Jean-Paul Sartre - Being and Nothingness (1943)

Very worth reading for anyone interested in Sartre, most appropriately in sections. While the majority of this work is certainly for those already versed in philosophical principles, there are concepts and conclusions that can be useful for anyone. Particularly useful are the discussions of existentialist "bad faith" and the later half when Sartre explores the freedom of nothingness. In "The Origin of Negation" Sartre establishes the necessary being of nothingness and explains how it is not a simple opposite of being, but has its own definition. Explained alternatively, nothingness is not the same as non-existence but is a state of actuality. Perhaps the most pragmatic chapter, "Bad Faith" explains the significance of self-deception and falsified perceptions, along with the common misconception of the self as an object. The most commonly referenced example provided by Sartre is that of the café waiter who "plays the part" of a waiter rather than existing as an individual being with unique behavior; he intentionally plays or acts as a waiter should, exhibiting forced behavior. The significance of this example lies in the waiter's behavior, that it is predicated by and made important through others. He is not acting in favor of his authentic self, but as an object subject to society, acting for another being or beings. Authentic living, according to Sartre, depends on a focus on "good faith", or an acceptance of the self favoring the will of the self, not the "bad faith" will of others. The potentially controversial take in Sartre's "bad faith" lies in his explanation of morals and ethics, as in his view ethics are a means for control and morals can assemble as a "bad faith" existence. The explanation of a concept such as being-for-itself is masterfully done, of course, and its implications are practically infinite. The concept that human consciousness exhibits freedom along with its self-awareness precludes restriction, making the human mind one of the most powerful forces available to any known being. Then there is another pragmatic topic of our community in humanity. Sartre explains the significance of ourselves as subjects of others, always influencing yet being influenced simultaneously. For Sartre especially, a man who had extensive experience with aesthetic and moral value projection, the idea that we cannot ever truly observe ourselves is important. This is ostensibly more relevant in a modern context where the physical self is being given more and more philosophical meaning. Then the poetically situated concept of freedom explained as a paradox, yet further as useful to us. Sartre explains, "the paradox of freedom: there is freedom only in a situation, and there is a situation only through freedom" (489). The recurring explanation of concepts being dependent upon one another holds greater significance here. The book itself is a massive undertaking. Sartre does not cater to casual thinkers, as he is more interested in coming to complex conclusions and building upon philosophers of the past who have already laid out significant foundational work such as Hegel and Kant who he frequently mentions. For students of thought, this is an essential read, for others familiarizing yourself with Sartre's ideas is enough. Sartre would say of the subject: "To be free is to be condemned to be free" (129).