In Being and Nothingness, Sartre discusses negation in a number of contexts, but I cannot for the life of me figure out a definition of it--even a rough one. So far as I can tell, it is not merely a logical operation and it is not just a psychological attitude. Does anyone have any insights or suggestions for me to understand this better?

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    see also philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/40774/28067
    – ttnphns
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 20:04
  • daniel-pimbe.com/pages/explications-de-textes/page-5.html
    – user39744
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 3:02
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    Sartre's point is that the self the " pour soi" cannot be itself in the same way as an " en soi" is itself. This table is itself in the sense of a pure logical identity, the traditional transcendental concept of unity as indivisibility ( " Ens et unum convertuntur") perfectly applies here. A thng , an " en soi" is a plenim. But for the self to be himself, he has to be aware of himself, and , in that sense he has not to be himself in order to be the self he is, for the " watcher" ( " spectateur de soi-même") never perfectly " matches" the being that is watched. .
    – user39744
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 3:15
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    It means that, at the heart of the self, there is an internal " divsion", a " crack", a " fissure" : " I am what I am not, and I am not what I am". Note that this internal negation is not equivalent to the subject / object opposition : Sartre explicitly rejects the traditional concept of self-consciousness as knowing oneself , that is, as " being reflectively an object for oneself". Self consciousnesss is " non-positional" consciousness, a consciousness without intentionality.
    – user39744
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 3:17
  • plato.stanford.edu/entries/self-consciousness-phenomenological/…
    – user39744
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 3:19

1 Answer 1


If I understand this correctly, Sartre considers negation (usually as internal negation) as one of the fundamental aspect of humanity, because it reflects the tension between being-in-itself and being-for-itself where the latter is (ostensibly) a feature specific to human consciousness. 'Being-in-itself', for Sartre, is the totality of what someone is: the accumulated sum of one's biology, history, and thoughts and behavior as they manifest in the present moment. 'Being-for-itself', by contrast, is the aggregate of how we perceive ourselves: what we think of ourselves, what we want for ourselves, what we imagine ourselves to be... As you can see, the second of these often amounts to a rejection or denial of the first: we want to be the kind of person who does X, so we reject the fact that (historically) we may have done Y.

That is the sense of 'negation' in Sartre: negating that which is historically (observably) the case in support of an aspirational or ideal view of the self. It's that philosophical tension that drives learning, growth, ethics, and etc.

  • Thanks! That helps a lot! Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 20:27

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