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Being-for-itself and the Ontological Structure

Can Being-for-itself Avoid Bad Faith?

Ronald E. Santoni

regard to its desire , as Sartre claims, to be “ Being-in-Itself-For-Itself ”, or what he calls “God” and the ens causa sui? Given that Sartre regards the pursuit of this “God,” or simply of Being , to be in bad faith, two intertwined concerns

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Caleb Heldt

In The Imaginary, Sartre provides the foundation upon which the development of his theory of bad faith is built, pointing to a fundamental choice at the level of image consciousness between the unreflective projection of the image and the impure reflection upon that image constitutive of imaginative comprehension, or what he refers to in this text as pure comprehension. Pure comprehension can be seen as Sartre's early formulation of pure reflection in which thought is characterised by movement rather than the reification of thought indicative of impure reflection and imaginative comprehension. This will prove to have consequences for the interpretation of Sartre's conceptualizations of desire and bad faith and consequently for Sartrean ontology, psychoanalysis and ethics.

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Stephen Wang

Jean-Paul Sartre argues that human beings are fundamentally incomplete. Self-consciousness brings with it a presence-to-self. Human beings consequently seek two things at the same time: to possess a secure and stable identity, and to preserve the freedom and distance that come with self-consciousness. This is an impossible ideal, since we are always beyond what we are and we never quite reach what we could be. The possibility of completion haunts us and we continue to search for it even when we are convinced it can never be achieved. Sartre suggests that we have to continue seeking this ideal in the practical sphere, even when our philosophical reflection shows it to be an impossibility. Sartre puts this existential dilemma in explicitly theological terms. 'God' represents an ideal synthesis of being and consciousness which remains a self-contradictory goal. This dilemma remains unresolved in his thinking.

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Paul Reed

Whenever Daniel has been the focus of critical attention, he has invariably been seen within an ontological framework, in terms of a desire to ‘be’, in the Sartrean sense. It has now come to be regarded as a truism that Daniel’s attempts at self-punishment signify such a desire. The interpretation originates with Iris Murdoch who, quoting an extract from Le Sursis, in which Daniel expresses a desire ‘to be a pederast, as an oaktree is an oaktree’, concludes that ‘[Daniel] is never able to experience a pure coincidence with his vice; he remains detached from it, an observer, a possibility. His attempts to achieve coincidence take the form of self-punishment’.

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John H. Gillespie

This two-part article examines whether Sartre's final interviews, recorded in L'Espoir maintenant [Hope Now], indicate a final turn to belief through an overview of his engagement with the idea of God throughout his career. In Part 1 we examine Sartre's early atheism, but note the pervasive nature of secularised Christian metaphors and concepts in his religion of letters and the centrality of man's desire to be God in Being and Nothingness. His theoretical writings seek to refute the idea of God, but in doing so God is paradoxically both absent and present. In Part 2 we assess his anti-theism and consider his final encounter with theism in L'Espoir maintenant, arguing that it is part of Sartre's long-term engagement with the idea of God.

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Daniel O'Shiel

By introducing 'drives' into a Sartrean framework, 'being-in-itself' is interpreted as 'Nature as such', wherein instincts dominate. Being-for-itself, on the contrary, has an ontological nature diametrically opposed to this former - indeed, in the latter realm, through a fundamental process of 'nihilation' (Sartre's 'freedom') consciousness perpetually flees itself by transcending towards the world. However, a kernel of (our) nihilated Nature is left at the heart of this process, in the form of 'original facticity' that we here name drives. Drives are the original feelings and urges of a freed Nature that simply are there; they are the fundamental forces that consciousness qua freedom always has to deal with. Drives, in addition, can be nihilated in their own turn, onto a reflective, irreal plane, whereby they take the form of value. This means Sartre's notion of ontological desire is always made up of two necessary components: drives and value.

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Nikolaj Lübecker

On 1 November 1946, Jean-Paul Sartre participated in a conference celebrating the inaugural session of the UNESCO. An important argument in his presentation – ‘La responsabilité de l’écrivain’ – was that an author writes in order to achieve recognition. As Sartre puts it: ‘The writer is a man who uses language, putting words together in a way he hopes will be beautiful. Why does he do it? I think the writer speaks in order to be recognised by the others in the sense in which Hegel talks about the mutual recognition of one consciousness by another.’ This question – ‘Why does he do it?’, Why Write? – was also taken up in the second essay of What is Literature? In this longer and more complex text, Sartre not only reiterates his position from La responsabilité de l’écrivain, he adds that the reader, too, comes to the literary work with the hope of satisfying his desire for recognition.

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Patrick Ffrench

Sartre's recollection, in Les Mots, of his first visit to the cinema is a multi-layered and ambivalent text through which Sartre proposes a number of interlocking arguments: concerning the contrast between the 'sacred' space of the theatre and the non-ceremonial space of the cinema, between the theatre as associated with paternal authority, and the cinema as associated with a clandestine bond with the mother. But the text also sets up a quasi-sociological account of the public Sartre encounters in the cinema itself as revealing to him the truth of the social bond, a truth he expresses with the term 'adherence', and which he says he only rediscovered in his experience of being a prisoner in the Stalag in 1940. Rather than the basis of a sociological account of the social bond, which would seem at odds with Sartre's social philosophy, I read this as the expression of a desire for physical proximity. The space of the cinema thus develops a fantasy, and this is in continuity with the role of the cinema in the evolution traced in Les Mots, in which it is described as instigating a withdrawal into imaginary life and an indulgence in daydreaming. Through reference to Christian Metz and to Roland Barthes, whose essay 'En sortant du cinéma' is proposed as a parallel and a response to Sartre, I suggest that the 'true bond' of adherence which Sartre encounters is an unconscious rather than an epistemological truth.

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John H. Gillespie

These two articles examine whether Sartre's final interviews, recorded in L'Espoir maintenant (Hope Now) indicate a final turn to God and religious belief through an overview of his engagement with the idea of God throughout his career. Part 1, published in Sartre Studies International 19, no. 1, examined Sartre's early atheism, but noted the pervasive nature of secularised Christian metaphors and concepts in his religion of letters and also the centrality of mankind's desire to be God in L'Etre et le néant (Being and Nothingness). Sartre's theoretical writings sought to refute the idea of God, but in doing so, made God paradoxically both absent and present. Part 2 considers Sartre's anti-theism and its implications for his involvement with the idea of God before examining in detail his final encounter with theism as outlined in L'Espoir maintenant, arguing that it is part of Sartre's long-term engagement with the divine, but refuting the idea that he became a theist at the end of his life.

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Colin Davis

The dead will remain with us, Sartre remarks at the end of Les Mots, for as long as humanity roams the earth. The dead are never quite dead; they survive in what Sartre, in L'Etre et le néant, calls 'la vie morte' (dead life). In Huis clos, Sartre envisages an afterlife in which, although they can no longer act, the dead continue to agonize over the meaning of their lives and their now irrevocable actions. Sartre's script of Les Jeux sont faits, filmed by Jean Delannoy and shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1947, goes a step further. It depicts two dead people given the chance to return to earth in the pursuit of love and, at the same time, the opportunity to rectify their earlier mistakes, to change the meaning of their lives by intervening more effectively in their worlds. Despite its supernatural story line, the stakes of Les Jeux sont faits are recognizably Sartrean. The film serves as an opportunity to probe the themes of freedom, responsibility, choice, the role of the individual agent in history, the self's opacity to itself, the conflict endemic in the human condition and the ways in which external circumstances make a mockery of our endeavours. It asks the question, if we were given a second chance, could we revisit the scenes of our failures and transform them into successes? Could we learn from our mistakes and lucidly remodel the world in the form of our desires? Or are we condemned only to fail again, to make the same mistakes twice over?