Nov 302011

Discussing Jean-Paul Sarte’s The Transcendence of the Ego (written in 1934).

What is consciousness, and does it necessarily involve an “I” who is conscious of things? Sartre says no: typical experience is consciousness of some object and doesn’t involve the experience of myself as someone having this consciousness. It’s only when we reflect on our own conscious experiences that we posit this “I.” The ego is our own creation, or more precisely a social creation. This means that far from being some primordial structure of all experience, this transparent thing inside us that we have more immediate knowledge of than anything else, the ego is an object: it has parts we don’t see, and we can be wrong when we make judgments about it. Other people might even know us better than we know ourselves.

This is a difficult text, and we spend lots of time bickering about what Sartre might mean by terms like “transcendent” or “non-positional consciousness,” so surely you will love that. Read more about the topic.

Buy the bookor try this version online.

End song: “Thing in the World,” by Mark Lint. This song was begun around 1996 but mostly written and wholly recorded just now, with Mark playing all the instruments, with lyrics actually motivated by this Sartre reading.

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  33 Responses to “Episode 47: Sartre on Consciousness and the Self”

Comments (11) Pingbacks (22)
  1. Good looking philosopher? Kierkegaard is as close to a boy band member as you get:

  2. Another great episode.

    “The ego is an intellectual construct that defines itself through its reflection in the world” rough idea is developed in Hofstadter’s “Godel, Escher, Bach” and “Figments of reality” by Stewart and Cohen.

    (Possibly this was mentioned in the podcast ..)

  3. Ludwig Wittgenstein is said to have been quite handsome. Part of his appeal, I suspect.

  4. They say Bourdieu had his fair share of erotic capital and I’ve heard that Nietzsche was a real chick-magnet.

  5. Nothing like listening to an excellent and very thought provoking discussion and then being overwhelmed by toilet humor….”Suddenly being overcome and filled with the quality of rupugnance and hatred when somebody farted in the room”
    That cracked me up…
    Although I would think the perception would be repugnance, and then hatred perhaps on reflection and rendering a judgment. Flatus does not usually inspire hatred.

  6. here is a posting on Sartre that may tie in with issues raised in the ZAMM and M-Ponty pcasts that might be a nice lead in to structuralism and perhaps head us towards cybernetics:

  7. Appreciated this episode. I’d read a lot of Sartre but have never discussed this book w/ anyone. Found that the selections read on this podcast were the ones I had highlighted and could relate to some of the comments. Just a great show with a worthy objective.

    • Thanks James! This was one of my favorites as well. You might want to check out Mark’s close reading of the first section of Being and Nothingness.

    “This lecture will discuss some of the central ideas contained within Sartre’s The Transcendence of the Ego and consider their continued relevance for contemporary accounts of conscious experience.”

  9. This episode is really great. Really really great.

    I especially love when Seth’s response to Mark’s comment about Heidegger’s ‘bullshit’, “Hey Heidegger invented that! He wasn’t steeped in it, he INVENTED it. Don’t make me take my earrings off!”

  10. Brilliant episode. The song at the end is great, too. I have to admit, I skip the closing songs most of the time, but this one was so good, that I even went and downloaded it in good quality and have been listening to it since :).

    Is it possible to find the lyrics of “Thing in the World”? :) I checked Mark’s website, but it does not seem to have it.

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