After reading Sartre’s Orphee Noir, I was curious about this philosopher’s other writings. I picked up a copy of “Being and Nothingness”, translated by Hezel Bernes. The ‘Translators Introduction’ section was an interesting puzzling piece. It gives us reason to believe that Philosophy is at times too abstract for its own good. In speaking of Sartre’s impact, Bernes says:
Most important is Sartre’s rejection of the primacy of the Cartesian cogito. He objects that in Descarte’s formula - “I think; therefore I am”[my note: the latin of which is cogito, ergo sum] - the consciousness which say, “I am,” is not actually the consciousness which thinks. Instead we are dealing with a secondary activity. Similarly, says Sartre, Descartes has confused spontaneous doubt, which is a consciousness, with methodological doubt, which is an act. When we catch a glimpse of an object, there may be a doubting consciousness of the object as uncertain. But Descarte’s cogito has posited this consciousness itself as an object; the Cartesian cogito is not one with the doubting consciousness but has reflected upon it. In other words this cogito is not Descartes doubting; it is Descartes reflecting upon the doubting. “I doubt; therefore I am” is really “I am aware that I doubt; therefore I am.” The Cartesian cogito is reflective,and its object is not itself but the original consciousness of doubting. The consciousness which doubted is now reflected on by the cogito but was never itself reflective; its only object is the object which it is conscious of as doubtful. These conclusions lead Sartre to establish the pre-reflective cogito as primary consciousness,and in all of his later work he makes this his original point of departure.