Minimal Sartre

by metalogike

The two propositions essential to reading Being and Nothingness correctly:

  1. The identity of in-itself and for-itself is just the in-itself. Id(es,ps) = es. 
  2. The relation of in-itself and for-itself is just the for-itself. Rel(es,ps) = ps. 


  1. It takes these two propositions to say “positively” what one says “negatively” in a single proposition: that the in-itself-for-itself is a contradiction.*
  2. These propositions do not depend on adopting standard Sartrean models of the in-itself and for-itself, but apply to any sufficiently fundamental duality in which intentionality plays a role. (Thus their usefulness and potential interest beyond Sartre studies.)
  3. The for-itself’s problem, at the level of desire/value, is likewise twofold. It wants its identity to lie inside itself as for-itself and not (just) as in-itself. Again, it wants to establish a mediating relation between itself and the in-itself while it already is its own relation to the in-itself (and this is all the relation it’s going to get). This failed internalization and externalization, respectively, are not two distinct desires, but two ways of developing the contradictory desire to be in-itself-for-itself in the consistent setting of thought.
  4. Because of his adherence to the standard model (his own), Sartre is unable consistently to articulate the central concept of his own system, pure/purifying reflection. But on the nonstandard model which brings together Socratic-Platonic cognitivism with Sartrean detotalization, pure reflection is the process by which desire is transformed by metalogical duality to the extent that it learns how so to be transformed.

*This impossibility claim is the organizing thesis of the a priori atheological dialectic of Being and Nothingness, but no one, including Sartre, has stated in a satisfactory way what precisely makes the in-itself-for-itself contradictory. On my suggestion, the in-itself-for-itself turns out to be one of the characteristic totalities, in which negation has a fixed point, which stand as the hypothesis for reductio in diagonal arguments. The two logical rules given above are indispensable to the presentation of this isomorphism, and to that of the corresponding one between pure reflection and diagonalization.