Sartre’s Reciprocal Movement Is Also A Description Of The Innate Structuring Of All structures

The Innate Structuring Capacity Of All Structures—Reciprocal Movement

Reciprocal Movement, –The Carrier Of Free Thought, The Same Free Thought That Brings Into Being Language, Myth, Science, Ethics, And Civilization

Identifying Sartre’s philosophy as structuralism is, I am aware, pushing the envelope. However, an authority on structuralism has proposed this option (without, I might add, elaborating on it.) “One might go as far as to say…that structuralism is analogous to Sartre’s view of consciousness — it is what it is not, and it is not what it is.” [Jean-Marie Benoist, A Structural Revolution, 1975, p. 1] In Sartre’s book Being And Nothingness, his chapter on Being-For-Itself is subtitled “Immediate Structures of the For-Itself.” [Jean-Paul Sartre, Being And Nothingness, 1966, p. 119] Structure is not hidden in Sartre; it’s just that on the whole Sartre’s book is a polemic against reading structure as anything more than appearance.

In the representation of Sartre’s thought as “consciousness is what it is not, and it is not what it is,” we find reciprocal movement, the same reciprocal movement encountered, in one form or another, in all the structuralists I have discussed hitherto in this paper. Specifically, Sartre defines the consciousness of the transcending For-itself (our self-space) as: “Consciousness is a being such that in its being, its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself.” [Ibid. p. 801] In an extrapolation from Sartre’s definition of the consciousness, Benoist describes that relationship as: “it is what it is not, and it is not what it is,” while I describe it as: being-what-is-not-while-not-being-what-is. In both cases, however, we end up with a definition for reciprocal movement.

This double movement is represented on many levels in Sartre’s exegesis on being and nothingness. This double movement becomes very specific in Sartre’s description of his pre-reflective Cogito. In so far as we find ”nothingness” at the center of Cogito, consciousness per se must be understood to be set apart from itself, therefore, Sartre’s pre-reflective Cogito will always form one pole of our conscious experience while the “objects” of consciousness will take their place at the other pole of conscious experience. In this way, Sartre is able to dispense with Descartes’ Cogito on the grounds that consciousness cannot be separated from its object. This condition, where the pre-reflective Cogito becomes a preexistent condition for the conscious awareness of objects, establishes the double movement of conscious reflection — the object of consciousness less the pre-reflective Cogito, and the pre-reflective Cogito less the object of consciousness. Depending on where “you” focus your concern, the content of consciousness is either pushed to the front of consciousness (the unreflective consciousness), or, the object of consciousness is pushed into the background, as the “negation of consciousness” is brought into the foreground (the reflected upon object of consciousness).

Together, our pre-reflective Cogito and the object of consciousness, form our conscious experience of the knower-known dyad. In so far as this double movement turns on the pivot point of pure negation, the known exists for the knower, but the knower can never be fully known. As self-consciousness rises in consciousness, it is denied the possibility of becoming fully self-aware. This result, the incompleteness of self, brings us back to Sartre’s original definition of consciousness, or, “consciousness is such that in its being its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself.” This movement, the symbol-generating movement of free thought, the movement that makes thinking possible, emancipates language, myth, science, and morality. In the absence of this movement, “thinking” is restricted to the manipulation of signs—mere sensual indicators, minus the symbols that carry the significance of those same indicators.

Natural Selection (Biological Evolution) Is Itself Embedded In An Even More Fundamental Evolutionary Process, The One That Cannot Be Separated From Reciprocal Movement

In a world of context-dependent relationships, self-consciousness emerges. This experience comes with a price. As individuals, we are condemned to be free. In the words of Sartre, we must perpetually “confront the world and self as a lack,” and, because of this, we cannot escape responsibility for our choices, however, when we confront social norms and rules of law, we are forced to act responsibly. In the face of societal rules, regulations, and injustice a person is forced to act responsibly. Of course, a person may also choose to act irresponsibly (civil disobedience is another choice), but for Sartre, responsibility lies in the chosen act and therefore cannot be separated from the person who chooses. If, on the other hand, we happen to be living in the episteme that Foucault characterizes as “belonging to the questioning of that to which one belongs,” then responsibility becomes absorbed into the power/knowledge relationship of “responsible to whom for what ends.” Certainly Foucault argues this position and, I might add, it is not a coincidence that Foucault characterized the modern episteme as “man’s obsession with what eludes him.” Man “must traverse, duplicate and reactivate in an explicit form the articulation of thought on everything within it, around it, and beneath it which is not thought…a constantly renewed interrogation” (Order of Things, p. 324). Just as I am sure that Foucault read Sartre, I am also sure that Foucault’s description of epistemes is off the mark. I will now turn to why this is the case.

While Sartre has delineated the not-self and the consequences that follow from not-self in our everyday world of social interaction (Being And Nothingness), he stops far short of identifying the synchronic dimension encompassing both nature and human consciousness as a double movement. Since Sartre’s description of not-self, being-what-is-not-while-not-being-what-is, is also a description of the pure form of this double movement, we can now confidently place this reciprocal movement in the empty box that Lane described as the “innate structuring capacity of all structures.” In so far as this structure characterizes the synchronic axis of all experience, it may be thought of as unconstructed, but in so far as its form circumscribes all experience, all experience (content) may be thought of as being a product of construction (the diachronic axis of experience).

[Footnote. The diagram I will present shortly depicts this synchronic axis, nature’s synchronic axis. In the context of freedom, this axis may be understood in terms of liberation. The fact that I am writing about this subject is itself a product of the third tier of this liberation process. More specifically, discontinuity occurring in continuity (self-consciousness) while simultaneously occurring in continuity occurring in discontinuity (factual events) gets liberated from continuity occurring in discontinuity (life), which, in turn, gets liberated from pure discontinuity (non-life). In more familiar language, I am suggesting here that natural selection (biological evolution) is itself embedded in an even more fundamental evolutionary process, the one that cannot be separated from reciprocal movement, movement, which, ultimately, takes the shape of Sartre’s object pole of consciousness embedded in it’s own negation.]

Knowledge of
what’s free and what’s not free is made possible only after freedom becomes realized in its own negative space i.e., when consciousness becomes self-conscious in its own physical environment. In this sense, my diagram represents the limiting conditions of freedom. What’s free and what’s not free are context dependent and occur along the diachronic axis of experience. Multiple directions open at this juncture. Once you see the world through the “eyes” of the synchronic nature of freedom, the “center” of everything shifts. How far the “center” shifts is left basically up to you. I, however, will try to hold my discussion of freedom’s synchronic axis to a reinterpretation of the ideas that I have already considered in this paper. Before I begin, though, I want to answer a criticism that may be applied to the structuralism of being-what-is-not-while-not-being-what-is just like it is applied to the structural movement in general, that is, that structuralism is simply a mental exercise with no “real world” relevance.


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