The introduction to Sartre's philosophical novel Nausea is by Hayden Carruth and he quotes Jaspers: "The non-rational is found in the opacity of the here and now, … in the actual empirical existence which is just as it is and not otherwise. Why is it not otherwise? Why is it at all? What is this is-ness? Isn't simply nothing, or rather Nothingness, the unknowable , indispensable Void?...."

Can you please explain this to me? And explain the meanings of the terms, like "non-rational."?

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    See Existentialism : "Sartre's slogan—“existence precedes essence”—may serve to introduce what is most distinctive of existentialism, namely, the idea that no general, non-formal account of what it means to be human can be given, since that meaning is decided in and through existing itself. In contrast to other entities, whose essential properties are fixed by the kind of entities they are, what is essential to a human being—what makes her who she is—is not fixed by her type but by what she makes of herself, who she becomes. " Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 20:08
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    Does Carruths say where Jaspers says this? Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 20:14
  • I'd be in favor of some latitude with this question... whatever the literary form is, it's raising a philosophical question. Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 20:36
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Thank you. I get this concept of essence and existence. However, I can't see the connection with what I quoted up there.
    – Vitf
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 20:41
  • "...the actual empirical existence which is just as it is and not otherwise. Why is it not otherwise? Why is it at all? What is this is-ness? Isn't simply nothing ..." In a nutshell : there is no essence but only existence. Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 6:05

1 Answer 1


Thomist philosophy held that essence preceded existence, apart from God whose essence was existence; and this in line with a conception of God as the necessary being; whereas humans and all else are contingent.

Mans essence being his soul; one can say that being in the world existence draws out his essence; in a similar way that in Platos a Dialogue The Theatatus; Socrates draws out what in essence was already there.

An old tradition stated that through introspection one can discover the hidden divine realm; consider for example in the Islamic tradition Al-Hallajs utterance Ana al-Haq (I am the truth - truth being a name of God - for which he was executed) which has parallels in the Christian and Indian traditions.

But after the death-of-god theology of Nietzsche; this realm evaporated so as Haydon explains that when Sartre looked within and 'pushing aside memory, knowledge and sensation' he found nothing; and he turned this into the philosophical concept of Nothingness.

Sartres innovation is to turn turn the two terms around so that existence precedes essence; one exists first and it is through existing in the world and it's commitments that's ones essence is formed.

Thus all there is is the material and the empirical; and when one pushes this aside, one does not find God as 'hidden treasure' or a 'lamp in a niche'; or as for Kant the 'moral law' but nothing, the void - a blankness.

This induces nausea and vertigo.

We have only the pure thingness of things rather than being imbued with something more than they are; there is no presence, just absence - or one could say the presence of absence.

The non-rational is not the lack of thinking or of thought as such; but should be seen as a term placed in opposition to the Enlightments project of rationalism; hence the reactions of Romanticism and Existentialisms.

As Haydon points out there is a kind of a parallel in the traditions of the East; possibly in particular the Tao, whose opening lines echo that of Sartres philosophical opus Being & Nothingness.


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