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Me, myself and I: Sartre and Husserl on elusiveness of the self

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In his early essay on transcendence of the ego, Sartre attempted to follow Husserl’s Logical Investigations and to draw the consequences of his phenomenological criticism of subjectivity. Both authors have emphasized the elusiveness of the self as a result of intentionality of consciousness. However, Sartre’s analysis of ego led him quite far from Husserl’s philosophical project, insofar as it was somehow already raising the question about the moral nature of the self, and was thus establishing the basis of the conception of moral consciousness that has been displayed later in Being and Nothingness. This article stresses the importance of such a turn in Sartre’s philosophy, which reorients him from a strict description of consciousness toward a moral assessment of the structure of the self.

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  1. Husserl (1984b, p. 353; text from the first edition, my translation).

  2. Natorp (1888, §4); quoted by Husserl (1984b, p. 359).

  3. Zahavi (2005, p. 32).

  4. Husserl (1984b, p. 361; 2001, p. 209).

  5. Cassam (1994, p. 3).

  6. Kant (1999, §16).

  7. Sartre (2003, p. 30; 1960, pp. 46–47).

  8. Husserl (1984b, p. 217).

  9. Husserl (1973, p. 72; 1960, p. 33).

  10. Husserl (1984b, p. 204).

  11. Husserl (1984b, p. 210).

  12. Sartre (1960, p. 31): the ego “is outside, in the world. It is a being of the world, like the ego of another.”

  13. Sartre (2003, p. 85; 1960, p. 104).

  14. “En tant que ma conscience réfléchissante est conscience d’elle-même, elle est conscience non-positionnelle. […] Une conscience n’a nullement besoin d’une conscience réfléchissante pour être consciente d’elle-même. Simplement elle ne se pose pas à elle-même comme un objet.” Sartre (2003, pp. 28–29; 1960, pp. 44–45).

  15. Sartre (2003, p. 30; 1960, pp. 46–47).

  16. “Le type d’existence de la conscience, c’est d’être conscience de soi. Et elle prend conscience de soi en tant qu’elle est conscience d’un objet transcendant […] Elle est purement et simplement conscience d’être conscience de cet objet, c’est la loi de son existence,” Sartre (2003, pp. 23–24; 1960, p. 40).

  17. Sartre (1976, p. 20; 1993, p. XXX). The English syntax has more plasticity than the French and does not require the “of,” while the French does.

  18. Sartre (1976, p. 19; 1993, p. XXIX).

  19. Zahavi (2002, p. 18).

  20. Sartre (2003, p. 23; 1960, p. 40).

  21. Sartre (2003, p. 24; 1960, p. 40).

  22. Husserl (1984b, p. 352). There is absolutely no difference between the conscious content that we are aware of and the lived-experience itself.

  23. Sartre (1976, p. 20).

  24. Sartre (2003, p. 24; 1960, p. 40).

  25. Sartre (2003, p. 24; 1960, p. 40): “All is therefore clear and lucid in consciousness: the object with its characteristic opacity is before consciousness, but consciousness is purely and simply consciousness of being consciousness of that object. This is the law of its existence.”

  26. Sartre (1960, p. 41).

  27. Sartre (2003, p. 85; 1960, p. 104).

  28. Sartre (2003, p. 85; 1960, p. 104).

  29. Sartre (2003, p. 67; 1960, p. 85).

  30. Sartre (2003, p. 69; 1960, p. 87).

  31. See the distinction between lie and lie to oneself in Sartre (1976, pp. 83–84; 1993, pp. 48–49).

  32. Sartre (1976, p. 95; 1993, p. 59).

  33. Sartre (1976, p. 96; 1993, p. 59).

  34. Sartre (1976, p. 95; 1993, p. 59).

  35. Sartre (2003, p. 83; 1960, p. 103).

  36. Sartre (1960, p. 102).

  37. Sartre (2003, p. 82; 1960, p. 101).

  38. “Self,” as Perry writes, is “not even quite a word”: it is primarily nothing more than an additional linguistic symbol that turns an object pronoun into a reflexive one (her in herself, him in himself, it in itself); see Perry (1995, p. 1). Normally, the “self” is not supposed to refer to some particular thing we could find somewhere in the world, but it is used to describe the situations in which the object of an action or an attitude is also its object: if I look at myself in a mirror, I am at the same time the subject and the object of this experience. This linguistic feature indicates that the self is to be understood as a reflexive relation to oneself, more than a peculiar property attached to persons and related to the fact that they are (or are not) genuine subjects as such.

  39. Husserl (1984a, p. 282).

  40. Austin (1961, p. 232).

  41. Husserl (1984a, p. 313).

  42. Sartre (2003, p. 82; 1960, p. 101).

  43. Sartre (2003, p. 78; 1960, p. 97).


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Correspondence to Pierre-Jean Renaudie.

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Renaudie, PJ. Me, myself and I: Sartre and Husserl on elusiveness of the self. Cont Philos Rev 46, 99–113 (2013).

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