The first 247 pages of Being and Nothingness: A response

So the book got stolen.  Just as well.  Perhaps I had begun to fall into the the sort of trap to which I had previously alluded.  Notwithstanding the startling discoveries found within even just the first quarter of the text in question, I still hold fast in my belief that argument is of supreme utility to education.  Oh, but about the text in question; it revealed to me such folly in my thinking that it is difficult not to recognize in books a substantially greater potential for learning than the average argument.  I have learned a great deal simply by engaging in critical debate in as many different venues as possible.  However, the ideas of the sort expressed in this book were startling both in their novelty and in their significance.

What a book this is!  In the course of my limited reading of it, I lost all sense of direction in life, found food turning to ash in my mouth, fell into supreme despondency, became an insomniac, slept for 32 hours, and nearly converted to theism; and I still haven’t even finished piecing together the full meaning of the text I’ve read, let alone read the entire book!  So I am not lacking in ignorance, and perhaps lacking in strength.

From what I have gleaned of the book and using my own best judgement, I will present the most substantive conclusions and implications and to the best of my ability, the reasoning behind them.

The origin of subjectivity

I came into swing as an honest thinker when I found it impossible to talk my way out of my own ignorance.  For this I am inclined to thank the supreme rhetorical skill of Cory Evans (The philosopher and son of Lary Evans, not the porn star).  Due to the nature of our initial arguments, the questions I’ve spent my time investigating until recently have been mostly unrelated to those which continental philosophy has concerned itself with.  The bulk of my liberal education has been in the fields of Economics and materialistic philosophy.

Given that background, this book was startling.  It made me aware of courses of inquiry which were previously unknown to me.

I am not sure how much of this can be attributed to the perversions of popular culture and how much to the perversions of modern academia, but in most people’s descriptions of the world, the advancement of subjectivity goes hand in hand with intellectual dishonesty.  It is a way to weasel out of responsibility by appealing to some proposed form of infinite chasm or another, usually in the form of either language or culture.  I have witnessed this phenomenon first hand, a thousand times over in the course of my arguments and during my studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver. My reading of Being and Nothingess has allowed me to make the following two observations about it.

1.  By transposing the origin of subjectivity from a negation within the heart of being to some mere positive plenitude, these people preserve for themselves, to various degrees, notions of personal authenticity.

2. By avoiding the issue of negation within the heart of being, they do not discard determinism, hence at a moments notice they may pull upon it.

The result is fundamentally a form of bad faith which allows these people to distance themselves completely from responsibility while affirming in themselves personal meaning.  The investigation of Sartre into negation at the heart of being rules out the tenability of these forms of origin.  They are a lie, and a pernicious one.  As opposed perhaps to the theistic lie, which largely preserves notions of personal responsibility in some form and hence is merely naive; perhaps even charmingly so.

I have a greater appreciation for this issue now, and issues of bad faith in general.  They have given me a great insight into issues of culture, race, human nature, and ideology.  They have also given me an even greater form of contempt for an even greater cross-section of society.  I intend to make use of a similar form of analysis in my exploration of the structure and significance of vidcons, and in my analysis of fiction.

Ontological Priority

There are two major revelations of ontological priority which came to me in the course of my reading.  The first pertains to the origin of values.  I had previously been familiarized with Utilitarianism after reading the uncreatively titled Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill.  It is a system which takes subjective assignments of value and renders them into an abstract, mechanically objective system.  However, it does not describe the origin of subjectivity or of values, it merely provides a description of their relationship with various worldly attributes and situations.

After reading this, I wondered whether Utility could be infinite or not, since if it could there would likely be severe implications for Utilitarianism as a moral system.  Sartre has now answered this question by revealing the structure of values.  They are never satiated, hence the degree to which anything is attained in relation to a persons values will always be finite.  At least such is the case given a finite lifespan.  One does not become whole after eating when hungry, or gain authenticity after winning a sporting event.  Hence the ex-athlete and nostalgia.  The Mike Tyson of today is not the same Mike Tyson as yesterday, and suchforth etc.

The other issue of ontological priority was when Sartre stated quite clearly (which is a somewhat unique occurence, to be sure) that values do not have ontological priority over the material world.  The fact this took him several hundred pages to state surprised me, since it seems to be required for the existence of facticity as anything other than an illusion.  The implication, of course, is that pretentious hipsters and lazy professors need to stop trying to talk continental philosophy, because they very clearly don’t understand it.

Other assorted revelations in bullet point

* Authenticity is impossible

* Value is not only subjective but evanescent

* Personal meaning is distinct from textual meaning

* Personal meaning is wholly seperate from material reality (and hence from the objective, although this also clearly allows a large compatibility between objective theories of knowledge and continental philosophy)

I have been very impressed and distraught by my reading of Sartre so far, and I shall have to return to him when I have the time.  His argument for the ontological requirement of a dualistic universe was particularly impressive.  In an argument that follows concepts dating back to the time of Zeno of Elea, he explains that without the existence of a negative substrate, both motion and time are impossible.

I was expecting this post to be longer but then again, I had marked all the pages of interest in my book and had planned on going back over them while writing this article.  Anyways, that.


~ by Kilroy del Dancefighter Estallion the First on August 31, 2009.

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