Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

The Implicit Presence of the Problem of Nothingness in Twentieth Century French Philosophy

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

The Implicit Presence of the Problem of Nothingness in Twentieth Century French Philosophy

Article excerpt


What this text intends to demonstrate is that the reflection about nothingness, regardless of it being called such, has been present in French philosophical reflection from the end of last century. I will strike up a discussion with Sartre about the topic of liberty, and I will allude to some of his conclusions to refer to Nothingness as the great Puppet-Master. Further along, I will center the attention on Maurice Merleau-Ponty and his descriptions about the corporality of our knowledge, as well as in the ineludibility of the uncertainty about the known due to the look. In the line of the look, I will continue on with Emanuel Levinas and his conception of the shadows which hide the Being. Such shadows are considered veils of reality in Derrida, reinforcing with it the impossibility of real contact with things and people. It is clear throughout all of it, the reference to Nothingness as a disabler of all certainty, as propitiator of everything we see and don't see.


Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) tried to forge a method that would synthesize idealism and realism, on the basis of assuming them as a combined reality. Sartre cannot be assumed as an idealist thinker since he did not empathize with the idea of an "interior self", or of a life forged by immaterial issues. It should be recognized, however, that the French philosopher didn't doubt that man is something more than the rest of the material objects. However, the difference was clearly centered on the conscience, which arose in the heart of human matter.

With works like Lo imaginario [The Imaginary] and la imaginacion [The Imagination], as with La tracendencia del ego [The Transcendence of the Ego], Sartre defines his fundamental support in regard to the topic of the conscience, and to which he returns with his magnum opus El ser y la Nada [Being and Nothingness]. Among the issues which Sartre profoundly faces, is the irresponsibility of the conducts, to which he alludes as a "bad faith"; this is to say, the one had by any individual who tries to deny his responsibility of being who he is. The Sartrean effort to propose and favour that man should assume his responsibility of being who he is, is understood. However, when this man, who we are supposed to be, is not supported by anything more than Nothingness, it becomes complex to be as Sartre supposes; it turns into an almost impossible mission. In other words, to be the person I say to be, that is precisely necessary; to have an idea of who I am, supposes at least a partially structured definition. Now, since everything I may say about myself is erred, for I only define myself based on suppositions, then it is difficult to assume who I am, since it is a scarcely reliable task to truly know who one is.

If I understand that I am in relation to the things that I do, I run the risk of supposing that I only am what I do. It is imperative to mention that many ideas related to transcendence are bound to what one does or does not do. But even the idea of transcendence centered on acts is mistaken, for I do not need to transcend by doing something; but rather by being, by existing, I have already transcended the not-being, at least in an instant form (for the duration of life).

This being that has transcended is not an explainable or different being than the rest, but instead it is the fact of being that transcends the Being. Sartre affirms pejoratively, with regard to the intention of humans of bad faith, that: "it is about constituting human reality as a being that is what he is not and who is not what he is". (1) In this sense, all theoretical construction which attempts to explain the human being is implied in this supposed perversion. Contrary to Sartre, I think that there are no ideas about humanness that are not already condemned to vulnerability. If human nature is vulnerability, a product of contingency, then whatever deals with or is derived from humanness, is equally contingent. …

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