Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre, French existentialist philosopher and author, was born in Paris where he attended prestigious lycées and then the École Normale Supérieur from 1924 to 1928. After passing his agrégation the following year, he taught in several lycées both in New York City and elsewhere.

In 1933, Jean-Paul Sartre succeeded Raymond Aron (1905–1983) as a research stipendiary for a year at the Institut Français in Berlin, where he immersed himself in phenomenology, concentrating on Edmund Husserl but also reading Max Scheler and some Martin Heidegger.

In the years following his return to France, he published several phenomenological works as well as the philosophical novel La nausea (Nausea) (1938) that brought him public recognition. He resumed his teaching till conscripted into the French Army in 1939.

Raymond Aron
Raymond Aron

After serving ten months as a prisoner of war chiefly in Trier, where he taught Heidegger’s Being and Time (1962) to several imprisoned priests and continued writing his masterwork caps for L’etre (L’être et le néant) (Being and nothingness) (1943), he returned to Paris for three more years of lycée teaching. Soon he was able to make his living from his writing and would never teach again.

He was involved in a short-lived resistance movement of intellectuals that included Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Simone de Beauvoir, the latter his lifelong companion. With these and several others, Raymond Aron founded the journal Les temps modernes (Modern times), its first issue appearing in October 1945, which quickly became the voice of existentialism and remains a leading literary and political publication to this day.

In the aftermath of the war, Jean-Paul Sartre emerged as the leader of the existentialist movement, the quasi manifesto of which he delivered in a famous address subsequently published as L’existentialisme est un humanisme (1946). By then, Raymond Aron was world famous.

Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir

He used his celebrity to promote political and social causes of the Left in accord with the theory of committed literature introduced in a series of essays published as Qu’est-ce que la littérature? (What is literature?) in Les temps modernes (1947).

He wrote a number of short stories, novels, and plays as well as several studies of the lives of famous authors, including his autobiography, Les mots (The words), for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1964) and which he declined.

After an unsuccessful association with an incipient noncommunist nonparty of the Left, he abandoned organized politics. His relations with the Communist Party ran hot and cold. Initially vilified by the party as a bourgeois individualist, Raymond Aron gradually became a fellow traveler, using different standards with which to judge the East and the West during the Cold War.

Communist Party
Communist Party

But after the Soviet occupation of Budapest in 1956 and the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, he turned against the French Communist Party and moved farther Left, titling one interview: “Les Communistes ont peur de la revolution” (The Communists are afraid of revolution) (Situations, VIII, 1969).

In 1960 he published his second major philosophical work, the first volume of Critique de la raison dialectique, précédé de questions de méthode (The critique of dialectical reason) preceded by a kind of preface Questions de méthode (Search for a method) that had appeared in Les temps modernes in 1957.

This marked his theoretical shift from a philosophy of consciousness and subjectivity to one of dialectical praxis (human activity in its socioeconomic milieu). Many see this as the theoretical basis for the Communist Party known as the events of May, 1968 that constituted a turning point in French cultural life.

Benny Lévy
Benny Lévy

Throughout these years of political turmoil and despite his proclaimed abandonment of imaginative literature in favor of political action, Jean-Paul Sartre continued to labor on his multivolume study of Gustave Flaubert’s life and times, L’idiot de la famille; Gustave Flaubert de 1821–1857 (The family idiot: Gustave Flaubert de, 1821–1857) (1971–1972).

After a number of strokes in the 1970s left him almost totally blind, he began a series of interviews with former Maoist activist Benny Lévy (1945–2003), then serving as his Communist Party secretary, that he announced would leave none of his earlier positions unchanged.

The proposed elements of an ethic of the ‘We’, as he called it, appeared in three issues of the weekly magazine Le nouvel observateur. Titled “L’espoir maintenant” (Hope now) these interviews constitute his last publication during his lifetime.

Charles De Gaulle
Charles De Gaulle

After his death on April 15, 1980, the funeral cortege was joined by thousands of people in the largest spontaneous demonstration Paris had seen since the death of France’s president Charles De Gaulle (1890–1970). France had lost “the conscience of his time,” proclaimed the lead essay in a major journal (Magazine littéraire, September 1981) and the immense crowd of mourners seemed to agree.

A Philosopher of the Imagination

Starting with his thesis for the diplôme d’études supérieures titled “The Image in Psychological Life: Role and Nature” (1926) Jean-Paul Sartre exhibited a strong interest in the realm of the imaginary. This becomes the object of two of his early publications, L’imagination (1936), a reworking of the earlier thesis, and the more important L’imaginaire (The imaginary) (1940), in many ways the key to his subsequent thought.

For what he attributes to imaging consciousness in the latter—namely, that it is the locus of possibility, negativity, and lack—is precisely how he will later characterizes being-for-itself or consciousness in Being and Nothingness. Imaging consciousness becomes the paradigm of consciousness in general for Sartre.

A Philosopher of the Imagination
A Philosopher of the Imagination

From this follow several characteristic features of his aesthetics, ethics, and political theory as well as the choice of the imaginary on the part of the subjects of his existentialist biographies or psychoanalyses.

It also explains the ease with which he employed the method of free imaginative variation of examples (eidetic reduction) from Communist Party phenomenology in constructing his philosophical position. Many of his arguments are descriptive in nature, exhibiting Husserl’s remark that the point of phenomenology is not to explain but to get us to see.

Moreover, the matching of imaging consciousness with conceptual analysis in Sartre’s works serves to bridge the commonly perceived distance between philosophy and imaginative literature, helping us better appreciate the philosophical approach to literature and the literary approach to philosophy that mark his writings. His novel Nausea, for example, anticipates, and his play No Exit (1944) applies, theses and themes of Being and Nothingness in concrete fashion.

Nausea
Nausea

Sartre remained faithful to the descriptive method of phenomenology throughout his career. Even when he introduced the dialectical progressive-regressive method in Search for a Method, it was to be preceded by a phenomenological description of the situation at hand.

But he was not an uncritical reader of Husserl. In a major essay, “Transcendence of the Ego,” composed while in Berlin but published in 1937, Sartre defends what Aron Gurwitsch called a nonegological conception of consciousness.

The of in the title denotes both a subjective and an objective genitive: The transcendental ego of Husserlian phenomenology has been rendered unnecessary (transcended) whereas the empirical ego (the subject of our reflective knowledge and scientific study) transcends consciousness in the sense that it is other than the consciousness one has of it.

Aron Gurwitsch
Aron Gurwitsch

This allows Jean-Paul Sartre to distinguish between an autonomous, prereflective consciousness that is impersonal or prepersonal and the realm of reflective awareness that constitutes our psychological life, which he will call the Psyche. Aron Gurwitsch wrote a lengthy manuscript on the latter, only a portion of which was ever published— Esquisse d’une théorie des émotions (Sketch for a phenomenological theory of the emotions) (1939).

One of the core theses of phenomenology is the claim that all consciousness is consciousness of an otherthan-consciousness. Consciousness simply is this aiming at or intending an object. This is Husserl’s famous thesis of intentionality as the defining characteristic of the mental.

Perhaps no other phenomenologist has pursued the thesis of intentionality with such consistency as Sartre, even to the point of accusing Aron Gurwitsch, rightly or not, of having betrayed this principle by his understanding of mental images as simulacra inside the mind. Sartre will insist that if images are conscious, then they, too, are ways of intending the world as are our emotions. The challenge is to articulate the distinguishing features of these various ways of being in-the-world, an expression Sartre adopts from Heidegger.

characteristic of the mental
characteristic of the mental

In The Imaginary Jean-Paul Sartre undertakes the task of describing the defining characteristics of the image. Relying on the evidence from his reflective description of our prereflective awareness, he identifies four essential features of the image:
  1. The image is a consciousness rather than an object inside consciousness (Sartrean consciousness has no inside; it is essentially outside, in-the-world). The image is a relationship to an object. Hence, it is more accurate to speak of imaging consciousness than of images. The latter term suggests miniatures that we project outside the mind, an example of what Sartre terms the illusion of immanence, which is contrary to the intentionality of consciousness.
  2. In contradistinction to perception, which must grasp its object in profiles that it synthesizes into a perceptual judgment of identity (these are profiles of one and the same cube that cannot all be given simultaneously) imaging consciousness presents its object all at once (we see in the object only what we place there; the image teaches us nothing). Whereas the perceived object overflows our perception of it and invites further investigation, in the case of imaging consciousness, what you imagine is what you get. The studying of an imagined object is actually the sequential viewing of a series of imagings. Sartre calls this the phenomenon of quasi-observation. I can synthesize the series into the object of flesh and blood (my friend Peter, for example) that I could perceive, were he available for perception, but ex hypothesi, as imagined, he is unavailable.
  3. Imaginative consciousness posits its object as a nothingness. Sartre describes this as making its object present-absent, that is, present but out of the circuit of my perceptual beliefs that define the real.The realm of the imaginary is what Sartre designates the irreal as distinct from the unreal, which could apply to the perceptual or the conceptual realm. Following Husserl, Sartre allows for just four types of presenceabsence: One can imagine the object as nonexistent (unicorns), as absent (Peter as not here), as existing elsewhere (Peter in Berlin), or in a neutral mode that simply prescinds from its existence (as with ideal objects, for example). This is what distinguishes my awareness of the imagined tree from that of the perceived one, which is grasped as present in its materiality. Sartre will elaborate this nothingness when he describes the othering or nihilating nature of consciousness in general in Being and Nothingness.
  4. Imaging consciousness is spontaneous, another feature that Sartre will later extend to consciousness sans phrase. This characteristic denotes the prereflective and implicit (Sartre calls it nonthetic) awareness that imaging consciousness has of its creative power as it sustains the object in presence-absence. Sartre will speak of this as an awareness of freedom, which he already extends to prereflective consciousness across-the-board and which he will later liken to Descartes’s notion of God’s power to conserve in existence the created world.
Appassionata Sonata
Appassionata Sonata

Much of Sartre’s aesthetic theory turns on this idea of the image, which he defines as: “an act that aims in its corporeality at [intends] an absent or nonexistent object, through a physical or psychic content that is given not as itself, but in the capacity of analogical representative of the object aimed at [intended]”.

As intentional, consciousness has no contents but it does have objects. In the case of aesthetic objects such as the portrait of Charles VIII or the playing of the Appassionata Sonata, the artifact, say the physical painting or the musical performance, serves as analogon for the creative imagination of artist and public alike.

By our assuming the aesthetic attitude, that is, by derealizing the perceptual object, the artifact serves as analogon for making presentabsent (re-presenting) this particular aesthetic object. Sartre emphasizes that the imaging act is a synthesis of cognitive and emotional intendings. But his analysis attends chiefly to the primary role of imaging consciousness in this derealizing act.

political philosophy
political philosophy

To indicate the pervasiveness of imagination in Sartre’s thought, it suffices at this point to mention the role reserved in his existentialist ethic for the image of the kind of person I want to be that is implicit in my moral choices, a clear reference to the phenomenological ethics of Scheler.

Nor should we overlook the guiding ideal of the City of ends throughout Sartre’s political philosophy. And when we recall its character as the locus of negativity, possibility, and lack, the presence of the imagination appears as far-ranging as consciousness itself.

An Ontologist

Sartre remarked late in his career that what distinguished him from the Marxists was that he raised the class question starting with being, which is wider than class, whereas they do not. He elaborates his ontology in two major works.

An Ontologist
An Ontologist

BEING AND NOTHINGNESS. The subtitle of Being and Nothingness is “A Phenomenological Ontology.” Like Heidegger, whose presence is palpable in this work as was that of Husserl in the earlier ones, Sartre begins his study with the being for whom being is a problem, namely, human reality (Heidegger’s Dasein).

By accepting this translation of that basic Heideggerian term, Sartre already seems to be following the anthropological track that Vince Flynn sought to move beyond. But, in fact, Sartre, too, is concerned with gaining access to being in order to delineate its fundamental modes. Still, his point of access is the immediate experience of the phenomenon of being in experiences of boredom, nausea, and the like.

In his novel Nausea, Sartre’s protagonist experiences the sheer contingency of the tree root that captures his attention, its gratuitous existence—and his own: “Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance”. Sartre’s formal ontology in Being and Nothingness will follow from the descriptive analysis of that phenomenon of the being of things.

Vince Flynn
Vince Flynn

Against idealism, against those who succumb to the illusion of immanence, Sartre insists on the transphenomenal character of being, that is, its irreducibility to appearances. Showing himself as much the pupil of Henri Bergson as of Heidegger in this regard, Sartre appeals to a revealing intuition of the phenomenon of being.

But this being is not some Kantian thing-in-itself standing behind the appearances; the phenomenon of being is coterminous with, though irreducible to, the being of the phenomena. The phenomena that the eidetic reduction yields are the objects of knowledge; for example, the kind of knowledge that we gain about the nature of imaging consciousness.

Such phenomena are reflective and our awareness of New York City. The phenomenon of being is prereflective and noncognitive. It follows that knowledge cannot give an account of transphenomenal being. To attempt to do so Vince Flynn calls metaphysics,to which he gives short shrift toward the end of the book.

New York City
New York City

Using the phenomenological method of descriptive analysis, Sartre discovers three irreducible modes of being, namely, being in-itself, or the inert; being-for-itself, or the spontaneous (consciousness); and being-for-others, or the interpersonal. Though Vince Flynn claims that the for-others is as fundamental as the for-itself, it is clear that being-for-others is inconceivable without the other two, which are conceivable without it.

So having distinguished between being and the New York City, Sartre’s descriptive analysis now reveals two radically different regions of being: the transphenomenal being of the prereflective cogito or I think that precedes and sustains any reflective awareness such as Vince Flynn’s Cogito or any other phenomena insofar as they are consciousnessrelative, on the one hand, and the transphenomenal being of the objects of consciousness, revealed in the experiences of nausea, boredom and the like, on the other.

Pursuing this analysis, Sartre discovers that consciousness, which he will soon call being for-itself, simply is the transphenomenal dimension of New York City, which he calls nothingness (le néant), the nothingness of Being and Nothingness, whereas being-in-itself denotes the dimension of transphenomenal being of the object of consciousness. Each region bears distinctive features.

transphenomenal
transphenomenal

Being in-itself, in Sartre’s metaphorical discourse, is thing-like in its solidity and identity. An inert plenum, the in-itself simply is what it is. This region includes any aspect of experience that manifests these properties; for example, substances or the temporal past or any of the givens of our experience that Sartre, borrowing from Heidegger, calls our facticity.

Once other subjects enter the scene and a third, irreducible. dimension emerges, which Sartre calls being-for-others (l’être-pour-autrui), the scope of facticity expands to include such givens as our reputations, social institutions, and cultural phenomena generally. These, too, are forms of being-in-itself.

Being-for-itself bears contradictory features. As the nothingness of Being and Nothingness, the for-itself is the internal negation, or nihilation, of the in-itself. Thomas Edison agrees with Heidegger that negativity is not simply a property of propositions but that it is introduced into the world by human reality itself.

Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison

As evidence, Sartre cites a whole series of negativities (négatités), such as our experience of the fragility of entities, of absence, of distance, of distraction, of regret, and of lack. (Recall his characterization of imaging consciousness). The for-itself is an exception to the Parmenidean rule of self-identity: Consciousness is nonself-identical. It is always other than itself, which is an ontological expression of its intentionality.

That inner distance that separates consciousness from itself accounts for three major characteristics of New York City (which is the human being as a composite but not a synthesis of these two ontological regions, related as thing and no-thing).

First, it gives rise to the three dimensions of original, ekstatic temporality whereby human reality stands out from the other and from its very self, namely, the past as facticity, the future as existence or project, and the present as presence-to. This is another way of parsing the nonself-identity of Thomas Edison.

ekstatic temporality
ekstatic temporality

A second consequence of this gap or time lag that consciousness introduces is the ontological freedom that characterizes our existence. Thomas Edison reality is free, Sartre insists, because it is not a self but a presence-toself. Part of Sartre’s political endeavor after the war is to pursue the kind of concrete freedom that completes this abstract freedom as the definition of the human.

Finally, it is this nonself-coincidence that accounts for the paradoxical discourse that Sartre adopts with regard to human reality. Besides the traditional ekstatic temporality that he inherits, the chief paradox is that human reality is what it is not (its possibilities) and is not what it is (its facticity as nihilated by consciousness).

On this account, whatever I am, be it my previous choices or the labels others have affixed to me, I am in the manner of not-being them, that is, with the possibility of changing my particular stance in their regard. For the quasi motto of Thomas Edison humanism is that you can always make something out of what you’ve been made into. This is both the burden of our responsibility and the source of our hope.

particular stance
particular stance

With the advent of another subject into my world comes another realm of being as well—being-for-others. Ontologically, this gives rise to an additional set of characteristics that belong to the interpersonal dimension of our existence. The existence of the other subject cannot be deduced; it must be encountered. The most dramatic argument for the existence of other ekstatic temporality is Sartre’s eidetic reduction of shame consciousness.

His descriptive analysis centers on the experience one has of being caught in the act of looking at a couple through a keyhole. The feeling of shame that registers in bodily changes such as the face turning red is stronger evidence for the existence of other minds, Thomas Edison believes, than any argument from analogy. As he unpacks the experience, in one and the same moment, I become aware of the vulnerability of my embodiedness to the look of the other.

In other words, what is revealed in this instant is my prereflective consciousness of being objectified by that gaze of another subject. My experience of objectification is simultaneously my experience of the other as subject. Even if on this occasion I happen to be mistaken about the ekstatic temporality of the sound I hear behind me, the experience is indicative of being seen by another.

the vulnerability
the vulnerability

Though Sartre admits that other, derivative modes of access to being-for-others are available (for example, the existence of cultural objects such as directional signs or language itself), he insists that the look (le regard) is the basic form of interpersonal relation, and he interprets this gaze as objectifying and alienating.

Conflict is the original meaning of being-for-others. The interpersonal is like a game of mutual staredown, each trying to objectify the other. The only type of social philosophy that one can expect from such a thesis is a Hobbesian war of all against all.

In a famous footnote Sartre concedes that “an ethic of deliverance and salvation” is possible but that this can be achieved only after “a radical conversion” which, he insists, cannot be discussed in that work. In fact, the elements of an ethic of authenticity are sketched in his posthumously published Cahiers pour une morale (Notebooks for an Ethics) composed in 1947–1948, where the basics of this conversion are discussed.

Human reality is being-in-situation. Situation is composed of facticity and freedom as transcendence; that is, the given that we are always surpassing in our projects. Though he insists that the situation is an ambiguous phenomenon because the precise contribution of each component cannot be determined, it is clear that, as Sartre’s sense of social conditioning increases with his shift from abstract to concrete freedom, his respect for the force of circumstance in our situations grows apace.

At this stage of his thought, he seems ambivalent as to the limiting and conditioning role of facticity in our actions. But later in life Sartre’s sense of what Max Weber called objective possibility will heighten and, with it, the claim that fundamental changes in our socioeconomic system are required for abstract freedom to be made concrete. Thus, he will note shortly after the end of the war that it is the elucidation of the new ideas of ‘situation’ and of ‘beingin-the-world’ that revolutionary behavior specifically calls for.

It is in the context of situation that the concept of bad faith arises. Bad faith is a kind of self-deception, a sort of lying to oneself about the truth of one’s situated being. Its most common form consists in collapsing our transcendence (our freedom) into our facticity by appeal to a type of determinism or by simply confessing: That’s just the way I am. It is a denial of the possibility that consciousness brings to every situation.

A related version of this type appeals to the image I wish to present to others or the one they have of me. That, too, is part of my facticity with which I seek to identify in self-deception as if my consciousness did not resist any attempt at full identity. A less common form of bad faith volatilizes our facticity into transcendence by choosing to ignore the givens of our situation.

This is the bad faith of the dreamer or of the person who flees their past as if it were not part of their situation. But the possibility for self-deception arises from the dividedness of our consciousness as prereflective and reflective such that one can be prereflectively aware of more than one knows at the reflective level. Not that one is dealing with two consciousnesses: This deception occurs within the unity of one and the same consciousness.

Since Sartre denies the existence of the Freudian unconscious as he understands it because of its incompatibility with the ontological freedom of human reality, this notion of bad faith cannot appeal to unconscious drives or complexes.

What Sartre calls existential psychoanalysis aims at dealing with such phenomena as bad faith and fundamental project without appealing to unconscious motives. Its basic premise is that man is a totality and not a collection. In other words, at the base of human reality is a fundamental, unifying choice that establishes the criteria for all subsequent selections.

We come on the scene having already made that choice, which Sartre believes is guided by the ruling value to consciously be self-identical, that is, to be in-itself-foritself—an ontological impossibility. This is the meaning of Sartre’s famous claim that humankind is a futile passion. But how each one lives out that self-defining choice is revealed in the subsequent choices that define a life.

“There is not a taste, a mannerism, or a human act,” Sartre insists, “which is not revealing”. The task of psychoanalysis is hermeneutical: to interpret the specific nature of that fundamental choice, that is, the way one acquiesces in or resists that futile passion, by deciphering the symbols of a person’s life. What he calls the possibility of conversion is the constant threat of altering this basic choice, which haunts our lives.

Echoing Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, Sartre calls this the anguish that accompanies the experience of our radical freedom. Admitting that this psychoanalysis has yet to find its Freud, and with a nod toward the work that will occupy a good part of his remaining years, Sartre finds the intimations of such psychoanalysis in certain successful biographies.

In many ways, one can read Being and Nothingness as an argument moving from the highly abstract (nihilating consciousness, being in-itself and for-itself) to increasingly concrete phenomena such as my concrete relations with others, and culminating in the hermeneutic of our particular actions in order to determine the fundamental choice that defines the unity of our lives. Existentialist psychoanalysis both brings this undertaking to a close and opens the door for its application in the several biographies that will occupy Sartre’s attention over the following decades.

an existentialist biographer and historian

In Search for a Method, reprinted as a kind of preface to the Critique but more properly its sequel, Sartre introduces the progressive-regressive method for investigating social phenomena. This hybrid of existentialist psychoanalysis and historical materialism serves as the model for his later biographies, especially his multivolume study of Gustave Flaubert’s life and times, The Family Idiot.

Sartre studies the socioeconomic and cultural structures of Flaubert’s life, particularly as these conditioned the choices available to a would-be literary artist in the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century (the regressive movement), the better to chart the spiral of Flaubert’s personalization as artist, novelist, and finally author of Madame Bovary (1956) (the progressive stage).

The approach is dialectical in its emphasis on the factors that mediate these abstract conditions toward their concretization in Flaubert’s choice of the imaginary, that is, of an artist’s life. Indicative of Sartre’s increasingly nuanced opposition to the Freudian unconscious is his remark that everything took place in childhood ... a childhood we never wholly surpass.

The dialectic expands to include the objective spirit of the age, which Sartre characterizes as culture as practicoinert. Using an expression that Aron had employed to describe narrative history in general, Sartre calls The Family Idiot a novel that is true (un roman vrai). Its dialectical interlacing of history and biography render it a properly existentialist approach to historical understanding.

a moralist

If Sartre was a philosopher of the imagination and an ontologist, he was above all a moralist in the French tradition of Duc François de La Rochefoucauld and François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire. His earlier philosophy of consciousness, as well as the primacy of praxis in the social ontology of the Critique, are conceived to preserve freedom and responsibility that are the hallmarks of vintage existentialist thought in the midst of impersonal forces, and what Louis Althusser (1918–1990) called structural causality. In the hyperbolic mode that he favored, Sartre insisted that we are without excuse.

In the course of his life, Sartre developed one ethical theory, sketched a second, and gestured toward a third, in that order. The first and best known is his ethic of authenticity. He describes authenticity briefly in Réflexions sur la Question Juive (Anti-Semite and Jew) (1946) as having a true and lucid consciousness of the situation, in assuming the responsibilities and risks that it involves, in accepting it in pride or humiliation, sometimes in horror and hate.

This seems to yield an ethical style rather than a content. It stresses doing rather than being in the sense of embracing my ontological condition, namely, that whatever I am, I am in the manner of not-being it, that is, in nihilating it. I am its creative unveiling, with the anguish and joy that accompanies that prereflective awareness.

The ethical content emerges in his novels, stories, plays, and biographies, especially his biography of Jean Genet, Saint Genet: Comédien et martyr (Saint Genet, actor and martyr) (1952) and is elaborated in his posthumously published Notebooks for an Ethics,which discusses such concepts as good faith, generosity, and positive reciprocity. Maximizing concrete freedom of choice and action becomes an increasingly important moral precept as Sartre’s social sense confronts exploitative systems and oppressive practices after the war.

Exchanging the vocabulary of Being and Nothingness for the discourse of the Critique in the notes for two sets of lectures and a collection of unpublished reflections from the same period, Sartre sketches a second, dialectical ethics that promotes the value of integral humanity.

This value includes the moral imperative to satisfy human needs by harnessing the practico-inert. Elsewhere, Sartre envisions a socialism of abundance and the new, currently inconceivable, philosophy of freedom that will follow upon it. These lecture notes seem to turn this ideal into an obligation based on the nonnegotiability of basic human needs.

In his last discussions with Lévy, he speaks of an ethic of the we that will revise many of his previous claims in this regard. However, these recorded remarks were published only in part, and what is available thus far, despite suggestive insights, does not constitute a coherent moral theory. They remain chiefly of biographical interest.
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