'Being and Nothingness'
By Jean-Paul Sartre (Author), Hazel E. Barnes (translator), Mary Warnock(contributor), Richard Eyre (contributor)
Being and Nothingness is without doubt one of the most significant books of the twentieth century. The central work by one of the world's most influential thinkers, it altered the course of western philosophy. Its revolutionary approach challenged all previous assumptions about the individual's relationship with the world. Known as 'the Bible of existentialism', its impact on culture and literature was immediate and was felt worldwide, from the absurd drama of Samuel Beckett to the soul-searching cries of the Beat poets.
Being and Nothingness is one of those rare books whose influence has affected the mind-set of subsequent generations. Sixty years after its first publication, its message remains as potent as ever - challenging the reader to confront the fundamental dilemmas of human freedom, responsibility and action.
Jean-Paul Sartre, the seminal smarty-pants of mid-century thinking, launched the existentialist fleet with the publication of Being and Nothingness in 1943. Though the book is thick, dense, and unfriendly to careless readers, it is indispensable to those interested in the philosophy of consciousness and free will. Some of his arguments are fallacious, others are unclear, but for the most part Sartre's thoughts penetrate deeply into fundamental philosophical territory. Basing his conception of self-consciousness loosely on Heidegger's "being," Sartre proceeds to sharply delineate between conscious actions ("for themselves") and unconscious ("in themselves"). It is a conscious choice, he claims, to live one's life "authentically" and in a unified fashion, or not--this is the fundamental freedom of our lives.
'Drawing on history and his own rich imagination for examples, Sartre offers compelling supplements to his more formal arguments. The waiter who detaches himself from his job-role sticks in the reader's memory with greater tenacity than the lengthy discussion of inauthentic life and serves to bring the full force of the argument to life. Even if you're not an angst-addicted poet from North Beach, Being and Nothingness offers you a deep conversation with a brilliant mind--unfortunately, a rare find these days.'
'A fascinating and intriguing work providing a full-blown metaphysic backed by, and at the same time providing the basis for, a complete theory of man'
(Times Literary Supplement)
The most famous of the French existentialist philosophers, Sartre was at once a philosopher and an important man of letters. He studied in Paris where he lived and taught most of his life, a good part of it with Simone de Beauvoir, herself a noted philosopher and social critic. Sartre and de Beauvoir never married formally considering marriage to be a bourgeoie moral norm and a remnant of religion which both of them opposed.
Sartre's first work Nausea was a novel which was at once highly anti-social and fiercely individualistic, revealing some of his later existentialist ideas. He adopted the phenomenological method and applied it to several of his philosophical works of which the most famous is Being and Nothingness. In this work he opposes human consciousness as nothingness to being which is "thingness." Sartre was a defender of human dignity and freedom but also at the same time he considered all human endeavor to be useless. In later life, with Existentialism and Humanism, he began to equate freedom more with social responsibility and in his personal life he began to spend much of his time caring for the poor. He turned again in his later years to novels and especially plays such as No Exit which became famous. Politically he was an active leftist espousing Marxist causes although he turned against the Soviet Union after 1956. At that time he wrote The Problem ofMethod to revamp Marxism.
This combination of existentialism and Marxism, characteristic of Sartre, de Beauvoir and their followers had a deep impact upon French intellectual circles after the Second World War and through them upon a number of Muslims especially from North Africa who had spent their student days in France. In fact, the influence of Sartre in both literature and philosophy in modernist circles in the Islamic world is much greater than that of the German existentialist philosopher Heidegger who was, however, much more interested in questions of religion than was Sartre, who openly opposed religion as such and espoused strongly agnostic and in fact atheistic attitudes.
(Seyyed Hossein Nasr)