Toward an Ethics of Nothingness: Sartre, Supervenience, and the Necessity of My Contingency

Humanities Bulletin 4 (1):9-19 (2021)
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Ethics normally proceeds by establishing some kind of ground from which norms can be derived for human action. However, no such terra firma is found in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, which instead lays down a sedimentary soil consisting of a blend of nothingness and contingency. This paper aims to show how Sartre is able to build an ethical theory from this seemingly groundless mixture, and it proceeds in three sections. Section one aims to disentangle the relation between the for-itself (pour-soi) and the in-itself (en-soi) from antithetical characterizations by placing them in a state of supervenience. Section two works to explain how both the in-itself and the for-itself are not divided ontologically, but are both in the same ontological state, namely, contingency. And in section three, it is argued that Sartre’s ethics reveals that because human beings share the same thrownness with Others in a world, they have to take title for such a world. Within a Sartrean ethics of nothingness, one’s nothingness leads one to the shared nothingness of Others, of which one must take responsibility.
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