“The Being closest to being the Being is being-in-itself.
Instead, existentialists wax upon the objectified being-for-itself.”
Those who have read Being And Nothingness or Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre, the great clinical exponent of existentialism as a philosophy most appropriate to human condition, would remember the freezing realisation of the man who has come looking for his friend to a restaurant : “Pierre is here.” It describes the emotional and mental emptiness of man, who seconds earlier was filled with anticipation and the pleasure of meeting another person — another being : a close companion, the way he was, the way he looked, and the way he related. The nothingness he experiences instead, upon finding that his friend is not there in the restaurant, freezes his being.
The book however does not deal with being-in-itself, except as a couple footnotes to the main text. It is still dealing with the being-for-itself, of man, which is where existentialism ends up at : nothingness and the futility of “man.”
But, I sense, that the subjectivity of being-for-itself is yet to be exhausted. The vital mind and the intellectual mind are its domains, and the experienced emptiness in them affects the being-for-itself. The being-for-itself is yet there, standing as it were, facing its own extension shrunk in form and content. However, what is the form and content of this being-for-itself ? That is the question which awaits our answer.
It is a simple experiment that shows something about the nature of this being-for-itself. It commences with our man standing in pitch black darkness of a new moon night, out there in open under the cloudy sky, without the security of the four walls, the illumination that electricity brings into our homes, or the diversions of modern-day gadgets. He stands still in the solidified darkness, unable to spot a feature or object his senses could engage with.
He is rather, completely taken aback by this peculiarly uniform expanse of undifferentiated formlessness in ‘view.’ He looks in it and sees nothing. That nothingness is however something quite, though wholly unfamiliar and unknown. It is trying in extreme, to say the least. There is nothing other than ‘fear’ within the self and disinterest for the monolith in which the man is buried.
What follows are prompts of the conscious entity within : the being-for-itself. Disinterest burdens the eyelids down to close, though sleep proper is farthest from reach on account of the unexplained ‘fear’ within. All manner of thoughts arise to replace the latter and occupy the dark domains, vital and mental. We choose one : a thought or a will to action, to fix the dangling for-object consciousness in the nature of the being-for-itself.
Whatever the fix, his choice is a distant second to that immediate urge to turn away and walk into the safety of illuminated space, the familiar world of objects and forms. Into the world of differentiated beings, in short. The dark, featureless environment rejects him as forcefully as he does the other. There is nothing to see there, nothing to reduce to being an object for the self. It is all completely ‘dark,’ one mammoth and unknown homogeniety that surrounds. What is one to do with it ? The intense flare up of the being-for-itself is found in that momentary inability to retreat into the safety of seeing, sizing, reacting, or doing; and, in the process, itself becoming an object-among-others that sees, sizes, reacts and does.
This then is the nature of the being-for-itself : reactive, reflecting its experience of the world, and an inevitable compulsion to reduce itself to becoming, and being, an object-among-others. The opposite nature — active, in-itself, lord unto self — would make one seem like mad, abnormal, propelled neither by the primordial need to survive nor by the everyday need to perpetuate and prosper. It is not the being-in-itself but, I suspect, could take the man close if he may be without the willfulness that is ‘naturally’ programmed to take over his being.
That liberation, freedom from the hold of will upon oneself, is the spiritual domain of our being-in-itself.