a book is essence as it is possible I will never finish this book

I want to use an obscure example to reveal how Freedom is the being of consciousness. In St. Augustine’s “City of God” St. Augustine makes the argument that it was necessary that Eve eat the tree of knowledge and that they be banished from the garden such that Adam and Eve could actually believe. If Adam and Eve were built to immediately believe in God, they could not actually believe in God, to believe is to posit that belief before consciousness. Therefore, human reality was born after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden, which disappears from the Earth. So, far from our imperfection, our original sin, being what we need to atone for our original sin is what makes us capable of believing in God- in the same vein, without our being-as-Freedom it would be totally impossible to make any decision at all. There would be no such thing as ‘Nothingness’, in fact, such a situation would nihilate human reality. The original sin is what brought human reality into the world. An athiest like myself would say, human reality brought human reality into the world, we are constantly renewing ourselves but are not the basis for our own existence.

Sartre continues to examine the example of finishing a book-

  • Essence: “I have been wanting to write this book”
  • Nothing separates my Freedom from this essence: Nothing can compel me to write this book.
  • Nothingness separates me in my present moment and me from the future- I discover that the permanent possibility of abandoning this book is the very condition of the possibility of writing. If I could not abandon this book, then my being would not be Freedom but something else.

Sartre here uses the example of an alarm clock to differentiate between immediate realization and anguish. When we hear an alarm, most of us get up and go to work. We see it as an immediate necessity. We confer meaning on the alarm such that it guarantees us against anguish that it is us who confers on the alarm clock its exigency.

  • Anguish comes before values. Values do not inherently exist in the world. Values do not contain being-in-itself. Freedom, action, causes values to appear.
  • The bourgeois (capitalists, their bureaucrats, or the leisure class) who call themselves “respectable citizens” become respectable when thrown into a pattern of behavior of which the meaning is respectability, yet, the bourgeois are the ones who determine what respectability is. There is no human nature towards respectability.
  • “All trivial every-day values derive their meaning from an original projection of myself which stands as my choice of myself” (77)
  • “Anguish arises when I disengage myself from the world where I had been engaged” (78)

Discussing psychological determinism,

  • Psychological determinism elevates the being-in-itself over Freedom. As Sartre explains, being-in-itself is not capable of anything but being-in-itself. It is a density which exists.
  • [Psychology] is the totality of processes by which we try to hide anguish from ourselves; we apprehend a particular possible by avoiding all other possibilities (82)
  • Some attempt to flee anguish by reification. “I would not do this.” “I am not the type of person who would do this.”
  • Fleeing Anguish is only a mode of becoming conscious of Anguish. Fleeing Anguish is bad faith

Sartre ends the “The Origin of Negation” with a questions:

  • What is consciousness if man is capable of bad faith, lying to oneself?
  • What must be the nature of consciousness in order that man in consciousness and in terms of consciousness should arise in the world as the being who is his own nothingness and by which nothingness comes into the world?”
  • Is consciousness in the pre-reflective cogito? (88)

Next, I will post my notes on the section on bad faith.

I’ve realized that when describing a being like being-for-itself, being-in-itself, and being-for-others Sartre works on the level of non-positional consciousness. For example, I am not conscious of being-for-itself- I could not posit being-for-itself as an object for my consciousness, but, I am always aware of being-for-itself. If I am reading a book, I am conscious of reading the book. That is positional consciousness. Of course, surrounding me are chairs, televisions, advertisements, cats, dirty laundry and stacked dishes. I am non-positionally aware of my surroundings. If I was not non-positionally conscious of my surroundings then there would be no distance between myself and the exterior world. Non-positional conscious provides this separation. This is important to remember when reading the chapter on Bad Faith, particularly when Sartre studies Freud’s example of the frigid woman who claims that she does not feel any pleasure. (Non-positional consciousness is not knowledge. While I am reading the book, I have knowledge that I am reading the book, but, not knowledge of the black book-case until I consider it positionally.)

Unfortunately, I lost my notes from pp. 1 to 59 so I will need to revisit this later to be comprehensive.

“Man is the being through which nothingness comes into the world.” (59)

  • Consider Sartre’s discussion of ‘negatites’ (negativities). Sartre defines negatites as that which “indicate an aspect of being as it appears to the human being who is engaged in the world.” A negitate is unique in the sense that is fundamentally produced by human reality – it is used instrumentally. Human reality produces these negatives to explain and alter the world. Consider the distance from your car to your house. The distance, in this sense, is a ‘negatite’. The distance is a negation of space such that you can traverse from your car to your house. Other examples of negatites is simple questioning: “Are my keys in my wallet?” This simple question reveals the possibility of non-being, it also reveals how we as “beings-in-the-world” are the origin of Nothingness.

Sartre considers the ability to secrete nothingness as pre-requisite for Freedom. Humans have the ability to detach themselves from being, producing a rupture between ‘themselves’ as being-in-itself. Not only do humans secrete nothingness, as is explained in the chapter on being-for-itself, human reality is defined as a rupture from itself, that which it is not and yet not what it is.

Sartre continues to explain that Freedom is the being of man and that Freedom precedes essence. This means that no individual are strictly themselves. It is incorrect to proclaim, as it is so fashionable today: “I will be myself.” as that is an impossibility. Thousands of advertisements scream “Be yourself” or even worse “Be a better yourself” but that, too, is impossible. Your-self is Freedom to determine yourself (essence). Humanity is doomed to continuous Freedom, to make itself as it will. The subject is separated from itself by Freedom. If the subject was synonymous with itself, synonymous with the being-in-itself, consciousness would not be possible.

Now, Sartre dives further into the origin of negation-

Considering the temporal operation of negation, a man walks into a cafe, looking for his friend Pierre

“In order to comprehend Pierre’s absence, […] requires a negative moment by which consciousness constitutes itself as a negation.” (63)

In order to comprehend that Pierre is not at the cafe, the subject is required to nihilate the cafe, the surroundings, to isolate a non-being that is pierre. The subject’s consciousness transcends itself towards an object which it posits as non-existent. In Sartre’s words:

“Pierre is not here”. “I am conscious of Pierre not being here.” is a consciousness of negation which transcends itself toward an object which it posits as non-existent. To conceive of a person not in the room requires a break with being derived only from itself (63)

In other words, the subject nihilates his surroundings to posit the non-being of Pierre before his consciousness. Note that Nothing does not exist in the world as a tangible object. Nothingness is an impenetrable distance which is not a tangible object but a lack presented to consciousness. In order for the subject to be conscious of the fact that Pierre is not there, the subject, in fact, secretes his own Nothingness. It is not that non-being was already present within the cafe, the subject’s negation, the subject’s questioning, posited that Nothingness such that he could make a factual determination. In this simple example, Sartre has again proven how human reality is the origin of Nothingness.

To continue, each nihilation implies an immediate clevage between the psychic present and the past, sandwiching Nothingness. The fact that human reality has the capacity to negate, also necessarily means that human reality is the origin of Nothingness itself. Nothingness slips in-between the past and the present. Nothingness is the basis of freedom. If all events were simply causal or pre-determined, if there was in fact something inhabiting the space in-between the past and the present, then Freedom would be impossible. In fact, one can now say, Nothing prevents the subject from not looking for Pierre, it was an intentional negation which was not determined by any preceding event, but, stands alone.

Now, Sartre goes onto explain this separation, this disengaging of consciousness which allows human reality to encase things in Nothingness:

  • “What separates prior from subsequent is exactly nothingness” (64)
  • The fact that human reality can deny part or all of the world is possible because human reality carries nothingness within itself as nothing which separates its present from all past.
  • Freedom is the human being putting his past out of play by secreting his own nothingness (64)

Sartre begins to discuss Anguish.

Anguish is consciousness of Freedom (which is the being of consciousness.) Consciousness of Freedom is in fact a reflective consciousness (consciousness of consciousness.) Anguish is anguish before the self. It is the acknowledgement that ‘I am Freedom’ and that there are no particular guarantees that my action will produce the desired result. Sartre uses the example of Vertigo where the subject is anguished because he is afraid he might throw himself off. It is possible not just that he will plummet to his death by mistake but, that, within his possibilities is the act of suicide. Or, take any important decision in life, whether to end a failed relationship or embark on an adventure, questions often consume the subject: “Am I right?” “What will happen afterward?”, etc. Questions which cannot be answered but through yourself.

In the next post, I will continue to explain vertigo, anguish, completing the chapter “The Origin of Negation.”


January 5, 2010

A year and a half ago, I undertook the mammoth project of reading Sartre’s essay Being and Nothingness. At the time, I had no background in philosophy. I had read neither Husserl, Hegel, nor Heidigger, all of which Sartre references continuously through-out the essay. I was familar with the precepts of dialectics having studied Marx, Lenin and Mao extensively but I was totally new to the idea of phenomenology. I will be posting, in sequence, notes I took while reading Being and Nothingness. I decided to read Being and Nothingness after finally and painfully admitting the awful situation the militant Left finds itself in: a lack of militant subjectivity, a refreshed, re-invigorated globalized capitalism which washed away old contradictions, the decline of the labor movement and so forth. I decided, instead of going back to Marx, to mourn him, or even perhaps, pick apart his prose as if I was producing a biblical exegesis, I would try to understand the basics: the structure of existence (ontology), phenomenology and consciousness in order to understand what is really new in the late capitalist constellation where we reside.

Hopefully these notes will provide readers with some insight into Existentialism and provide aid with it’s difficult prose, complicated knots, and use of obscure terminology. It required six months of extensive work to even read the Introduction to Being and Nothingness ‘The Pursuit of Being.’ Unfortunately, I’ve lots notes from pp. 1..59 and will have to re-produce these notes at a later time. I will start publishing my notes from pp.59 onward. Before venturing into Sartre, do not make the same mistake I did. I’ve found two crucial resources for anyone interested:

Read in full: http://pvspade.com/Sartre/pdf/sartre1.pdf – A basic introduction to Sartre’s terminology.

And while reading Sartre, if you decide to use my notes, also, use http://pvspade.com/Sartre/pdf/sartre2.pdf, which provides an outline of the arguments in each chapter. This outline skips quite a bit – ending at the end of the chapter on being-for-itself and then continuing on Ch. 3 ‘The Existence of Others’

Also, while, I still have not read any Husserl, it is probably crucial that you consider reading The Idea of Phenomenology by Husserl, which can be purchased at Amazon.