On the Living Construct 2: Abstract Analysis of the Phenomenon


Based on the previous parts, Logic as the Law of Being and On Consciousness, we could see that consciousness can only be in a world, and because of it, consciousness is also limited by the world it finds itself in. Nevertheless, does this not also mean that consciousness, and therefore negation, is possible only because being-in-itself allows it in a more direct sense? In a sense, yes, since, as we have seen before, without being-in-itself, there would be nothing to negate. Also, this is so also in the sense that consciousness cannot be its own foundation, that it has to “be” in order for there to be consciousness. In this regard, as we have discussed before, negation is sustained in a sense by being, albeit a borrowed one. But in another sense of being-in-itself allowing consciousness to be by affecting it in some way in exteriority, the answer is no, consciousness exists not because of being-in-itself but because consciousness is its own nihilation, in so far as consciousness is not being-in-itself, and thus incapable of being affected by inert materiality as if it is a gear being affected by another gear in an instrument through the laws of exteriority. There is nothing to “affect” in that sense when it comes to consciousness, since such things are only possible if consciousness has a mechanism, and if it does, then the whole idea of presence-to will collapse into mere indifference towards things. 

And thus, we can now create a rudimentary conception of what the living body is. It is neither “pure” consciousness nor “pure” materiality. It is true that the body is made out of inert materiality, and materiality is what allows it to sustain its life (Sartre, 2004). After all, our body’s physicality is largely dependent on the Logic of this universe, and our life is capable of being affected through exterior things. Furthermore, it is through the material world and according to the Logic of the universe that it ends, and through the material world that it makes itself known. (Sartre, 1991; Sartre, 2004). Thus, this reaffirms that the existence of consciousness as such is dependent on the existence of inert materiality, although it is not something inert itself. Being-in-itself is primary to being-for-itself (Sartre, 1992). 

Therefore, we have to conclude that what makes a conscious body are not extraordinary parts that give life, but how the ordinary parts are arranged in an extraordinary manner (although even if such extraordinary parts do exist, it is of no importance since then, we will still have to put it in relation with all the other parts). However, mere differentiation of how things connect to each other will not be enough to create a living being (or “living construct”, since I do not want to limit what is possible) unless it creates an entirely distinct phenomenon. The body (or the “construct”, since life does not have to take the form of a “fleshy body” as ours do) cannot be sustained by exteriority alone, lest it is dispersed into multiple inert multiplicities. The construct must act as one for there to be an “individual”. Its possibility, once the construct is born, neither lies entirely within being-in-itself nor within consciousness only. This dependency means that a conscious construct, which is conscious of itself, is made out of things that cannot be conscious of itself. Suppose the simpler parts are made out of things that can be conscious of themselves. In that case, that consciousness is dispersed into a multitude of different smaller consciousnesses (thus, there can be no “superorganism”) since each consciousness will try to transcend each other and totalize the situation according to each praxis. Now, even if there can indeed be “extraordinary phenomena” born out of the interactions of multiple consciousnesses (societies, for example), such phenomena are no more than “trends”, the collective result of interactions between praxis, and thus it is in itself not an “organism” in the sense of the living construct (Sartre, 2004). For the same reason, “consciousness” cannot, therefore, be the simplest part of a conscious body. Only being-in-itself, self-sustained in all respects (although here self-sustained does not imply any activity or passivity, it just is, without reason). 

A conscious construct (and to an extent, consciousness, as an abstract experience of the construct itself), which is made out of simpler things that are not conscious of themselves, has to be conscious of itself (hence the name). This means that it has to derive something entirely new which is not there from what it is made of. It has to “make” something of itself while being reliant on something that it is not ontologically, differentiating itself from the very things that make it so. In other words, even though it is made from inert simpler parts, its totality must be of the most different from the inert which surrounds it. Its being is precisely what being-in-itself is not, that is, it is a negation of the in-itself. And yet, its existence is only possible if the construct borrows its own existence from being-in-itself. Indeed, it is true that it depends on the body as a machine to be as it is. If our body were to take a different shape, our brain to take a different arrangement, the way we experience things, the way we think of anything, in short, the way we relate to being-in-itself would also change accordingly. The way we are formed is contingent; it is something that we just have to accept (sure, you can modify your body, but you cannot break the laws of physics). But as I have said before, analytic reason alone will not solve the problem. On the other hand, we have to take into account that consciousness is a distinct phenomenon. Thus, how is consciousness born? Might we take it as evidence for the existence of a soul? No. Postulating a soul to answer our question will only push the question further away from view without answering it at all. We will just change the “body” to “soul” without explaining consciousness at all. The necessity to explain how the construct becomes alive will still be left unanswered. Might we take consciousness as a mere epiphenomenon, then? Probably not, since it cannot take into account all of our experiences as a conscious construct. What then is a conscious construct?  

A living body, i.e., a living construct, is nothing more than a contradiction. It is a phenomenon derived from the construct-as-a-machine. It can be said that consciousness is like a rupture in being-in-itself. It is as if the machine turns back on itself in order to not be a machine, only then to support the machine and prolong its existence to then subvert it for something else. Its body in terms of biology is under the rule of exteriority, and yet through this exteriority, it manages to “create” something which defies exteriority while at the same time using exteriority to maintain its own life. This creation, the phenomenon born from its own activity, is ontologically different from its own foundations. The phenomenon can be thought of then as something nebulous, since it is not here and yet everywhere in the parts. No one can totally reduce the phenomenon to the inert exteriority of its part alone, since it engulfs the separate parts and creates a quasi-unity that is not in exteriority. None can focus on the phenomenon only without looking at how the parts interact with each other, but each part gives form to the phenomenon. This means the phenomenon itself is a fleeting activity (if one of the sequences of events is to be stopped suddenly, the phenomenon will vanish, revealing the intricate exteriority of its parts). 

Still Life with Fruit and Oysters. Date: 1660. Rijksmuseum, Netherlands

To elaborate, since a phenomenon is basically without any substance, it is a mistake to think of it as a separate “thing”. Imagine a painting on a canvas. A picture is made out of color pigments, and a picture’s reality is that of color pigments. And thus, there is no such thing as a “picture-thing”, there are only “colored pigments”. The picture, which comes out of them, is not a “thing” but instead a phenomenon born out of colored pigments. The phenomenon then has no substance of its own; its existence is a borrowed existence, something that easily disappears when you look at the picture wrong (when you stick your nose to the canvas, for example). And thus, the phenomenon has no focal point, no “epicenter” through which everything is viewed. A phenomenon might have a locus of attention, just like what is at the foreground of a painting, but this does not mean that it is the “epicenter” of the phenomenon, for even in such a painting which has an object that becomes the focus of the painting (either because it is the brightest object in the painting, or else), the phenomenon does not originate from the focus outwards, but instead, the foreground is the foreground because of its relationship with the background, hence even in such a case, the phenomenon is still dispersed. The same thing applies to consciousness. There is no epicenter, no “homunculus”, no primary seat of consciousness which we sit in our head as we shift through our thoughts as if they are perceptual experiences for us. There is only a picture that is us as an activity of the body. But this also is not epiphenomenalism, since epiphenomenalism still treats consciousness as if different from the body. Consciousness is the body inasmuch as the body is the consciousness. They are just one of the same thing, but still abstractly different from each other, just like a picture has its own efficacy that the colored pigments by themselves do not have, while still being supported by the colored pigments. Therefore, one can say that a picture and colored pigments, though abstractly different from each other, both belong to the same thing. The phenomenon is everywhere within the parts, making them intelligible as a “part of a singular whole”. Thus, from this example, we can give this proposition: just like life itself is not completely a machine, is it not possible that consciousness itself is a phenomenon taken to the extreme logical end of that which is inherent in all phenomena? 

A phenomenon is in itself nothing, it is only an appearance which in itself contains its own unity. But even this unity should not be thought of as a concrete unity; its unity is more of a “signification”, a “tension” between all parts with all parts. If the phenomenon is simple, one can see that it is there in tension, but this tension still betrays the constituent parts within it. However, if taken to the extreme, if the machine contains the maximum amount of complexity between its parts, the phenomenon will subdue the constituent parts within itself. The parts will cease to be seen as particular “parts” in themselves. The parts themselves can even be invisible, and unless an observer seeks out to specifically find the parts that constitute the phenomenon, one will not realize that they are there. The lucidity of the phenomenon will completely hide the exteriority underneath it, just like a person watching a movie will not even notice the moving pixels, but instead just the moving picture (unless one sits immediately in front of the screen). The unity the phenomenon has is unlike the unity that a thing has. It is not maintained in inertness, it is not united by pointing to rules outside of it, but instead, it is there as long as it points to itself. 

From this, we can answer how the phenomenon gives birth to the negation that it is. In concrete terms, we can answer how it is possible for consciousness to be born from the body. In its simple form, the unity of a phenomenon, and the phenomenon itself, contains within itself the rejection of the inert. Earlier I have mentioned that it has no being in the sense that a rock is. It is, since we can say that we can see the phenomenon, and yet it is not, since we cannot point to one part of the construct and say that “this is the phenomenon”. It is everywhere in the parts, and yet it is also nowhere. Even in its simplest form, it has its own efficacy and signification, but not its own substance. This, combined with the fact that a phenomenon can subdue its parts, if the phenomenon is taken to the logical extreme, the phenomenon will be able to fully realize its efficacy in “breaking away” from being-in-itself and nullifying its own being in so far as it is. If the phenomenon is a result of a very complex machine, we cease to see it as a machine, but instead as a unified phenomenon that appears to us in all its efficacy. The phenomenon engulfs the machine underneath it; the machine appears to become nothing more than just something that supports the existence of the phenomenon as the phenomenon runs off to do what it seeks to do. The phenomenon creates an existence out of nothing (since it is and yet it is not), and along with the construct underneath, they both give birth to something that in existing, its being is in question. It is constantly on the move in so far as it is, and in moving, it never settles into a particular inertness. It can never be regarded as a particular concrete object, but instead, it can only be referred to as a certain “something” that never is, something that never settles. One can circumvent this by pointing directly to the machine underneath it, but in doing so, the phenomenon, along with every moving part of the machine, are disregarded. In the extreme form, the phenomenon will no longer be effective in the sense of being meaningful only. Or perhaps to be more precise, it can be said that its meaning is exactly the proof that it manages to nihilate the inertness that is underneath it. In its extreme form, its meaning will be something which refers back unto itself as a construct; it is no longer what the inert points it to be. Outside of itself, it is meaningless, since it no longer refers to the whole of what it is. The meaning phenomenon ceases to be subservient to the inert, and thus outside of itself, it is nothing. Instead, it can be said that it capitalizes on the inert so that it can continue on existing, so that it continues on to be meaningful. What it points to, what it signifies, is its own instability, the complete reverse of an inert object, and it is in so far as it is not. Negation enters into the picture in so far as the phenomenon is not limited to the inert, in so far as it rejects the stability of the inert to free itself from the limited signification of the inert to be itself. Transcendence comes into the picture insofar as the phenomenon is constantly on the move and is not limited to the present moment. Temporalisation appears in so far as the phenomenon continuously refuses to settle in into an inert object, and in constantly nihilating itself, the moment turns into a temporal experience. 

But then can we say that this means negation arrives from being-in-itself? Not really. As we have seen before, it is true that negation can be in so far as being-in-itself is, but the birth of negation as a phenomenon does not mean that it comes from the inert underneath it. Instead, insofar as the phenomenon refers back to itself as its own meaning, it rejects dependence on the inert as the cause of its existence. For a phenomenon to appear as one, it must not let the inert infect it with exteriority. It cannot be affected by the inert as if it itself is an inert object. Instead, rather than being infected, the phenomenon infects the inert, endowing it with possibilities which are beyond its capacity. The inert ceases to be just the inert, instead, it is not a part of a construct. It gains a meaning, something which is impossible in the inert world. The phenomenon claims the parts underneath it as not something that is just like any other inert object in the inert world, but as something that belongs to it; as something that—as long as is subservient to the phenomenon which depends on it—is capable of being something more than just an inert material. It is infected with the fleetingness of the phenomenon as long as it is a part of the construct which the phenomenon is in its concrete sense. This is what being “alive” means. And thus, the phenomenon—returning to the abstract sense—has to totalize itself, it has to collect itself and point to all its sides as a part of itself, for nothing else can sustain it in its existence for it has nothing akin to a “substance” that is capable of holding its form as long as the Logic of the world allows it. It is, in so far as it is. It is its own foundation, insofar as it can point to nothing else as the source of its rejection of the inert. And thus, we return to the basic tenet of being-for-itself (i.e. of consciousness), that it is what it is not and it is not what it is (Sartre, 1992).


Sartre, J. (1992). Being and nothingness (H. E. Barnes, Trans.). Washington: Washington

Sartre, J. (1991). Critique of Dialectical Reason (Vol. 2) (A. Sheridan-Smith, Trans.). London: Verso

Sartre, J. (2004). Critique of Dialectical Reason (Vol. 1) (A. Sheridan-Smith, Trans.). London: Verso

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