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Fig 5.18 – Being and Nothingness

Text: Pages 258 and 259

Inspired by Being and Time and approaching consciousness from a Cartesian perspective, Sartre wrote in his landmark masterwork, Being and Nothingness, that consciousness was “non-being” and totally separate from the natural world. He used the symbol of consciousness as “wind blowing toward objects.” This symbolized human freedom and Sartre’s dictum that human beings are absolutely free; nothing can determine our mental abilities or our consciousness except our mental attitudes or our consciousness.

The title Being and Nothingness articulated Sartre’s view of an existential worldview. The natural world was the “nothingness.” Leading an authentic life meant avoiding the influence of the external world, because the external, natural, world had nothing to offer. The natural world was irrelevant to human existence because humans possessed consciousness. The natural world, even a misguided belief in a God, was useless because neither could help humanity live. This reality proved that humans were totally free to determine their being in a nothingness world. Sartre also argued that the possibility of freedom caused terrifying feelings, feelings of dread and angst. For Heidegger, the denial of freedom led to an inauthentic life; for Sartre it was living in bad faith.

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