The Route of Jean-Paul Sartre’s PhilosophyJune 27, 2021
Sartre develops the ontological approach at various moments of his intellectual route, the main problem that gives unity to this route is the problem of the relation of freedom to reality.
We can consider Sartre’s intellectual journey in three moments: Sartre’s first period philosophy, in which he tried to create his own original thought based on Husserl’s phenomenology, is the first moment. In this moment, although Sartre does not yet use the terms “freedom” and “reality”, in the second moment he discovers the necessary conceptual ground for discussing the relationship between “freedom” and “reality”. At this stage, the relationship between consciousness and the world is discussed with terms such as “intentionality” and “transcendence”.
The philosophical problems that should be eliminated with the discovery of intentionality are the problems of the existence and knowability of the external world. Intentionality does not merely answer the question of how the world emerges into consciousness; Sartre claims that we can also prove existence-in-itself from intentionality.
The second moment of Sartre’s philosophical route is Being and Nothingness. Here he presents a phenomenological ontology that comprehensively grounds the relationship between freedom and reality. However, this work does not develop an ethics, nor does it deal with important issues such as the possibility of politics, the historical dimension of the freedom-reality relationship. For this reason, Sartre’s philosophy has been criticized by Marxists. The Marxist criticism saw Sartre’s philosophical discussion of the relationship between freedom and reality in Being and Nothingness as a bourgeois individualism that accepts freedom as natural, neglecting the historical and economic dimensions of reality. Sartre must have paid attention to this criticism, for he gave a comprehensive answer to it. This answer appears in the Critique of Dialectical Reason, in which he reconsiders many of his theses in the second moment. In this work, Sartre synthesizes phenomenology and Marx, and deals with the problem of the relationship between freedom and reality with an ontological approach that aims to explain the historical and political dimension of this problem.
Sartre’s starting point is phenomenology. As his 1934 article “Intentionality: A Fundamental Idea of Husserl Phenomenology” shows, the idea that Sartre cares most about in Husserl’s phenomenology is the idea of ”intentionnalité”. For him, intentionality frees us from the centuries-long debate between realism and idealism about whether physical material reality is independent of our representation or cognition. According to Sartre, this debate stems from the inability to grasp the relationship between consciousness and reality correctly, and it should disappear with the discovery of intentionality. However, a change has occurred in Husserl’s understanding of intentionality. Sartre thinks that Husserl, together with Ideen, published in 1913, gave priority to idealist philosophy by basing his intentionality structure on a transcendental ego. At the center of consciousness there is no pure (transcendental) ego, not established by experience, which is the origin of all orientations. One can only speak of the existence of a psychological ego. The psychological ego, whose experience has no constitutive power, is established; It is the product of my thinking.
Being and Nothingness is an essay of “phenomenological ontology” of approximately 800 pages. There is a dual starting point. Neither consciousness (being-for-itself) can be reduced to external reality (being-in-itself), nor external reality to consciousness. However, neither one nor the other can be described independently of their relationship. In fact, the starting point of Being and Nothingness is intentionality. So what is the novelty of this work? Sartre interprets the consciousness as a transcendence, an outward movement, not a closed realm of immanence, the absence of a substantial, constitutive self in it, in short, the intentionality of consciousness as “nothing” and “freedom” in Being and Nothingness. The emphasis that we find in the first moment, that the ego is the product of reflection, is replaced by the emphasis in the second moment that a person chooses himself, his character and identity by making choices. Sartre emphasizes that this freedom brings an inevitable responsibility by saying that people choose their own world in a sense. Being and Nothingness has also attracted a lot of attention with its relation to the other (being-for-other). The other is not just an object that I construct; it is not a being in my world that exists or does not exist, that is meaningful or meaningless, depending on me. On the contrary, I can be fixed on a behavior, an identity, a body, by being described by someone else as one way or the other, and in this case, I lose the freedom of the for-itself in being. Someone else is a being who can take away my freedom by seeing me in one way or another. Being and Nothingness explains the dynamism of the relationship with others based on negativity with a phenomenology of gaze. I deceive myself by thinking that I am free independently of my reality or as someone who is not free, stuck in factual conditions. Face my own reality when someone else sees me