On Sartre and Self-Consciousness
The purpose of this paper is to deal with the place of self-consciousness and its implications in Sartre’s ontology. I shall begin with Sartre’s categorization of being which will be followed by a discussion of the special case of being-in-the-world. Finally, I shall argue that, unless Sartre allows the I into the prereflexive consciousness, he cannot hold on to any self either.
The intersubjective dimension is highly crucial in Jean-Paul Sartre’s phenomenologico- existential philosophy. Sartre argues that self-consciousness is only possible when one is compelled to self-awareness with the reflective activity forced upon him by the look of the other. The self as the form of subjectivity and of the cogito is encountered in the world that persons share with one another, i.e., in an intersubjective world.
Sartre postulates three modes of being, namely, being-for-itself, being-in-itself and being-for-others. First, we shall examine being-for-itself and being-in-itself, leaving being-for-others for the discussion of being-in-the-world. Being-for-itself is the mode of being of consciousness while being-in-itself defines objects of the world. In order to better grasp the dynamics between these two modes of being in Sartre, we shall briefly allude to some of his predecessors who influenced him greatly. We should note that Sartre’s major opposition is to an entire idealistic trend in philosophy starting with Kant (and before) which distinguishes appearances from reality in-itself and the products of the senses from the concepts of understanding which synthesize these appearances. Although Sartre considers himself to be a phenomenologist, he does not conceal that he strongly disagrees on many points with the father of phenomenology, Husserl.
In his book The Transcendence of the Ego, Sartre criticizes Husserl for being untrue to the phenomenological project by postulating the existence of a transcendental ego, a formal I similar to the Cartesian cogito. Sartre’s problem with Husserl centers on the issue of whether absolute consciousness can still be realized after a reduction controlled by a transcendental ego or an I. Sartre accuses Husserl of slipping on the idealistic side with his holding onto a transcendental ego. Sartre argues that, with the transcendental ego in the picture, the principle of intentionality is violated. We know that Husserl introduced the principle of intentionality to define consciousness. According to Husserl, consciousness is always of an object and does not compose any part of the object. Consciousness is as long as it intends an object. Sartre argues that the affirmation of the transcendental ego reverses the original claim of phenomenology , namely, to be able to investigate objects in their own right (back to the objects themselves). Sartre writes: “For most philosophers the ego is an ‘inhabitant’ of consciousness. Some affirm its normal presence at the heart of Erlebnisse, as an empty principle of unification. Others --psychologists for the most part-- claim to discover its material presence, as the center of desires and acts, in each moment of our psychic life. We should like to show here that the ego is neither formally nor materially in consciousness: it is outside, in the world. It is a being of the world, like the ego of another.” 1
Sartre chooses to emphasize the empirical ego (the psycho-physical me) to represent the self or the unifying principle. As we shall discuss later on, he considers the I as one aspect of the me and claims that they both
belong on the side of the objects forming the content of consciousness. He states: “For Kant and for Husserl the I is a formal structure of consciousness. We have tried to show that an I is never formal, that it is always, even when conceived abstractly, an infinite contraction of the material me.” 2
The main problem for Sartre is not the constitution of objects by consciousness but the peculiar nature of consciousness, which is dependent for its existence on the objects of which it is conscious. As a phenomenologist, Sartre ardently argues that consciousness is nothing but intentional activity and depends on its objects to be. We must note that consciousness is not an object itself or an object for itself. Sartre distinguishes between two kinds of Being:
--Being-in-itself: the being of objects for consciousness;
--Being-for-itself: the being of consciousness.
Sartre writes: “Consciousness is consciousness of something. This means that transcendence is the constitutive structure of consciousness; that is that consciousness emerges supported by a being which is not itself.” 33 Sartre’s notion of transcendence in this context does not refer to what lies “behind” or “beyond” consciousness or to the objects of consciousness but simply to objects. For Sartre, there is no distinction between objects and objects of consciousness. If there were such a distinction, this would indicate idealistic inclinations on Sartre’s part. And he ardently opposes all kinds of idealism. Sartre argues that objects simply are: “Being is. Being is in-itself. Being is what it is. . . . in-itself . . . is never anything but what it is.” 44 Against the idealistic thesis that relies on the independence of consciousness and the dependence of the objects on consciousness, Sartre argues that the order is just the reverse. He claims that consciousness has no contents and no independent existence, in fact, no existence at all apart from its world.
The question is one of the characteristics of an object for consciousness. Is being-in-itself only reserved for objects of perception? Sartre, as a phenomenologist, faithfully undertakes the task of giving descriptions of the phenomena and ipso facto giving descriptions of our Being-in-the-world. Since our experience of Being-in-the-world exceeds mere experiences of perception, being-in-itself not only describes the being of the objects of perception but also covers the non-perceptional as well as the objects of imagination. Sartre is not interested in the question of whether these objects really exist or not since the phenomenological project is not about explaining or analyzing but describing. He insists that phenomenology must appeal only to the things themselves, i.e., to the things of experience. Like all phenomenologists, Sartre also excludes the appeal to any superphenomenal or noumenal beings. The thing is just as it appears. The traditional dualism between objects of appearance and objects in themselves is expelled from existentialist phenomenology. According to Sartre, there is no essence hidden behind the appearance. Sartre writes: “. . . if we once get away from what Nietzsche called “the illusion of worlds-behind-the-scene,” and if we no longer believe in the being-behind-the appearance, then the appearance becomes full positivity; its essence is an ‘appearing’ which is no longer opposed to being but on the contrary is the measure of it. For the being of an existent is exactly what it appears. . . . It [the phenomenon] does not point over its shoulder to a true being which would be, for it, absolute. What it is, it is absolutely, for it reveals itself as it is. . . . it is absolutely indicative of itself.” 55 He further argues that the appearance does not hide the essence but that it reveals it to finally claim that appearance is indeed the essence. 66
Sartre criticizes Husserl for putting great emphasis on the reflective aspect of consciousness and for ignoring the equally [if not more] important prereflexive aspect of consciousness. Sartre disagrees with Husserl on the purely reflexive aspect of consciousness which is rooted in the cogito and argues that not all consciousness is reflexive. He writes:
“Having,” “doing,” and “being,” are the cardinal categories of human reality. Under them are subsumed all types of human conduct. Knowing for example, is a modality of having.” 77 Sartre stresses the practical and preconceptual Being-in-the-world more than the various ways in which we know the world. Sartre believes that our Being-in-the-world and our encounters with the world are to be considered and not just taken for granted.
In his book The Transcendence of the Ego, Sartre writes: “Like Husserl, we are persuaded that our psychic and psycho-physical me is a transcendent object which must fall before the epoche. But we must raise the following question: is not this psychic and psycho-physical me enough? Need one double it with a transcendental I, a structure of absolute consciousness?” 88 Although Sartre later rejects the epoche, he claims throughout his works that the only ego is the psycho-physical self which is here referred to as me. Sartre wishes to justify his refusal of the transcendental ego with his discussion of the two aspects of consciousness, namely the prereflexive and the reflexive aspects. We know that Sartre denies the Cartesian cogito and the idealistic implications that it carries. According to Sartre, consciousness cannot have a structure in the form of a transcendental ego, a Cartesian cogito (defining its essence) since, as an existentialist, Sartre firmly believes that existence always precedes essence in the sense that its nature is defined by its existence. And we have seen that consciousness is always consciousness of an object and depends on its object to be. Moreover, this prereflexive consciousness which was inhabited by the transcendental I in Husserl, becomes self-consciousness for Sartre, i.e., consciousness of the nature of consciousness as always consciousness of objects and not in the sense that it is inhabited by a self.9 Hence, consciousness exists only as consciousness of objects in the world and does not have a separate essence apart from them.
Sartre urges that our direct, unreflected consciousness of objects is to be considered as “prepersonal and without an I.”10 This means that while being directly aware of an object, we are not explicitly aware of ourselves acting on that object. For instance, when we are reading a book, we are aware of the book that we are holding in our hands but are not aware of our reading it. We are not thinking “now, I am reading the book.” We just read it. There is no subject in this activity. Unreflected consciousness is directed upon the object of awareness and not upon myself being aware of an object. Sartre writes: “When I run after a streetcar, when I look at the time, when I am absorbed in looking at a portrait, no I is present. there is consciousness of the streetcar-having-to-be-caught, etc., and non-positional consciousness of that consciousness.” 11
To the unreflected and “selfless” consciousness, Sartre opposes the reflexive consciousness. It is in the discussion of the latter that we encounter the cogito. In other words, the ego or the I does not appear in our experience until we reflect upon a prior intention. This is to say that whenever I have consciousness of an object, I indeed make a reflective judgment on a prior act of direct, unreflective awareness of that object by a body-subject. I am in a position of an outside viewer when I retrospectively become aware of the unreflective act of the body-subject. Sartre emphasizes the concept of the body-subject as “the center of actions”12 and as a “substitute” for the I-concept. He claims that the body is the illusory fulfillment of the I-concept. 13 Sartre thinks that the body-subject blocks the way for an immaterial person-substance as the subject. According to him, the ego or the me exists only as a pattern of acts (carried out by the body-subject) and not as a subject. 14
Sartre’s main objective in The Transcendence of the Ego was to prove his thesis that the transcendental I has no raison d’etre. 15 He claims that cogito does not determine the essence of consciousness and that the I does not appear until we reflect upon a prior intention. This reflective use of the I has no function but to connect the act-reflected-upon to previous acts and states of the body-subject.16 For instance, reflecting upon my reading a novel while having some tea, the I appears only as the common subject of the act of reading and drinking. Sartre argues that there is no I in the unreflected level when I am immersed in the novel. There is only “consciousness of the novel.” Consciousness at the unreflected level is merely a relation. Consciousness is consciousness of itself as the intentional relation to the object, in this example, the book.
With the analysis of consciousness strictly in terms of intentionality, the traditional notions of subject and self-consciousness are radically altered. I do not think that Sartre is very clear in his analysis of subjectivity and self-recognition because of his sometimes contradictory and obscure discussion of the structure of consciousness. I am puzzled about the number of consciousness’ in his discussion. Are we talking about two different consciousness’ or one with two modes when we distinguish the prereflective and reflective consciousness? We are confused and led to the suspicion of the existence of two consciousnessí from passages such as the following: “My reflecting consciousness does not take itself as an object when I effect the cogito. What it affirms concerns the reflected consciousness” 17 and “The reflecting consciousness posits the consciousness reflected-on as its object. In the act of reflecting I pass judgment on the consciousness reflected- on. I am ashamed of it. I am proud of it . . . “ 18
However, Sartre does not seem to hold that the difference between the two consciousness’ consists of a difference in self-consciousness. He writes: “All that there is of my intention in my actual consciousness is directed toward the outside, toward the world . . . every positional [reflective] consciousness of an object is at the same time a non-positional [prereflective] consciousness of itself.”19 To illustrate his point, Sartre gives the example of counting cigarettes. He claims that while I am counting the cigarettes, I am not aware of my counting them since prereflective consciousness does not know itself as cogito. This is the same situation that we alluded to in the previous example of “reading a novel.” As there was no I who reads the novel but only “the consciousness of reading the novel,” there is, in this example, only the “consciousness of counting.” However, Sartre claims that, were I asked what I was doing, I would reply at once that I was counting. 20 This illustration of the prereflective self- consciousness gives us a sense of what Sartre wishes to convey, but still it is far from clarification. Following this example, the difference between the two consciousness’ is between engaging in an activity and thinking about that activity. Prereflective consciousness represents the pure immediate. Sartre writes: “For human reality, being-in-the-world means radically to lose oneself in the world through the very revelation which causes there to be a world.”21 He also writes: “Thus is what we shall call the world of the immediate, [which delivers itself to our reflective consciousness,] we do not first appear to ourselves, to be thrown subsequently into enterprises. Our being is immediately in the situation, that is it arises in enterprises and knows itself first in so far as it is reflected in these enterprises.”22
Losing one self in the world is the defining characteristic of the prereflective consciousness. At this level of consciousness, there is no subject. There is as we have emphasized before only consciousness of objects. Furthermore, we see that for Sartre, the me does not appear until reflection turns upon these enterprises. Yet, Sartre talks about a prereflective cogito and self-consciousness. Referring back to the cigarette-counting example, there seems to emerge an I when I respond that “I am counting.” According to Sartre, the I here does not infer the existence of a subject operating in the prereflective consciousness but rather that there is consciousness of me, as when we say “there is consciousness of the chair.” Reversing the relation and defining the ego only in terms of an object and not a subject (consciousness of me instead of my consciousness), Sartre thinks that he is clear of all idealistic implications.
Sartre hopes to maintain the object-like status of the ego as well as the I by making the reflective consciousness always dependent upon the prereflective. The prior state of the unreflected act that defines the lived experience (e.g., reading a book) must be differentiated from the subsequent act of reflection whereby a reflecting consciousness comes to bear in an objective way upon the prereflective consciousness. For Sartre, the prereflective consciousness forms the basis for reflection. With this move, Sartre reintegrates thought into life. He wishes to emphasize the life’s or existence’s priority over thought and prove that existence precedes essence. He writes: “The unreflected has the ontological priority over the reflected because the unreflected consciousness does not need to be reflected in order to exist and because reflection presupposes the intervention of a second-degree consciousness.”23
Let us recall that the reflective use of I (which indeed is its only use since it is not until a reflective act upon a previous intention is performed that the I first appears) simply connects the act reflected upon to previous acts and states of the body-subject. The elaborate discussion of the body-subject devoid of an ego, aims at establishing it as the one dwelling in the world. The body-subject and not the cogito is said to be engaged in the enterprises of the world. In lived acts, one’s consciousness is not an object. It is the body-subject and not the transcendental I which is the key term of the impersonal and absolute (prereflective) consciousness. Sartre claims that this absolute and impersonal consciousness is the source of existence by virtue of which the me and the world are connected. 24
It is in the reflexive act that I know myself. Thus the distinction between the reflective and the prereflective consciousness’ brings about the distinction of reflective self-knowledge [Cartesian cogito] and prereflective self-consciousness. Indeed, both self-knowledge and self- consciousness are forms of self-reference which are compatible with the intentional character of consciousness. In other words, both reflective consciousness and prereflective consciousness are intentional. The reflective consciousness’ intentional object is the prereflective consciousness while the latter intends some object other than itself. To illustrate, let us again take the example of cigarette counting. In this case, the intentional object of the prereflective consciousness is “the counting of the cigarettes.” The prereflective consciousness is a relation and not an egological consciousness dominated by an “I” that carries out the counting. The object of the reflective consciousness, on the other hand, is the prereflective consciousness itself. In other words, reflection turns consciousness on itself; it makes consciousness an object for itself.
Now, Sartre would be quite consistent within his project had he reserved the self exclusively for the reflective consciousness and avoided any reference to a self on the prereflective level. However, Sartre insists that there is self-awareness on both levels. He argues that this self-awareness is non-positional, i.e., does not intend itself as an object, or in other words, it is not an intentional object of itself. He writes: “Indeed, the existence of consciousness is an absolute because consciousness is consciousness of itself. This is to say that the type of existence of consciousness is to be consciousness of itself. And consciousness is aware of itself insofar as it is consciousness of a transcendent object. All is therefore clear and lucid in consciousness, but consciousness is purely and simply consciousness of that object. This is the law of its existence. We should add that this consciousness of consciousness . . . is not positional, which is to say that consciousness is not for itself its own object. Its object is by nature outside of it.” 25 So, if all consciousness is by definition consciousness of some object outside of it and prereflective consciousness is the object of reflective consciousness, this would mean that these two consciousness' are separate and distinct from each other. Hence, there are two kinds of consciousness.This claim however, is quite absurd since consciousness is not of a countable nature.
Another problem arises with the claim that consciousness is always consciousness of itself; that is, self-awareness or self-consciousness is not only a characteristic of the reflective consciousness (which is acceptable since self-awareness arises when reflection aims itself), but also a characteristic of prereflective consciousness . The question is: How can there be self-consciousness in any sense on the prereflective level when Sartre denies it any self or ego?
We shall return to this question following the examination of the emergence of the I through the objectifying “look” of the other which forces the reflection to turn upon itself. Reflection, the condition of the existence of the ego or the I, is itself dependent on the Being-with-others. Sartre writes: “The me must not be sought in the states of unreflected consciousness, nor behind them. The me appears only with the reflective act and as a noematic correlate of a reflective intention.” 26 We begin to get a glimpse of the fact that the I and the me are only one. Sartre argues that this ego, of which the I and me are but two aspects, constitutes the ideal and indirect (noematic) unity of the infinite series of our reflected consciousness. The I is the ego as the unity of actions. The me is the ego as the unity of states and of qualities. Contrary to the prereflective level where the relation of the self to the self is immediate, on the reflective level, I come to see myself as an ego, an I endowed with a set of properties. I see myself as the other sees me and begin acquiring an ego.
Before we go on to examine the emergence of the I in our relation with and in opposition to the other, we must note how this ego structure stands against the idealistic attitude. Subjectivity, according to Sartre, is consciousness of consciousness,27 i.e., being conscious of the structure of consciousness which is to be consciousness of something, in other words, to be intentional. Hence, subjectivity is never defined by a transcendental ego or a cogito as is the case of idealism. It cannot be defined in and of itself. As we emphasized before, consciousness is always dependent on something other than itself to exist. The ego, on the other hand, is an object outside in the world as any other. It does not reside in the consciousness but lies outside of it. It is an intentional object itself. When I reflect upon the counting of the cigarettes, the I emerges as the unity of my actions and nothing more. Sartre writes: “the self . . . represents an ideal distance within the imminence of the subject in relation to himself.” 28 During the counting of the cigarettes (on the prereflective plane), the I was absent and the relation of the self to the self was one of immediacy. But upon reflection on it, the I appears as the ideal or in a manner of speaking, an imaginary distance between the prereflective consciousness engaged in the activity and the same prereflective consciousness’ so-called cogito.
Simone De Beauvoir captures the nature of self-consciousness in existentialist theory: “On ne peut jamais se connaitre, mais seulement se raconter.” Indeed, for Sartre, the self is not to be known. Self-knowledge can be said to consist only of “stories” one tells about him/herself. We encounter the self that is counting the cigarettes, reading a book, taking a walk in the park and so on. Unlike the case in the idealistic approach, there is no transcendental ego (an “I am”) to be known through the reflective act of the consciousness. In other words, self-knowledge does not coincide with self-consciousness.
Since, according to Sartre, the “I think” does not coincide with the “I am,” or, in other words, since reflection does not yield self-consciousness, a further act of reflection is performed for self-consciousness. The leading actor in this second reflection is the other. It is in the other’s “look” directed towards me that I first realize myself as not only a for-itself but also as an in-itself. In the inward life of the for-itself, I am fully immersed in the activities, and, as much as I am the activities, I do not exist as the subject performing them. My consciousness, in the for-itself that I am (in the unreflected consciousness), is nothing more than the consciousness of the activity of reading the book or counting the cigarettes.
With the appearance of “the other,” I see myself “engaged in the activities” and refer to myself as an “I” for the first time. Sartre writes: “The other is the indispensable mediator between myself and me.”29 He further writes: “By the mere appearance of the other, I am put in a position of passing judgment on myself as an object. For it is as an object that I appear to the other.”30 Myself as an in-itself is a new type of being for me. Before the appearance of the other, I was only a for-itself.
Shame is Sartre’s first example of a mode of consciousness which establishes the relation of myself to myself or, in other words, self-consciousness. Sartre writes: “Consider for example shame. Here we are dealing with a mode of consciousness . . . it is a non-positional self-consciousness, consciousness (of) itself as shame . . . its structure is intentional; it is a shameful apprehension of something and that something is me. Shame therefore realizes an intimate relation of myself to myself. Through shame I have discovered an aspect of my being.”31 While I am engaged in the shameful act, I am that act. At this level of pre-reflection, there is no “I” and the shameful act apart from one another. But once we are captured in the look of the other as engaged in a shameful activity, suddenly, we are able to detach ourselves from the actual activity and realize that we were engaged in an activity to be ashamed of. We are suddenly self-conscious. We suddenly are endowed with a self to be ashamed of. If somebody asks us, we say: “I am ashamed.” We become self-conscious in the sense that a self comes into being as the subject of reflection that is directed towards the prereflective consciousness engaged in the shameful activity. The reflective consciousness’ activity towards the prereflective is said to give rise to self-consciousness because through reflection, a consciousness of the consciousness of the shameful act is born.
We must recall that the I or the cogito that is the subject of the reflective act is nothing more than the object in the world and is no different than the I’s of other people. He writes: “My I is no more certain for consciousness than the I of other men. It is only more intimate.”32 I am a for-itself which is at the same time an in-itself, and both of these structures of my being are fully realized through my being-with-others (and being-in-the-world). Sartre writes: “Shame is shame of oneself before the Other; these two structures are inseparable. But at the same time I need the Other in order to realize fully all the structures of my being. The For-itself refers to the For-others.”33 “I” am ontologically dependent on the being of the Other. Next, we shall see how Sartre justifies this dependence.
In his examination, Sartre believes to have ruled out any possibility of solipsism and transcendental ego. Solipsism can no longer be because there cannot be a subject; an I before it is first an object. Moreover, the transcendental ego does not exist since the I or the self does not reside in and is not the master of consciousness. On the other hand, consciousness is outside, in the world. Founding his model on Hegel’s master and slave relation, he makes the “me” and the Other dependent upon each other. Both are subjects as well as objects. We must note that according to Sartre, the existence of the other (or the Other’s for-itself) can never be proven since we can know no other for-itself but our own. However, the probability of its existence is enough foundation for his theory. His theory on bodies and body-subjects establishes his theory on this subject -- into which we shall not go.34
But the question is: how can I claim the permanence of my self-consciousness? According to Sartre, my original disposition is being-in-the-world and being among other humans. As long as human reality cannot be separated from the world through which it is defined, at each instant the other is looking at me.35 With the notion of the Other, solipsism as well as subjective idealism become inconceivable. Every human being is both a subject and an object, a for-itself and an in-itself, and is defined by the internal relation between the two. Moreover, my own relation to myself is only possible through the Other. Sartre writes: “The unreflective consciousness does not apprehend the person directly or as its object; the person is presented to consciousness insofar as the person is an object for the Other. . . . I have my foundation outside myself. I am myself only as I am pure reference to the Other.”36
The Other’s look is the mediator between the reflective and unreflective consciousness'. It is what turns one’s reflection towards oneself. Sartre writes: “When I am alone, I cannot realize my ‘being-seated’; at most it can be said that I simultaneously both am it and am not it. But in order for me to be what I am, it suffices merely that the Other look at me. It is not for myself, to be sure; I myself shall never succeed at realizing this being-seated which I grasp in the Other’s look. I shall remain forever a consciousness.”37
I think that the difficulty with Sartre’s presentation of the structure of the Being of a person arises when, in his project to establish a phenomenological existentialist ontology clear of all idealistic implications, he ends up with inconsistencies and obscurities in the relation of the in-itself and the for-itself. I am particularly puzzled with the discussion of the “impersonal” prereflective consciousness. As much as I agree with Sartre that subjective idealism and solipsism face more than a few problems, I believe Sartre does not succeed in convincingly refuting them. By reducing the ego to a mere object in the world, he believes that his philosophy is clear of an overshadowing transcendental ego who holds the door to subjective idealism. However, is it really possible to get rid of a personal ego, and can one consistently claim that subjectivity resides outside of consciousness? I think that such claims have some very radical consequences, such as deism or mysticism, which would not agree with the principles of phenomenology. Let us now discuss the so -called impersonality of the prereflective consciousness.
We know that Sartre claims prereflective consciousness to be “without an I.” The ego does not belong to the prereflective consciousness but emerges as the psycho-physical unity upon reflection on our involvement in the worldly affairs. The human reality is to be immersed in the world and the I appears in the reflective attitudes upon this immersion. Sartre writes: “The absolute and impersonal consciousness is the source of existence by virtue of which the me and the world are connected.”38 The prereflective consciousness is the source of existence since it is through intentionality (the definitive nature of consciousness) that a world comes to exist for us. It is through intentional consciousness of the book that there is a book for us. By the same token the ego (“me”), characterized as the psycho-physical body-subject, emerges upon reflection on the engagements in the world. For instance, the ego emerges as the I reading the book. The prereflective consciousness as defining our engagements in the world is also the meeting point of these engagements and the one engaged, the I. According to this account, the ego is merely an object among other objects of the world. It is only as far as it is an intentional object for the consciousness.
Already at this point, the object-like nature of ego confuses us. Let us recall Sartre’s claim about the intimacy of our own I. As much as my I is no different an object than the Other’s I for the consciousness, it is said to be more intimate. How can we account for this intimacy without taking refuge in a more fundamental structure of consciousness? It must be that when I say “I am counting the cigarettes,” and say “You are counting the cigarettes,” that the I and the Other’s I (you in the example) are both equal-status intentional objects for the consciousness. Why should my I be more intimate? And if it is, does not it show that subjectivity is a more fundamental structure of consciousness? There are many passages in Sartre’s works which seem to suggest the existence of an absolute I that always is even before the emergence of the I as the psycho-physical unity upon reflection. I shall cite a few: “Nevertheless I am that ego; I do not repudiate it as an alien image, but it is present to me as a self which I am without knowing it for I discover it in shame, and in other instances, in pride. “39 “Shame is a unitary apprehension with three dimensions: “I am ashamed of myself before the Other.”40
“The relation between my unreflective consciousness and my ego, which is being looked at, is a relation of not knowing but of being. . . . I am this being.”41
We understand that Sartre uses “I,” not to denote a transcendental subject, but in reference to what he calls the body-subject.42 However, from the passages above, we get the feeling that there must be a more fundamental structure of consciousness which recognizes the body-subject as itself. If “I am ashamed of myself before the Other,” the capability of separating the I from the self indicate the existence of a cogito. Even when Sartre insists on the object-like status of the ego and claims that the I referring to the body-subject is nothing more than an object in the world, he cannot, in my opinion, consistently argue for the non-existence of a transcendental subject being aware of that ego. Moreover, as much as the two levels of consciousness, i.e., the reflective and the unreflective, cannot be separated from one another, one is bound to accept the concept of a transcendental subject, no matter what name one gives to it. I believe that Sartre himself realizes the difficulties with his position against a transcendental ego. He himself cannot help but postulate, even if in a subtle manner, a kind of I on the prereflective level.
FootnotesBack to top of page
1 Transcendence of the Ego, p. 31
2 Ibid., p. 54
3 Being and Nothingness, p. 1x
4 Ibid., p. 1xvi
5 Ibid., p. x1vi
7 Ibid., p. 431
8 Transcendence of the Ego, p. 36
9 Being and Nothingness, pp. 102-105
10 Transcendence of the Ego, p. 36
11 Ibid., p. 49
12 Being and Nothingness, p. 320
13 Ibid., p. 91
14 Transcendence of the Ego, pp. 91-92
15 Ibid., p. 40
16 Ibid., pp. 91-100
17 Ibid., p. 44
18 Being and Nothingness, p. 1iii
19 Ibid., p. 1iii
20 Ibid., p. 1iii
21 Ibid., p. 200
22 Ibid., p. 39
23 Transcendence of the Ego, p. 57
24 Ibid., p. 106
25 Ibid., pp. 40-41
26 Ibid., p. 59
27 Being and Nothingness, p. 1xi
28 Ibid., p. 77
29 Ibid., p. 200
30 Ibid., p. 222
31 Ibid., p. 221
32 Transcendence of the Ego, p. 104
33 Being and Nothingness, p. 222
34 Ibid., pp. 223-233
35 Ibid., p. 257
36 Ibid., p. 260
37 Ibid., p. 262
38 Transcendence of the Ego, p. 106
39 Being and Nothingness, p. 261
40 Ibid., 289
41 Ibid., p. 261
42 Transcendence of the Ego, pp. 91-92