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The Great Division of Being

From the study of the phenomenon, Sartre progresses towards an inquiry into what Being is. It is not impossible to arrive at Being since for Sartre, the phenomenon of being, like every other phenomenon, is immediately disclosed to consciousness.

Being is. Being is in-itself. Being is what it is. Sartre thus defines being. Being, as all embracing and objective, is not existence, which is individual and subjective. Sartre was quick to add that the being of phenomenon is radically different from the being of consciousness. The latter he discusses in his discussion of being-for-itself as contrasted against being-in-itself. Sartre did not dwell so much on what being is but in his twofold division of being into the in-itself and the for-itself.

Being-in-itself (l'en-soi) refers to the totally unrelated, uncharacterized being found in the transphenomenal realm. It just is. It is neither active nor passive, and harbors no potentiality, no possibility whatsoever. It is the meaningless being.

On the other hand, Being-for-itself (l'pour-soi) refers to the transcendent being characterized by consciousness and freedom. It is the being of man, one who defines his own essence and gives meaning to his own existence through the choices he makes. It is the realm of the human being, characterized by consciousness and freedom, which enables man to decide meaning for himself. By nurturing his own meaning, man gives his own existence. Moreover, the for-itself exists in so far as it is a nihilation of the in-itself. Without this relation to the in-itself, there can be no for-itself. Finally, the nothingness of the for-itself necessitates its project, its perpetual struggle towards the in-itself.



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