Saturday, October 10, 2009

The “Objectification” of Nothingness

In “Existentialism is a Humanism,” Sartre begins with explaining that the existence of a being precedes that being’s essence. He sees existence as the possibility of freedom in the world. The fact that humans have freedom makes it possible for beings "to nihilate" certain possibilities. This act of nihilation is used by Sartre to further explain the concept of nothingness in “ The Origin of Nothingness.” He explains that nothingness happens as an act of nihilation. Nothingness is a means of experiencing an absence of something in the world. A being is not his past or future being but simply its present being. A being is not its past being in a sense that it is marked in part by an absence in the past; that being is in the mode of not being himself (in the past) which is in turn nothingness. Along the same lines, a being cannot be its future being as it is not possible to determine what the future being would be if the being is not actually able to be there which is caused by the basis of the nothingness. In order for nothingness to be possible, the absence of a being has to be experienced by another person besides the being himself. Hence, nothingness has to be recognized by others in order for it to be considered the basis of the being's existence.

However, what if there was a person that was very isolated from society all of his life. He may have been seen by people he passed in the street but he was not actually recognized by anyone around in a significant way. He was alone from the beginning of his life without any identifiable parents and had never genuinely been recognized by anyone but himself. Because he is not recognized by anyone, then his being would not have nothingness if no one else realizes his nothingness. If his being’s nothingness is not recognized it would be difficult for him to implement his absence as an act of nihilation; therefore, if he is unable to implement nihilation in turn he is not choosing one possibility over another. Without the ability for possibility to be nihilated, a being cannot have complete freedom which is the basis of our existence. So without having our nothingness recognized by others, we are deprived of our ability to nihilate possibilities which is also eliminating our freedom. Freedom is what distinguishes us from objects which have no possibilities. Without others realizing our absence we loose our distinguishing features of being a being- for- itself that has freedom and possibilities.

If a person is not recognized by others his nothingness is not realized either so if nothingness is the basis of a being’s existence then does the hypothetical being described become a being- in- itself (an object) as opposed to a being- for - itself (being with freedom)?


  1. A person probably could not live in complete isolation. He has to have a mother and he has to have someone take care of him otherwise he would die. very shortly. I don't think anyone can be completely isolated in this world

  2. It is important to understand that the point of this blog is to interpret concepts of nothingness and nihilation, and so the isolated man is a well-thought hypothetical situation that highlights those concepts.

    While isolation may be impossible, we could think of it as an act of nihilation against being social. The man makes the choice to remain isolated. But, as Manali said, it is important to recognize that this man's freedom is still limited by others, who do not experience his absence.


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