The Self-Reflecting Self

January 11, 2010

In Being and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre describes the existence of the self and how it comes to know itself. Sartre describes a comprehensive system of self-consciousness of one’s own being, and from one’s own being how that being copes with the consciousness of human reality. Much of his work is a theory upon being and its relation to all human reality, but what is interesting for this moment is the understanding of the self by the self. For our self-awareness of ourselves is processed in a very peculiar way.

First off there are two kinds of being: the first being is the essential kind but unrealizable to us. It is named Being-In-Itself, and means simply to be. In other words, it is what it is, she is what she is, he is what he is, and I am what I am. This refers to ourselves when we are not thinking about ourselves and immersed in the moment or instants as Sartre calls them. This being cannot be comprehended, for the moment we try to comprehend ourselves this being pauses from the instants and therefore ceases to be it’s being. Hence the first part of the nothingness aspect.

This is when the second kind comes into being. In order to understand ourselves we have to look, or reflect on ourselves. This involves being a self that is looking into the self to find a meaning in it for itself. The being is appropriately called Being-For-Itself.

(At this point, I am greatly simplifying Sartre’s detailed system, which describes everything from tenses in time, the being of others, and even love).

The Being-For-Itself involves first moving beyond the essential being, Being-In-Itself, in order to look back at itself. Then the Being-For-Itself reflects on the being, which by moving beyond it, nihilates the former being in order to recreate a consciousness of that being, but this is not the end. Just as instants can be infinitely divided (Sartre’s exemple), so can the Being-For-Itself infinitely transcend beyond itself in order to be conscious of itself. Therefore, if I comprehend myself as thinking about myself writing this sentence, I can also comprehend myself as thinking about thinking about writing this sentence, nihiliating the former consciousness of self in the new transcendence of self.

This explanation can seem very confusing but imagine it this way: As when your standing near two bathroom mirrors, the one behind the sink and the other serving as the door for the bathroom cabinet. Then you place your face very in-between both mirrors and you move the cabinet mirror closer so that both mirrors reflect on the image of your face. The display is that of a continuously infinite image of yourself looking at yourself. That is one way of describing Being-For-Itself.

Of course we don’t infinitely keep looking beyond ourselves, we find a limit. We couldn’t keep living in the instants without one.

I want to express an idea inspired from Sartre’s Being-For-Itself. The self-reflecting self makes a self that is different from the essential self but also the same self.  When one is conscious of one’s self, and then moves to a consciousness of that consciousness, one is still essentially looking at the same self but also understanding a new self as well. I want to express the idea in this link. If you click on it, consider where you find yourself in.

The Self-Reflecting Self

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2 Responses to “The Self-Reflecting Self”


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