Nothingness and Emptiness (book review) Steven W. Laycock

A Buddhist Engagement with the Ontology of Jean-Paul Sartre


070418/090915/181112: this is a much much later addition: another 3 years...


a lot of reading since. certainly other phenomenologists than sartre (merleau-ponty, husserl, heidegger, de beauvoir) and more buddhist philosophy. this is still a five. i see the 2nd time i meant to give notes by chapters but i got distracted, how i do not remember, only that i have sentimental favourite in sartrean existentialism, where i began philosophy years ago (decades...). rather than rewrite or start over i will simply edit where i can. in 'buddhist engagement' this book refers to other books, refers finally to 'emptiness' that can answer sartre's confusion, though i had not remembered how strongly laycock denies/argues against phenomenology as a whole as well as in sartre's deployment... the reading i sense is that from a buddhist perspective much of this ontology is incoherent, incomplete, and much argument of 'holes' and 'fulfillment', where the recognition of 'emptiness' can be used to dispel the 'conditioned' western-traditional opposition of 'Being' and 'Nothingness'...


this is a much later addition: 21 months later actually, so i have read much since, much that inspires me to look at it again, though now i will open my thoughts on this book by chapters-


chapter 1: well this is much buddhist imagery, the famous lotus emerging from the mud as an image of the world, of thought, of being. poetic, encouraging thought but not philosophy in western sense...


chapter 2. today i was mostly reading how husserl's ‘epoche’ seems impossible, seems a search for certainty as mistaken as descarte's methodological doubt. this focuses more on h than s, though he critiques its original formulation to the extent s follows it, the entire 'phenomenological' project, its attempt to 'pre-suppositionlessness', as method mistaken, as attitude, closer to buddhism, though apparently it is western thinking which anxiously searches for 'ground' rather than 'emptiness', that contests with the 'absurd', rather than incorporating and surpassing this 'hidden', unavoidable, positivistic, 'consciousness' or 'i', which more correctly may be recognized as 'no-thing', as emptiness...


chapter 3: today more comparisons, mostly with husserl, how the being is given rather than consciousness given, as in sartre, detailing difference between in- and for-itself. but the best section is about pierre famously 'not' being in the bar, or party, how this absence is only according to human consciousness, not in the world- here laycock suggests it is not nihilation but contingency revealed. is it possible for pierre to be there? is it something like a table made of ice that is the table? (buddhist thought) so it is an expression, an event, of emptiness rather than nothingness...


181112 first review: yes, there is a difference between sartrean nothingness and buddhist emptiness. no, i do not entirely understand it. yes, i enjoyed trying to follow the various strands contrasting sarte's ontology with buddhist referred to. no, i do not think you will enjoy it unless you have read a lot of continental philosophers...


much of the early critique is actually merleau-ponty quoted in his disagreements with the concepts, descriptions, phenomenological insistence of sartre- though some of this refers back to husserl or heidegger- then draws in some buddhist philosophers i have not read. in fact, this book encourages me to read more buddhist philosophies...


there is a chapter on nothingness and how it is not, how it comes from the is of being, how it is not at the core, the superstructure of nothing that is not. there is a chapter on emptiness and how it is, how it answers sartre's need for this gap, this lack, but is not taken up perhaps because it is buddhist and unfamiliar. how nothing- in heidegger's terms- 'noths', and this is such that being is. this is where unfamiliar readers might decide that philosophy is so much self-referring, unending, circular sort of thinking, sometimes opaque in thought or jargon- always pointless...


there is some dispute with sartre's concepts of the in-itself and for-itself, in absolute plenitude defined and created from core of nothing, how such fullness of being could not be penetrated, how such (absolute) being would allow no conceptual purchase/fissure on its surface, how the idealism inherent in sartre must deal with his realism, how rather than in understanding buddhist emptiness of all things sartre decides on core nothingness... which is supposed to 'not' be, to be 'no thing', as he borrows from heidegger...


there is some suggestion that it is not purely argumentation that leads sartre to propose the thought architecture he builds out of phenomenology, some inference that his emotions spur him to describe full isness and nothing nothingness. sartre's motives may not be pure and intellectually disinterested, but i think of the traditions of thought that is his situation- that is, western philosophy from aristotle to descartes to kant...


to some degree, this is mostly a style of philosophical discussion that i find most engaging- that of phenomenologists interested in ways of arguing metaphysics, ways that are interdisciplinary, ways that do not frustrate but inspire my thoughts. this has no reference to analytic philosophy. this has no investigations of politics or language or ethics or science beyond metaphysical claims. this is perhaps cultural deconstruction or interdisciplinary postmodern...


this book is also engaging in that it is not written in dry, reserved, lexical poverty of academic prose- rather, from the beginning, there is poetic and imagistic writing. the text returns to this style at the start of several chapters. there are some points this might be too much for some readers but if you can handle this start about the lotus etc. you can read him...


i have only read this once but i will definitely return after reading some buddhist ideas, this is a beautiful book combining both my favourite philosophies and my appreciation of buddhism as philosophy...

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