Building a bridge between Rand and Sartre

First, some implications of Sartre’s theory of being. The for-itself (IF), expressed as human awareness or consciousness, lives in contemplation of the in-itself (II), which is the being of the world. Of all the things which the IF may behold, it cannot regard itself. The IF is not “there” to be seen. It exists only insofar as it acts through the process of being aware. While its changes to the II may be described, it remains itself beyond the universe of description, except to say what it is not – which is what distinguishes its nothingness from non-existence. (In consequence, the IF is a purely solipsistic existence, since it may interact with other, similar beings only through their impact on the II, but not directly, for the same reason that it may not be immediately aware of itself.)

The II has the attributes of sufficiency, permanence of being, and of being regarded rather than regarding. It is passive, static – that which is acted upon. The IF, in contrast, is active, dynamic – and is fully itself only when it acts, since at rest it can have no properties of its own: the concepts of possession and attribution belong entirely to the II. While the IF may be described from experience as possessing a facility to act in certain ways, this description applies to its history as reflected in the II, and becomes a reality of the IF only which it again chooses to act in that manner.

Since the IF must ever be in motion to remain alive, and since the life of the II is independent, beyond time, there arises the false belief that the FI may make for itself a home in the II, there to rest and abide for a while before returning to the realm of action. This cannot be true, by Sartre’s logic. The IF has no “place”, so it can have no home. Its understanding of “here” is a function of its own active awareness, and is not positional. That is, it creates the concept of “here” by being aware of “there”, but this does not imply a supra-rational “here” to which the IF adheres. The example is the dream, where the dreamer believes himself to be located in a certain place, but this fiction of location exists entirely within his self-awareness. In the II there is neither “here” nor “there”, but an undifferentiated eternity that the IF carves into pieces according to its consciousness of being, as does the mind from the abundance of imagination when we are asleep.

Likewise, the concept of “now” and “present” are not realities pertaining to the FI, but a function of its awareness. The present may be said to be the IF, since the present is one’s awareness of the II, and the perception of moving through time allows us to have an experience of the act of perceiving.

The IF, being thus alien to the world, is alien even to itself. With regard to the II it is like non-being: the hollow space that makes a globe of clay into a bowl; but even less than this, for it has not even the attributes of locality. Yet, what we see of the II is in fact the richness of the FI’s capacity to perceive, for otherwise it would be saturated in its own plenitude and there would be no perception of it at all, but a single infinity without time, space, or attribution.

By this strange irony we find that the IF is the cause – the active principle – of the attributed qualities of the being of the II – the recipient – yet we cannot ourselves receive this static principle of attribution. The IF serves the II in one sense, by revealing all the wonder and magnificence of its latent beauty; in another sense the II serves the IF, by making manifest to the FI the wealth of its own capacity to perceive. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, realized when applied to the II, with its being being through the agency of the FI – but resident in neither. It may be described as a perceptive reality coming into being through the dynamic interaction between these two – which otherwise would exist separately as mere potentiality.

This again shows that the FI lives by interaction alone, by constant, ever-varying perception of the II. It this were to stop, the beauty is sees in the II would stop, and begin slowly to fade away into nothingness. The image might remain in memory, as a token of the past experience, but there would no longer be an experiential relationship to that image, and hence no beauty – for this quality exists in neither, but arises through the creative activity of the IF.

Sartre claims that the IF longs for the II, because of the properties it seems to possess which the IF is lacking. The IF would like to carve out a piece of the II – set its experiences in stone, as it were, to be repeated endlessly with the same vividness – and declare that it “owns” this piece: that in fact it is that piece, and since others may now be directly aware of it, the IF believes it has attained to the same permanence of being as the II.

In Rand’s terminology, the IF is the self, the ego, the living reality behind the man. To be “selfless” to her is to give up on the active principle of being and to worship the II as God – even though the II only exists in its diversity through the activity of the IF. In scriptural terminology, that part of the II which the IF attempts to carve out is the self, the ego, and to be selfless is to rid one’s true self of this fiction, and return his energy to where it belongs: the active being of the IF. These opposite uses of the same word have an identical goal: For the IF to stop clinging to the II in the existential sense of wedding its being to it; to “detach” from the world in order to gain the experience of real beauty found in dynamic, not static, being.

It is without name or attributes, yet the IF is the true cause of life in the world. Without it, there would be no “world”. When the IF seeks to build a static persona in the II, in order to retire there, it is longing to rest, to stop being the IF and become a part of the II, to give up the responsibilities of its consciousness and start receiving rather than creating attribution. We say it is “lonely” for the attributes it sees in the II but can never see in itself.

Why would the IF choose this route? It must be that it finds its own nature unendurable, such that incredible energy is spent on these castles of ego in the II. Is the IF doomed to the agony of non-being, in comparison to the sufficiency of the II?

Sartre seems to suggest as much, and simply to demand courage from people in facing the true nature of their awareness. Rand has a different answer: That we are the true representatives of being, and that the II is as non-being compared to us; except that we are not taught this growing up, and so we have been looking at reality with all the terms reversed.

Since the FI cannot be “in” the II, but is ever removed by the act of perceiving it, the FI can only experience quality by participating in the act of the II’s manifesting it through the FI’s perception of it. For example, if we go to scene in nature and see something beautiful, we are beholding in fact our own capacity for being aware of beauty by interacting with the contents of the II, by which we create that attribution of its beauty and bestow it upon those contents. In that moment, in the active state of creating a specific perception through the agency of our own awareness, beauty passes through us, so to speak, to land on the II. We now say that it is beautiful, but in truth we have made it “beautiful” by the act of appreciating it according to the values we hold.

A thing is beautiful only by this act of perception. The II may be sufficient in itself, but its sufficiency is without attributes. Those it appears to have are those we have given it by being conscious of it. The universe is folded up within us, and we walk about looking at a mirror that reflects our own soul’s capacity to see. The greater our creative ability in this regard, the more wondrous the II will appear to be.

To see that the wealth of the II is in fact the wealth of the FI is to entirely change our valuation of it. Before, it was seen as an unattainable treasure trove, to be pined for but not found – like the gold at the end of the rainbow, or the mythical city of Atlantis. With this shift in terms, the II turns into a palette on which we project the artistic capacity of our own being. The II reflects the FI’s own awareness of itself. And so, for the IF, to act is to create a newer and more beautiful world at each moment, and through this experience of creating beauty the IF is satisfied. “And this is that spring whereof the near ones drink…”

That the II is the lost Atlantis, forever beyond reach while promising the fulfillment of every dream, is the ideal of a heaven which need only to be found and the FI will somehow discover itself permanently satisfied without the need for action. It is assumed that it will be without the necessity of being. Rand shows this to be an impossible state, and tantamount to a longing for non-existence. When the II is portrayed in this way, and the false hope of continual beauty without effort of creation is extended, many are deceived into working toward it. The real nature of the IF is passed over, and we invest much time and effort in amassing things, names, dreams, ideas of beauty, rather than acting as the creators of living beauty – which is the purpose of the IF in Rand’s terms.

When a person believes that he has acquired something in the II, and they have ceased to actively support its attributive substance by the active valuation of it, then he requires that others do this for him, in order to feed off the glow of their creative act by sympathy with his memory of the experience. He can no longer know himself if its reality is good, and must depend on others to say it is good; they make it good for him. But a thing can only be good if it is perceived as good, so that resting from the act of perception will drain away its goodness, such that in order to preserve it while also resting from perceiving it, we require that others contribute the fruits of their perception for us. Naturally, this is a hollow substitute, a faked reality, which even the perpetrator will come to admit in time – if he allows himself to be honest. It leads to a situation in which we longer valuate things ourselves, but look to others to sustain – and even define – their value for us. Because we do this, we assent to the demands of others that we do the same for them; but since we have chosen to rest, we give them only the words that others have given, participating in an elaborate group fiction in which the name of goodness is now praised in place of the reality.

The FI that is alive has no stomach for the scraps of another’s valuation, even if it were an active one. He is satisfied only with his own. This means that he is never at rest, and that his being is founded on the act of creation – and not the thing created. Since the awareness of others can apply only to the latter, and since he lives in the world of the former, the two do not even meet. Two actors may become partners in the act of creation, but they cannot share the world of the created. (cf. people’s experience of Roark’s presence in “The Fountainhead”).

When such a being of the IF meets another who is at rest – whose hopes are set in the II – the first has nothing to offer the second, nor vice-versa. The active cares only for creation, and this implies the new; whereas the passive cares only about the created, and therefore the old. In fact, active being must imply a destruction of the passive being’s world, since the new is by definition a challenge to the old. When the passive attempts to offer its beautiful things to the active, it is like two worlds that cannot coexist; how do you offer a completed canvas to someone who has asked you for a blank one on which he can paint the inspirations of his mind? (cf. the reaction of society to heroes, in my earlier essay)

So the dynamic being lives through the creation of beauty – or more exactly, by acting a channel through which it becomes perceptible in the world: the manifestation of beauty – and the static being must being to die: because the IF cannot inhabit the II, nor derive any sustenance from it. The only way for an individual to join the II is in death, when the light of consciousness goes out and his corpse becomes an unalterable fact of the past.

The attempt to demonstrate this reality of the IF is the intent behind Rand’s books, I believe, as well as to expose the error we have made in raising the II to the status of completely independent being – independent even of the IF – whereas in the philosophy of Sartre the being of the II – in its diversity, as we experience it – depends utterly on the IF to “exist” in this sense. The II alone is indescribable, and to a dynamic being represents a static realm that he cannot approach. Our heaven is not there; the heaven of an active being lies in the ever more profound experience of manifesting beauty, not acquiescence to a static realm whose only self-possessed attribute is the lack of all movement and consciousness whatsoever.