Re: Existence preceding Essence?
- Dear Michael,
I very much appreciate your reply. I certainly agree that the slogan is
unfortunate, and your reason for saying so I find "well said". I was going
to say previously that I am surprised that Sartreans overuse this slogan
without (at least) giving paraphrases. From what I understand Sartre would
take the following to be synonymous with "existence precedes essence..."
Being-for-itself [Existence] is what it is [its essence] in the mode of not
The expressions 'transcendence', 'withdrawal' and 'nihilation' are also used
to express the
internal relation of intentional consciousness to its object.
In support of Sartre I would suggest that by "preceding" he means a
logical (or ontological) priority rather than a chronological one. This
distinction should be familiar from Kantian terms like a priori and a
posteriori. You are right that this precedence is confusing, though, and
likely to be construed as chronological and external.
More importantly, you suggest that to provide myself with an essence is
bad faith. I am confused about this. It would be easy to take Sartre as
meaning that I am simply not m,y ego, or nature, or essence, or
being-for-others, etc. But he expresses the ontological relation in terms
of, I think, an intentional ambiguity. I am my facticity in the mode of not
being it. I think that for Sartre I "am" my essence ambiguously. Hence, it
could be bad faith to say categorically either that I am a homosexual, or
that I am not one. I am homosexual in an ambiguous way, in the way of being
always potentially more than "homosexual". In the terms you favour: freedom
would deceive itself equally by playing at being determined by an essence or
by pretending to by an abstract absolute isolated from any situation. I am
free in the mode of being free in relation to this concrete situation.
I think we are in broad agreement, but I know that existentialism has
been criticised for exaggerating this freedom abstracted from any situation,
and I think that isn't quite what Sartre means.
All the best,