What Does Intentionality and the Transcendence of the Ego Mean?June 27, 2021
According to Sartre, Husserl found the feature that makes consciousness conscious: intentionality. Husserl described intentionality as “every consciousness is consciousness of something”.
Why does Sartre care so much about intentionality? According to him, what the orientation is directed towards is not an image, a representation in consciousness. Intentionality is not a relation within consciousness itself, a representation or presentation of something that consciousness cannot reach its origin.
One of the main problems of classical epistemology, the problem of the fidelity of representation is an insoluble problem. The idea of intentionality is incompatible with the claim that things can be reduced to consciousness. On the other hand, the view that knowledge is based on a correspondence between representations in consciousness and reality that exists independently of consciousness is problematic, according to Sartre. For if the relation to reality is representation, how can we compare representation and reality? According to Sartre, “intentionality” should be seen as a brand new beginning that removes this old problem. Intentionality is the outward movement of consciousness, that is, “transcendence.” Thanks to him, we are outside in the world, under the sun, on the side of the road, in the dust and earth. But what is at issue here is not that a self-contained consciousness first comes out. Thanks to intentionality, things and consciousness are given in a single stroke: Consciousness is always consciousness of something, there is no consciousness that is not consciousness of something. On the other hand, although things are external to consciousness, they are relative to it (relative). This means that things appear to consciousness only in the direction of consciousness towards them. According to Sartre, intentionality brings us to the concrete. So, the question of epistemology, “How is it that the contents of my consciousness correspond to things in the world?” Even if the question is not an empty question, it is not the primary question. It must be answered by relating it to an ontological problematic: “How does man relate to the world?” But we can analyze how we can speak of truth in terms of “correspondence” when we describe this antecedent relationship.
As we have seen, Sartre gives his first philosophical work by interpreting the concept of “intentionality” borrowed from Husserl in 1934. However, he thinks that his work does not go beyond explaining Husserl’s thought. He worries that he is not an original thinker. Indeed, his quest to distinguish his own position from Husserl’s soon prompted him to write a new essay, which explains what he disagreed with in Husserl’s philosophy: The Transcendence of the Ego. Sartre, together with The Ideen, published in 1913, explains that he is not satisfied with Husserl’s philosophy taking an idealistic direction. For Sartre, there is no pure, transcendental ego in consciousness. But the absence of such an ego does not abolish the transcendental function of consciousness, but through this function the world appears to consciousness. The intentionality of consciousness conditions the emergence of the world into consciousness. In short, we do not need the existence of the transcendental ego to explain the emergence of the world into consciousness. Although consciousness is not governed by a pure ego, it is transcendental, that is, the world could not appear to consciousness if it were not for the intentional nature of consciousness. Consciousness not organized by a transcendental ego is like a game of forces, complex orientations; a psychological ego and things emerge through it.
In The Transcendence of the Ego Sartre describes the various layers of consciousness. Consciousness is not reflexive in its first, lowest layer, it is not thought (irrefléchie). In the unthought consciousness there is an awareness of experience; but life is not set as the life of an ego. In the second layer, the act of reflection posits a certain experience as the experience of an ego. But this time, too, the act of reflection is not posited as the reflection of an I. When this postulation is made at the third level, the psychological ego is also established. In short, the psychological ego is not primordial or original, it is formed as a product of reflection. In other words, when we examine our own states of consciousness, we create a new object that did not exist before, an ego. Thus, Sartre rejects not only Husserl but also Descartes. The claim that we can know with certainty the existence of a thinking ego when we return to ourselves, to our lives, is not true. In fact, according to Sartre, introspection is generally a misleading method, since consciousness cannot know itself independently of its relation to things, and the ego is a product of reflection. Sartre also objects to Husserl’s view of phenomenological reduction as a requirement of the phenomenological method. Phenomenological reduction is also a sign of the return of phenomenology to idealism, and a genuine phenomenology does not need it.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook