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Paul-Vincent Spade on Jean-Paul Sartre

Paul Vincent Spade is Professor of Philosophy at Indiana University, Bloomington. He has put his Sartre course notes online in pdf:

(1) Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness: Class Notes, Fall 1995. 243 pp.

(2) Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness: Course Materials. 76 pp.

Also includes : Christopher Vaughan, Pure Reflection: Self-Knowledge and Moral Understanding in the Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre (Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, 1993) 210 pp.

April 14, 2008 - Posted by | Existentialism, general, Jean-Paul Sartre | , , , ,


  1. Love the picture. All that’s missing is the beer in the glass! I’m leaving a few comments (wordpress search for Being and Nothingness) concerning my reading of Sartre’s book on phenomenological ontology. I don’t know if you’re still attached to this cite but no matter–I still love the picture (thanks for the opportunity to comment).

    I agree that non-being is subsequent of being (and there in lies the self-consciousness/divinity connection). Amazingly, it was only after struggling with Being And Nothingness that I was able to make this distinction. Here’s some of the “road map” that moved me to this realization.

    I agree with Sartre, especially with his concept
    “intentionality of consciousness.” I equate “intentionality” with the freedom of self-consciousness,–the freedom to be conscious of divinity, and the freedom to be conscious of the divinity that resides “in every self-consciousness.” Keeping Sartre in mind, here is further commentary on the divinity/self-consciousness connection:

    Knowledge is found everywhere except in the being of the for-itself. Worldliness, spatiality, quantity, temporality, instrumentality, etc. arise in consciousness as objects for the for-itself, but the for-itself can never become a conscious object—just like a knife blade cannot cut itself. Were it not for the inherent nothingness found in the being of the for-itself, there would not be a consciousness of knowledge. Sartre has described the for-itself as the “pure reflection of nonbeing,” and it is this negation of being which let’s knowledge come into the world. In this respect, the knower-known dichotomy is reduced to mere fabrication, since the knower does not exist. “For-itself nothingness” permits consciousness of reality, but the for-itself remains just outside the reach of that reality because there is no knower to be known.

    Ironically, Sartre interpreted being-for-itself as proof of the non-existence of God. Actually, what I got out of his reasoning was that freedom (restricted by its environment) is all that we are. We are the being that is being what is not, while not being what is because we are free to be conscious of everything else. Bogged down with this baggage, though, we cannot be surprised to find the human psyche in a constant struggle with existential issues, unsatisfied desires, and questions! This burden, if indeed it is a burden, is not insignificant; without this baggage there would be no questions,—and without questions there would be no God attribute of openness/freedom; there would be no comprehensibility of the universe!

    What God’s freedom is defining here is God as Immanent (the phenomenal world) and God as Transcendent (the God of all religions). All we can know about Transcendent God is that God exists. The space of logical implication tells us that much. On the other hand, we can know a great deal about God’s Immanence because that’s what we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Everyday, as a self-conscious being, we participate in inquiry, analysis, conscience, and imagination.

    Comment by bwinwnbwi | August 22, 2010 | Reply

  2. Sartre had a sense of humor. He was consciously participating in his own novel and at times being the ‘overly zealous waiter’ that he described in “Being And Nothingness.” Frankly, he used some of his own writing as a literary device to push the reader over the edge into a state of dis- or mis- belief, a state of shock (if permitted) to make his points grander than what they may have been.

    The above commenter makes point of non-being as following a state of being, which is somewhat confusing. Non-conscious being (being for-itself) is unrecognizable to itself. It requires a consciousness to acknowledge that *something* is there so it can exist *to a consciousness.* This does not preclude a subject’s being before a consciousness is around. It means that an object will exist without any sort of recognition or reality within the framework of a known universe until something that has consciousness apprehends it.

    Sartre’s argument that the for-itself is an indicator against a, if you will, God, is somewhat lacking. Here’s why: he admits that experience is the key to the total of existence – one must experience a tree or an other in an effort to cooperatively gain the evidence for existence. Sartre introduces a theory called “bad faith” in an effort to bring concreteness a state of mind where the person actively tries to convince themselves that a lie (known as a lie deep within their mind) is real through a series of self administered psychological buttresses for believing the lie and premises that support a reality built around the lie.

    There are plenty of people who actively experience what they consider a religious experience – without entering a state of “bad faith.” How can one argue that there is another that does not experience it if it can’t be seen? I don’t see my wife every moment of every day, but that certainly doesn’t indicate that she isn’t existing. Further, a state of bad faith requires a person to lie about what it is that they truly are or what they experience. There really are people that really do experience brain changes when they pray – and those changes occur if and only if the person is in prayer. There is a biological function that is unique to a brain while experiencing prayer, which means that (regardless if God exists or not) the person isn’t pretending *to themselves.*

    What Sartre fails to address is faith in general. I think that his greatest mistake was that he applied the phenomenological process to the world but did not circumscribe his own consciousness from the result. What he got was, essentially, self-biased information. As he did not believe in God, his phenomenology did not include God as an experiential other. Husserl did a better job at admitting the possibility of God as faith is something that people do experience. The mere presence of faith is enough to allow that if faith exists for one thing, then it *can* exist for other things. Faith, therefore must have an object and even if it is not real a real object, it is real to the individual who maintains faith.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m certainly not an advocate for organized religion, especially ones that encourage inequality at best and hate at worst. I’m commenting only on the problem seems that Sartre wasn’t as good as a phenomenologist as he may (and others have) believed.

    Oh, and I hope Spade is doing well. He was (and hopefully still is) one of the best professors, ever.

    Comment by John Simmons | January 16, 2012 | Reply

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