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Jean Paul Sartre

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Notas sobre el Planteamiento Filosófico de Jean-Paul Sartre -  Simone de Beauvoir Vida y Obra - Sartre Cien años de libertad - Albert Camus Vida y obra - Textos sobre Literatura
Contenidos disponibles en español y en inglés - Availables resources in spanish and english. Compilador / Compiler: Jorge Tobías Colombo

. Biography Sartre's Political Philosophy (English)

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Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980): Existentialism (English)

. Sartre Una vida apasionante (Español)

Biografía (Español) Nació en 1905 y murió en 1980. Uno de los más brillantes pensadores de este siglo, personalidad primerísima del movimiento existencialista. Expresó gran parte de su doctrina en obras dramáticas y novelas que han alcanzado resonancia universal. Como filósofo reflexionó sobre la soledad, la angustia, el fracaso, la muerte... Sostuvo que la existencia precede a la esencia, que el infierno son los otros y que el hombre es una pasión inútil. Su obra filosófica más importante es El ser y la nada.

"Fue ante todo un hombre público; se mantuvo siempre en la brecha tomando posición ante los avatares políticos contemporáneos y teorizó el compromiso del intelectual con el mundo y la realidad. Pero si su aproximación al partido comunista concluyó abruptamente tras la represión de Budapest, como escritor con los años fue afinando un estilo exquisito que lo hizo merecedor del premio Nobel de Literatura en 1964, galardón que rechazó por razones éticas. Fue profesor en El Havre y en París hasta 1945, fecha en la que renunció para consagrarse plenamente a liderar el movimiento existencialista", dice su biógrafo.

Nació en París. Su padre murió cuando él tenía pocos meses de nacido, por lo que vivió su infancia bajo la cuidadosa y suave tutela de sus abuelos. Estudió en el Liceo Enrique IV y en la Escuela Normal Superior y se graduó con distinción en 1928. Ejerció la docencia en Laon, Le Havre y Neuilly, viajó por Alemania, Grecia y Egipto, y estudió las filosofías existencialistas y fenomenológicas de Kierkegaard, Heidegger y Husserl.

Adoptó su principio básico de que la existencia precede a la esencia en su primera novela, La náusea, de 1938 y en diversas narraciones cortas, en las que trató de representar la trágica angustia de un alma consciente de hallarse condenado a ser libre. Según sus palabras, esta pavorosa libertad significa que el hombre ante todo existe, se encuentra a sí mismo, se agita en el mundo y se define después, y por lo tanto, está condenado en cada instante de su vida a la absoluta responsabilidad de renovarse.

Incorporado al ejército en 1939, cayó prisionero de los alemanes en 1940. Repatriado, intervino activamente en la Resistencia. La primera de sus muchas obras teatrales, Las moscas, es de 1942. Después de la guerra produjo obras dramáticas sobre temas existenciales, Las manos sucias, El diablo y el buen Dios y A puerta cerrada. Entre sus novelas sobresalen La edad de la razón, La tregua y la colección de cuentos El muro. Publicó también El existencialismo es un humanismo, La prostituta respetuosa, Baudelaire, ¿Qué es la literatura?, Situaciones y Crítica de la razón dialéctica.

Falleció en París. Había dicho: "Durante mucho tiempo tomé la pluma como una espada; ahora conozco nuestra impotencia... La cultura no salva nada ni a nadie, no justifica. Pero es un producto del hombre, que se proyecta en ella, se reconoce... Ese viejo edificio en ruinas, mi impostura, es también mi carácter; podemos deshacernos de una neurosis, pero no curarnos de nosotros mismos".

 

INTRODUCCIÓN A SU PENSAMIENTO

Con la filosofía de Sartre se produce un cierto retorno a la concepción del sujeto como centro de significaciones. Pero le da a esta teoría del sujeto una inflexión diferente.
Para hacer una introducción de su obra filosófica es necesaria distinguir distintas etapas en su producción.
Una primera etapa tendrá que ver con la elaboración de una teoría de la conciencia humana, en donde se inscriben textos como: La trascendencia del ego y sus ensayos La imaginación, Lo imaginario y Esbozo de una teoría fenomenológica de las emociones. La segunda etapa está marcada por su obra capital: El Ser y La Nada.
En la última época hay un intento de establecer las bases de una antropología materialista, tomando como dirección al pensamiento marxista y su obra más importante será: La Crítica de la Razón Dialéctica.
El tema central en la obra de Sartre será el existencialismo o la realidad humana, es decir el hombre en su existencia concreta y lo llama, siguiendo a Heidegger, el hombre como ser en el mundo.
A su vez, Sartre, concibe a la existencia humana como existencia consciente. El ser del hombre se distingue del ser de la cosa por ser consciente.
La existencia humana es un fenómeno subjetivo, en el sentido de que es conciencia del mundo y conciencia de sí; en este punto se diferencia de Heidegger, quien deja fuera de juego a la conciencia.
La otra fuente teórica que Sartre encuentra para abordar su teoría de la conciencia y que le asegura el concepto de unidad de conciencia, es la fenomenología de Husserl. La fenomenología le servirá como método para elaborar una teoría de la conciencia, que le permita comprender la existencia humana y el concepto teórico al fin es el de intencionalidad de la conciencia.
Para Husserl la estructura fundamental de la conciencia es la intencionalidad, es decir, la propiedad de todo acto de conciencia  es estar referido a algo, a un objeto o al mundo entero; por lo tanto la conciencia se agota en ese estar dirigido hacia el objeto.
Sartre dirá que es una fuga, es un arrancarse más allá de sí mismo hacia lo que no es ella, hacia el objeto. Por lo tanto la conciencia carece de interior.
Sartre agrega que el mundo es exterior,  por esencia, a la conciencia pero a su vez la conciencia y el mundo se dan al mismo tiempo.
Sin embargo se diferenciará de Husserl, en la existencia de un yo unificador de la conciencia, que proponía este último. Sartre decía: La conciencia se unifica escapándose hacia el objeto. No es necesario este yo.
En su libro La Trascendencia del Ego, dice Sartre Cuando corro para alcanzar un tranvía, cuando miro la hora, cuando me absorbo en la contemplación de un retrato, no hay yo, hay conciencia de tranvía que debe ser alcanzado. Es decir que la unidad de la conciencia reside en el objeto hacia el cual se dirige la conciencia.

Debate sobre las bases morales del estado liberal entre Habermas y Ratzinger - Raymond Aron Vida y Obra - Cristóbal Colón Vida y obra - Textos sobre Música - W A Mozart Vida y obra - Mao Tse Tung Vida y obra - Mijail Bakunin Vida y obra


 

 


 

Sartre admite que en la reflexión, cuando la conciencia se vuelve sobre sus propios actos, por ejemplo sobre un pensamiento, apresa a un yo que es el yo del pensamiento; ésto ocurre porque el yo es producido por la propia actitud reflexiva de la conciencia.
De la intencionalidad de la conciencia deriva en la ontología, debido a que el ser de la conciencia  indica un ser distinta a ella.
En su segunda etapa, más precisamente en El Ser y La Nada, distingue dos regiones del ser, que denomina: Ser para sí y Ser en sí apareciendo el ser del existente humano en términos de nada.
La nada es el ser propio de la existencia humana como conciencia, siendo esta nada negación.
El ser para sí es el propio ser de la conciencia o subjetividad. La existencia de la conciencia es anterior a ser conocida, no tiene nada sustancial, porque solo existe en este aparecerse a sí mismo. El para sí define al hombre en su proyecto original, por sus deseos.
El ser en sí, es el ser del mundo, de los objetos, en tanto existe con independencia de la conciencia. Es el ser de la objetividad, trascendente a la conciencia.
El ser en sí es el ser que es, es una totalidad  y el ser para sí es el ser que no es, es una pura nada, es negatividad.
El sujeto es un para sí que nihiliza el en sí. El sujeto es deseo de ser  (porque es pura nada), quiere ser algo que lo defina por su ser; por lo tanto es deseo de ser un en sí, esto sería lograr la totalidad, es decir ser Dios, cosa que es imposible.
Simplemente nos encontramos existiendo, y entonces tenemos que decidir que hemos de hacer con nosotros mismos. Como no hemos sido creados para hacer nada en concreto, ni para realizar ningún fin, cada hombre deberá buscarse un fin propio, válido solamente para él y realizar su proyecto particular, que tiene un valor meramente subjetivo.
Pero por el solo hecho de tener el deseo de ser, se es libre; el sujeto elige libremente cualquier camino para definir ese proyecto original que es el deseo de ser.
El hombre está condenado a ser libre, pero también se crea libremente los condicionamientos y los obstáculos cuando  los proyectos previamente trazados son erróneos.
De la libertad derivan varias implicaciones, por ejemplo la responsabilidad, en donde el hombre es plenamente responsable del modo de ser que va adquiriendo a lo largo de su existencia. De alguna manera la libertad resulta incómoda, debido a que hay que saber que hacer con ella, por lo tanto será la causa de una gran angustia. El existencialismo no cree en normas generales válidas para todos, no tiene un sentido de referencia o sea que el hombre bajo su responsabilidad debe crear sus propias normas. Cuando realiza una elección, tiene inseguridad si es buena o mala, por lo tanto va acompañada de angustia.
Puede suceder que ante este miedo a la angustia que produce una elección, tratan de engañarse a sí mismo depositando la responsabilidad sobre algo ajeno, ya sea Dios, el ambiente o la herencia; a esto Sartre lo denomina la mala fe y un ejemplo que da para ilustrar a este concepto es el siguiente: Una muchacha está sentada con un hombre, ella sabe bien que él desearía seducirla. Pero cuando él le toma la mano, ella intenta evitar la decisión de aceptarla o rechazarla, pretendiendo no darse cuenta deja la mano como si no fue consciente de la situación. Pretende ser un objeto pasivo  y no un ser consciente de que es libre y la responsabilidad queda depositada sobre el otro»
Frente a la mala fe, Sartre propone la autenticidad como guía de conducta y consiste en aceptar a la libertad, la angustia y la responsabilidad.
Pero Sartre irá más allá, diciendo que el hombre es un ser absurdo ya que ni el nacer ni el morir tienen sentido. El absurdo de la existencia produce el sentimiento de náusea, sentimiento que se experimenta hacia lo real cuando el hombre toma conciencia de que es absurdo.
A partir de 1949, Sartre intenta revisar el pensamiento marxista enriqueciéndolo con su filosofía existencialista, comenzando la tercera etapa de su producción.
En Crítica de la razón dialéctica (1960), representa un gran esfuerzo para alcanzar la síntesis de las dos concepciones. Hay un pasaje del protagonismo del para sí al protagonismo que asume el movimiento dialéctico de la historia y la acción concertada del grupo para trascender una determinada situación política.
Hasta aquí traté de hacer un desarrollo introductorio del pensamiento filosófico de Sartre, quien fue, sin duda,  un fenómeno intelectual que marcó a una generación, pero hablar de Sartre es también  hablar del escritor, que a través de sus obras literarias transmitió su pensamiento filosófico con real maestría, convirtiéndolo en uno de los escritores contemporáneos más importantes de Francia


Sartre, una vida apasionante -
Juan Nuño


Megalómano, logorreico, espiritualista, pensador cíclico, polígamo, derrochador a manos llenas, incansable, despreciador de su cuerpo, polémico, segundo Voltaire, canonizado finalmente, pero, ante todo, escritor, un gran escritor que llenó cuarenta años de la vida cultural de Francia y del mundo y que aún sigue dando que hablar.

Un clásico ya: editado en La Pléiade, ese impresionante panteón literario, summa de las belles lettres no sólo francesas, y ahora, Sartre revivido y reconstruido en el magnífico libro de Cohen-Solal [1], al que puede agregarse con provecho el de otra mujer, otra Anna: Anna Boschetti [2], cuyo titulo no revela la riqueza de un contenido también biográfico, aunque parcial respecto del de Cohen-Solal, que pretende cubrir la vida entera de Sartre: 1905-1980.

El hombre Sartre

Por fin una biografía intelectual, una reconstrucción de la gestación de las ideas y del
proyecto literario de Sartre. No deja de ser curioso que, hasta ahora, hayan sido sobre todo mujeres las que se hayan encargado de la tarea. Por supuesto, Simone de Beauvoir, la Grande Sartreuse, como llegó a ser llamada con toda la malicia de los cenáculos parisienses, que no nos ahorró ni el más mínimo detalle de la vida cotidiana de Sartre: todas sus manías, todos sus movimientos, su horario al dedillo y aun todas sus miserias fisiológicas del triste y decadente final. Ha hecho, como observa Cohen-Solal, «un relato meticuloso y clínico». En realidad, ha sido fiel a sí misma: su extensa autobiografía no es sino una implacable recopilación de diarios llevados día a día, hora a hora, en donde nada queda fuera o al menos esa impresión agobiante se tiene al leerla. Ganas entran de pensar que Sartre escribió Les mots como una forma relativamente gentil de darle una lección: Madame, una autobiografía se escribe así, no transcribiendo sin perdonar cuanto chisme y anécdota sucedieron.

Colette Audry, vieja amiga de ambos, también intentó [3] el esbozo de su pensamiento a través de una selección de sus textos. Para no evocar a Iris Murdoch, que le dedicó dos libros [4], en cierto modo adelantada de las biografías sartrianas. Ahora, estas dos, Cohen-Solal y Boschetti. Cierto que Jeanson es la excepción masculina a semejante dominio matriarcal sobre la vida y obra de Sartre. Por su divulgado librito, Sartre par lui-même, que ya tiene más de treinta años, pero también por otros dos, mezcla ambos de tímida biografía con decidida tarea hermenéutica [5].

Las ventajas de esta biografía de Cohen-Solal son varias: en primer lugar, el hecho de ser la primera post-mortem, pudiendo así disponer del ciclo cerrado de la existencia de Sartre, aunque no de su obra, ya que se ha presentado una extraña situación de competencia, sino de disputa, por ver quién publica más inéditos del filósofo: si la hija, Arlette El Kaim-Sartre, albacea en realidad de Sartre, o la inevitable Beauvoir, el fiel Castor, que también dispone de una buena cantidad de escritos, pues Sartre, como es bien sabido, no hacía economías a la hora de darle a la pluma: «J'ai toujours considéré l’abondance comme une vertu», le escribió un día a Simone.

Otra ventaja del libro de Cohen-Solal es que ha podido manejar aún a tiempo ciertos testimonios de gente próxima a Sartre; por ejemplo, recogió bien oportunamente los testimonios de Raymond Aron, y también celebrar diversas entrevistas que, hasta ahora, jamás nadie había logrado (otro ejemplo notable, Dolores Vanetti, la famosa M. del entusiasta viaje de Sartre a los Estados Unidos, aún en plena guerra). Para no mencionar testimonios de personalidades: Giscard D’Estaing, Gallimard, Moravia. También ha podido compulsar Cohen-Solal documentos que acerca de Sartre o su familia se encuentran en archivos de no fácil acceso, como los de la Academia Nobel, en Estocolmo, los de la Marina francesa, en el fuerte de Vincennes, los de las ediciones Gallimard y hasta los del FBI, que cubren los Departamentos de Justicia, de Estado y de la Fuerza Aérea, de los Estados Unidos. Semejantes posibilidades de acceso se explican por la influencia del impulsor original del libro de Cohen-Solal, un editor neoyorquino, que, en combinación con Gallimard, fue quien encargó la obra, saliendo ésta primero en la edición francesa.

Pero, con ser de talla, ésas serían apenas las ventajas materiales del libro de Cohen-Solal. Las principales, específicas de la obra, y plenamente atribuibles a la capacidad de la autora, son el poder de síntesis, la facilidad con que se mueve entre terminología y conceptos filosóficos y un cierto sentido del humor, que se traduce más que nada en una separación y aspecto de la figura consagrada de Sartre, en forma tal que crea el suficiente alejamiento como para poder lograr un juicio desapasionado, algo hasta ahora jamás logrado por ninguno de sus biógrafos o comentaristas, probablemente porque todos (Audry, Jeanson, para no hablar de Beauvoir) estaban demasiado unidos al pequeño gran hombre. En ese sentido, es simplemente delicioso el relato de la visita de Sartre a la casa de campo de John Huston, en Irlanda, y la absoluta incomprensión que surgió entre dos personalidades tan distintas.

 

Se ha dicho que el Sartre de Cohen-Solal se lee como un libro de aventuras y es cierto, pero ése viene a ser su único defecto notable. Ha insistido demasiado en las peripecias de una vida ciertamente rica en avatares y sucesos, pero al elegir destacar éstos, se tiene la impresión, probablemente falsa, de que toda la vida de Sartre no fue sino una continua agitación mundana, una serie de acontecimientos extraordinarios, un vaivén entre sus múltiples amores y sus numerosas polémicas y compromisos políticos y culturales. Una vida de héroe bien repleta. Y no deja de ser explicativo de esa visión el que Cohen-Solal haya elegido el símbolo de Pardaillan, el personaje de las lecturas infantiles de Sartre, para ponerle corno continua referencia a su inagotable quehacer literario. Qué duda cabe de que Sartre fue un ser batallador y lanzado hacia la búsqueda de la gloria, como él mismo ha confesado en Les mots. Pero conviene no olvidar que alcanzó la notoriedad, y no pequeña, relativamente pronto, a los 33 años, y con la primera novela (La Nausée), que se publica en 1938. Y que, a partir de ahí, sin dejar de publicar y de estrenar, todo fue camino triunfal, en particular desde 1945. Sólo que eso sería lo de menos: cuesta arriba o con facilidad, hubiera podido ser una vida de héroe y nada más. Porque no hay que olvidar que este héroe es un pensador de talla y un escritor de gran aliento y nada de eso se consigue de la noche a la mañana ni dedicándose a conceder entrevistas, conocer bellas mujeres y viajar por medio mundo. Hay un Sartre oscuro, escondido, trabajador incontenible, que es el que explica y alimenta al Sartre público y brillante. Sin el Sartre normalien, sin ese rigor que se adquiere (o se adquiría) en aquella impresionante fábrica de profesores que era la École Normale Supérieure, en donde sólo el primer año estaba dedicado a «hacerse la mano», esto es, a llenar página tras página de copias al azar, con el fin de adiestrarse, adquirir músculos y poder resistir los larguísimos exámenes escritos, que duraban por lo menos ocho horas; sin ese Sartre bûcheur, trabajador, tenaz, hormiguita, no hubiera existido el otro Sartre, el Sartre heroico y exterior que tanto ha atraído a Cohen-Solal. A veces, parece darse cuenta de que también existe aquel Sartre, la máquina, como ella lo describe, trabajando a pleno ritmo cuando le dejan (ejemplo máximo: la drôle de guerre, que le hizo feliz, pues sólo escribía), pero en general pasa a su lado sin la suficiente insistencia. Para sólo poner un caso: nos cuenta la harto sabida adicción de Sartre a los estimulantes (anfetaminas) con el fin de acelerar su trabajo. Pero no nos dice que es el precio que tuvo que pagar por vivir las dos vidas: no se puede impunemente ser célebre y trabajador; el tiempo no da para tanto. En otra ocasión, Cohen-Solal revela un aspecto poco conocido del Sartre juvenil: su dedicación al boxeo; se entrenaba durante horas en ejercitar y desarrollar los músculos de los brazos y del tórax y hasta llegó a participar en algún combate de aficionados. Pero hubiera valido la pena indagar un poco más: es muy posible que detrás de esa momentánea entrega al deporte, y por lo tanto al culto del cuerpo, de la contingencia, incomprensible para el filósofo mentalista que en realidad fue Sartre, se encontrara un recurso material para acrecentar su poder de trabajo, su capacidad material de escritura. Sartre no escribió a máquina, sino a mano, y eso cansa; de ahí, primero, el entrenamiento de la rue d'Ulm (se faire la main) y, luego, el afán por el boxeo. No daba puntada sin hilo. Y el hilo de Sartre fue siempre el mismo: escribir, escribir, pues el día en que no escribía se le prendía el tatuaje que, como no ha dejado de contarnos, llevaba marcado a fuego. Claro que el acceso a ese Sartre es muy difícil y quizá imposible; primero, porque formaba parte de su modo de ser que se llevó al sepulcro y, luego, porque sus próximos tienden a destacar los otros aspectos, los resultados, la personalidad controversial, el hombre del café y no el hombre del estudio, aunque muchas veces coincidieran uno y otro.

 

Que Sartre fue un auténtico homme à femmes es algo que comenzamos a saber a través de las Cartas al Castor y por los Carnets de la drôle de guerre, escritos íntimos publicados después de su muerte; ahora, Cohen-Solal ha descubierto más de la intensa vida amorosa de Sartre y ha revelado ciertos nombres (como el de la bellísima guía rusa, Lena Zonina), aunque, por razones de comprensible discreción contemporánea, aún vele otros. Y no deja de llamar la atención el paralelo que en este punto pudiera establecerse entre los dos grandes pensadores del siglo, por lo demás tan separados en sus concepciones filosóficas: Sartre y Russell. Ambos «consumieron» (si las feministas permiten el brutal término) gran cantidad de amantes. Hay una carta de Russell, de 1948 (por lo tanto, cuando ya tenla 76 años), dirigida a una alumna que, al parecer, le había manifestado algo impulsivamente su admiración, en la que Lord Russell le advierte que está dispuesto a llegar hasta las últimas consecuencias en esa relación.. También Sartre coleccionó alumnas. Y actrices y amigas de sus amigas, comenzando por Beauvoir, y hermanas de sus anteriores amantes, hasta llegar a formar, aunque no sólo con ellas, una extraña «familia», medio harén, medio sociedad en comandita. Y hasta exaltar a una de esas alumnas-amantes al papel de hija adoptiva, con lo que pudo ver realizada su fantasía del incesto, exaltada en Los secuestrados de Altona y confesada en Les mots. El que Sartre, el que Russell, el que hombres tan prolíficos literariamente, tan creadores, hayan tenido semejante intensa vida amorosa no parece casar muy bien con aquella simplista explicación de la sublimación de la libido a través del arte y la literatura. Al contrario, cuanto más amaban, más producían, y quién sabe si no era más bien a la inversa.

Por supuesto que todos esos amores encajaban en la famosa relación necesario/contingente que Sartre le presentó desde el principio a Simone de Beauvoir, y que revela que era un tanto aficionado al elementalismo del modelo heliocéntrico, a la Bohr: el sol rodeado de planetas, da igual que se aplique al átomo, a las mujeres, o a los sistemas filosóficos, ya que eso mismo es lo que dice en Cuestiones de método respecto del marxismo (sol, desde luego), en torno al cual giran todas las demás filosofías contemporáneas. Sin embargo, lo de unos amores «esenciales» y otros «accesorios» parece que no funcionó muy bien, pues en más de una ocasión, como no deja de subrayarlo delicadamente Cohen-Solal, el Castor se rebeló ante alguna peligrosa rival «esencial» (casos de Olga y Dolores). A su vez, todo esto, tan chismoso y secundario, va encuadrado en la categoría sartriana de la «transparencia», trasunto de la autenticidad de la conciencia, para combatir mejor su natural tendencia al auto-engaño o ejercicio de la «mala fe». Así, en nombre de la fulana «transparencia», Sartre le cuenta a Beauvoir, con pelos y señales, lo que había hecho con ésta o con aquélla. Y de paso, el Castor, al publicar sin recato alguno esas cartas tan personales, ha permitido que se entere todo el mundo. No tiene mayor importancia, pues, bien vista, esa transparencia de Sartre encaja perfectamente en la «vividura» francesa: desde Descartes, que comienza por unas confesiones, hasta el matrimonio Jouhandeau al que le tuvimos que, soportar el relato menudo de sus aburridísimas peleas, los franceses no dejan de exhibirse sin pudor alguno. Literatura de diarios, de confesiones, de sinceramientos, de exposición de la vida interior. O al menos eso nos parece a los que pertenecemos a otra «vividura» muy diferente, en la que el recato, el pudor y aun el secreto forman parte de nuestro modo de ser y de nuestra tradición. Que si la referencia emblemática francesa son las confesiones cartesianas, la nuestra, contemporánea de aquélla, iníciase por un ejercicio deliberado de amnesia biográfica: «... de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme».

 

Sartre literato


Sabíase por propia confesión que desde siempre quiso ser escritor, de preferencia, novelista. Por eso, los tímidos ensayos infantiles, primero, juveniles, después (L’Ange du Morbide, Jésus la Chouette, Légende de la Vérité), y con esa intención se preparó, primero, en el liceo Henri IV y en el Louis-le-Grand y, luego, en la E.N.S. En ese momento, hacia los veinte años, sufre la influencia de Bergson, el filósofo de moda entonces, el mimado del gran público, la vedette
del Collège de France; el otro grand patron de la filosofía francesa era Brunschvicg, que reinaba indiscutido en la Sorbonne. «Hacer de su vida una creación estética», tal era el plan original de Sartre: vivir su vida como una novela. Fue Bergson quien le dio material de apoyo para conocerse, para comenzar a dominar el plano psicológico, para «anclar su filosofía en su propia experiencia interior», como señala Cohen-Solal. De esta manera, estamos en presencia de otro «realismo», como si fuera inagotable la serie que, desde el XIX, padece la literatura: el de Sartre seria un «realismo psicológico», aquel que conceptualiza su experiencia interior. Por eso y sólo por eso, estudia filosofía, pero nada tiene de extraño que las primeras preferencias se dirijan a la psicología; de ahí el estudio de Jaspers y su interés por la psicopatología, las visitas al manicomio y la experiencia de la mescalina. La filosofía le sirve de medio para lograr su objetivo de ser un gran escritor; lo mismo hará más tarde con la fenomenología. No es casual que comience escribiendo una novela y cuatro o cinco relatos cortos, pues los trabajos filosóficos previamente publicados (L’imagination, La transcendance de Vego) son considerados por Sartre ejercicios académicos en los que arregla cuentas o con la psicología conductualista (Dumas) o con un subjetivismo demasiado estrecho en Husserl. Su verdadera pasión de escribir se concentra en su novela, tantas veces rehecha: Melancholia, que gracias a Gallimard se llamará La Náusea, y, en efecto, vive los primeros años de la sufrida docencia en Le Havre (Bouville) como Antoine Roquentin.

Porque el destino de Sartre quedó marcado desde el momento en que tomó, con su inseparable Nizan, la decisión de no ser profesor; mejor dicho, «de ser cualquier cosa menos profesor, de evitar ser profesor; de no terminar sus días como aquel «Jésus la Chouette», el mediocre y disminuido profesor de provincia, casado con alguna de las damiselas de la región y lleno de hijos: otro pequeño burgués de los muchos que llenan este mundo, aquel mundo. Por eso, sus ataques, sus bromas pesadas en la École Normale, su desprecio al director o, como apunta Cohen-Solal, la división establecida entre la República de los Profesores a la que se enfrentaba la República de las Letras. Probablemente antes, en el hogar, en el enfrentamiento, primero, con su abuelo Schweitzer y, luego, con su padrastro Mancy, había nacido el Sartre provocador, irrespetuoso y subversivo, cuestionador del orden burgués, tan bien representado en la sociedad por el cuerpo académico. Por supuesto, que el mundo profesoral siempre que pudo le devolvió la moneda y lo trató con similar capacidad de rechazo; basta leer el oficio del rector colaboracionista de la Academia de París, expurgado por Cohen-Solal, para darse cuenta de lo irreconciliable de ambas posiciones; allí el Sr. Rector, nombrado por el gobierno de Vichy, asevera que Le mur et La Nausée, las dos obras publicadas hasta entonces por Sartre y que tanta fama le habían comenzado a proporcionar en el mundo de las letras, «por mucho talento que testimonien, no son obras que resultaría deseable ver escribir a un profesor, es decir, a alguien que tiene almas a su cargo. Que M. Sartre medite... y que saque en consecuencia beneficio para su carrera y su existencia». ¡Menos mal que no lo hizo! Claro que Sartre no necesitaba del texto protocolar y hueco de un Rector cualquiera, ni de Vichy ni de la República, para mandar al diablo a todo el cuerpo profesoral y sus almidonadas costumbres. En el poco tiempo en que, por razones pecuniarias, no tuvo más remedio que plegarse al sistema y dar clases en varios liceos, de provincias y de la capital, se distinguió por su rebeldía, por su capacidad de provocación, por su tendencia a trastocar las relaciones alumno-profesor, a no respetar las costumbres instituidas, a ser en suma, siempre, un profesor distinto. De ahí, también, el enorme entusiasmo que despertó entre la mayoría de sus alumnos. Es algo que llega hasta Mayo del 68: Sartre no fue nunca el tipo de profesor estirado, ni siquiera serio, distante, como, por el contrario, debió serlo su camarada y amigo de I’École Normale, Raymond Aron. Esa es la gran diferencia entre ambos y no Hegel o la fenomenología o la política: Aron siempre quiso ser profesor, plegarse al establishment, ser parte de él. Muy propio del judío asimilado, que lleva la asimilación al extremo, a la mímesis perfecta. Mientras que Sartre abominó desde muy joven de la noble institución profesora¡ y luchó contra los salauds que la representaban: era el hijo de esa clase y podía darse el lujo de rebelarse contra ella. Y lo hizo. Y la literatura fue su medio de expresar su desagrado, su asco, su rechazo por quienes concebían la vida como algo serio, lleno de obligaciones, normas y valores.

Pero todo eso es únicamente el punto de partida de Sartre, la razón de su total dedicación a la literatura, primero y, en general, a escribir siempre. En el camino surgen los demás factores: el encuentro con la novela norteamericana, la aplicación de ciertos recursos de la fenomenología y el hallazgo del teatro como medio expresivo de mayor fuerza. Cohen-Solal tiene el mérito de haber buscado un texto poco conocido de Butor, en el que éste recuerda haber asistido en 1944 (otoño: ya liberado París) a una conferencia de Sartre acerca de «Una técnica social de la novela» y, como confiesa el mismo Butor, «es la primera vez que oí hablar de Virginia Woolf, de Dos Passos, de Faulkner ... ». Inclusive antes ya había comenzado la tarea informativa de Sartre: en sus artículos para la Nouvelle Revue Française, en los años que median entre la publicación de La náusea y la ocupación de París, Sartre había presentado a los grandes novelistas norteamericanos y había declarado su admiración literaria por ellos, en particular por el empleo del tiempo narrativo. Así se formó el Sartre escritor que viene a culminar en Les mots, su obra maestra, y que confiesa haber encontrado «le travail du sens par le style», que es mucho más que el manido «el estilo es el hombre». Porque lo que Sartre proclama es la subordinación del significado (espacio semántico) a la ordenación de las palabras (espacio sintáctico); la verdad en función de la belleza; la filosofía al servicio de la literatura.

Tales fueron al menos sus propósitos, su «douce folie», su extraña neurosis, de la que viene a despertar, a curarse, según declara, sólo pasados los cincuenta años. Aunque la verdad literaria es que únicamente en Les mots se cumplieron tan hermosos propósitos; la paradoja sartriana, y no de las menores, es que, pese a todas sus buenas intenciones de creador de belleza, la filosofía se le atraviesa en el camino e invierte la relación: sus obras (novelas y teatro) son la expresión de sus ideas, la corporización de sus filosofemas. Obligado en 1972 a explicar la relación entre su teatro (en particular, Huis clos) y su filosofía (específicamente, El ser y la nada), al momento de publicar el volumen noveno de Situations, no pudo ser más claro: «Mon gros livre se racontait sous forme de petites histoires sans philosophie». En efecto: sus obsesiones metafísicas, la contingencia, la libertad, la conciencia, jamás le abandonan ni a la hora de hacer filosofía ni a la de hacer literatura. El hombre es una conciencia (por tanto, una nada, un agujero, un vacío permanentemente abierto y buscando inútilmente llenarse) perdida en la selva fáctica y viscosa de lo contingente (de lo «óntico», diría Heidegger); o lo acepta y entonces se priva de su libertad, se aliena en el mundo de lo práctico-inerte; o ejerce su libertad en cualquier forma, pero siempre suya, para construir otro mundo, siempre factual y viscoso, pero en el que las relaciones, las normas, los valores los invente y cree el hombre.

Annie Cohen-Solal comienza su impresionante biografía narrando una subasta reciente en la sala Drouot, en la que, entre bibelots, cuadros diversos, notitas de Nerval, libros dedicados y antiguas cartas de amor, se comienzan a vender (sic transit) manuscritos de Sartre. Cuatro años después de su muerte, ya empezó la dispersión de sus reliquias. Y lo más triste es que Sartre se cotiza mal, a bajos precios; no por falta de interés sino por exceso de oferta. Consecuencias de haber sido tan generoso, de haber escrito tanto y, sobre todo, de haber regalado sin ton ni son, a diestra y siniestra. Cohen-Solal se preocupó en particular por un viejo y nunca publicado texto de Sartre. Aquella novela que escribió a los veinte años (Une défaite) y de la que todos han hablado y muy pocos leído o ni siquiera visto. Cohen-Solal al fin la consigue y nos regala la trascripción de un pasaje, unas cuantas líneas que pertenecen a un cuento central de aquella novela inédita, titulado, nada originalmente, «Un cuento de hadas». En él, Frédéric es preceptor de dos niñas de una familia burguesa, y para recreo de sus pupilas y de su madre, a la que buscaba seducir, inventa el cuento de hadas. Es la historia de un príncipe, «de una maravillosa inteligencia y de una exquisita belleza», pero frío, impasible y aun cruel; por no creer que los hombres tuvieran alma, vivía rodeado de autómatas, pero un día, el príncipe malo se pierde en un bosque. Merece la pena traducir al menos parte del pasaje que nos ha trascrito Cohen-Solal:

 

Ensilló el príncipe a su caballo y partió al galope. Entonces cruzó por su mente un horrible pensamiento: «¿Tienen todas las cosas un alma?». Pasó junto a un prado en el que se agitaban las altas yerbas. «¿Tienen las cosas ... ?» ¿Qué era ese estremecimiento que las recorría como un alma? ¿Qué oscura vida habla en ellas? Ante semejante idea, le acometió un asco infinito. Espoleó a la bestia que, asustada, partió al galope. Agitados los árboles por la velocidad, se le echaban encima para desaparecer como si fueran cuadros... Y todas las cosas parecían vivir, vivir con una vida oscura, odiosa, que le causaba bascas, una vida dirigida hacia su vida. Creía estar en el centro de un mundo inmenso que le espiaba. Se sentía vigilado por los arroyos, por los charcos del camino. Todo vivía, todo pensaba. Y de pronto, se acordó de su caballo: también esta dócil bestia... Sosteniéndose con dificultad en la silla, el príncipe contempló esos seres inmensos y oscuros que tan bien creía conocer y que ahora le parecían monstruosas apariciones: los árboles. Comenzó a gritar...

 

Más tarde, cuenta Cohen-Solal, descubridora del texto, el príncipe poco a poco se cura: se acostumbra a vivir en un mundo rodeado de almas. «Se hace un hombre como los demás», escribió el Sartre de los veinte años. Tiene toda la razón Cohen-Solal: ese extraordinario cuento es La nausée al alcance de los niños. Es más: ahí están in nuce todos los componentes de la literatura filosófica sartriana: no sólo la náusea ante la existencia plena del en-sí, sino la posibilidad de escapar a la contingencia a través de la libertad de la conciencia. Si es cierto que Sartre siempre supo que iba a ser novelista, no lo es menos que también, desde su juventud, supo cuál era el tipo de filosofía de la que se alimentaría su imaginación de escritor.

Ha inventado Cohen-Solal una cómoda categoría para explicar los cambios radicales que fue experimentando el pensamiento de Sartre a lo largo de su vida, tanto en el orden de las ideas como en el de la acción: pensar por ciclos: «la logique de la non-contradiction n’avait jamais été la sienne, il pensait par cycles, pratiquait la technique du mouvement perpétuel...». Esa «lógica cíclica» es una magnífica excusa para entender los violentos cambios de posición que sobre temas fundamentales sufrió la concepción literaria o filosófica de Sartre.

Así, el gran escritor, el hombre destinado a poseer el mundo por la magia de su pluma, el novelista permanentemente impulsado por Beauvoir, que no dejaba de recomendarle que escribiera relatos en lugar de perder el tiempo en hacer filosofía, es el mismo que comete un doble atentado contra la literatura. Primero, poniéndola al servicio de la lucha política o, cuando menos, encadenándola a la cotidianidad de lo circunstancial. Finalmente, negando su valor, su importancia ante la triste realidad social de que se compone este mundo injusto y desigual. Literatura comprometida, por una parte, y aquello otro, tan traído y llevado de «En face d'un enfant qui meurt La Nausée ne fait pas le poids». Lo primero es más importante («hace más peso») que lo segundo en la concepción literaria sartriana; lo del niño que muere no deja de ser un ex abrupto ante una situación social exasperante. Pero exigir de la literatura un «engagement» es algo más seria Se encuentra perfectamente expresado en e famoso editorial del primer número de Les Temps Modernes, a lo que ese «compromiso» responde es a la concepción filosófica de Sartre. Su horror por la subjetividad pura (su rechazo de Proust, finalmente) y, sin embargo, su impotencia por salir de una filosofía mentalista y subjetivista que privilegia la conciencia le exigieron compensar el desequilibrio metafísico en favor de la mente con un permanente añoranza por el mundo, la alteridad, lo concreto, lo contingente, el dominio del Ser. Recuérdese otra expresión no menos manida: lo de que e hombre es una pasión inútil. Pasión en el doble sentido, de padecer pasivamente la presencia atosigante de las cosas, y de sufrir, como en la mitología cristiana, la muerte de sus proyectos y sus intenciones. Inútil, ciertamente, por cuanto jamás alcanzará el absoluto, lo lleno, la paz del en-sí. está condenado a la libertad de ese agujero que es la conciencia, ni siquiera inerte, sino que tiende siempre (para eso le sirvió la fenomenología y su noción de «intencionalidad») hacia algo fuera de ella, distinto a ella. ¿Qué de extraño, entonces, que la literatura que se construya sobre semejante esquema metafísico exija un permanente «compromiso» con lo circundante? Pues no hay que entender necesariamente ese compromiso en el sentido político o social; basta con leer la clave filosófica que rechaza los estados de ánimo, las interioridades de la conciencia, el onanismo del sujeto feliz contenido en sí mismo, cosificado.

Donde se ve que no es inocente hacer filosofía al mismo tiempo que se quiere ser un gran escritor. Sartre pudo aprender de Hemingway y de Faulkner y en Manhattan Transfer ciertas técnicas narrativas, pero su aplicación estuvo do minada por una metafísica fenomenológica, en la que la conciencia, además de estar permanentemente privilegiada, exige consumir todo cuanto la rodea necesita «comprometerse», esto es, proyectarse, llenarse de contenidos pasajeros. Bastará con algo tan sencillo como eliminar el sujeto narrativo para que al desaparecer la conciencia, desaparezca el problema del «compromiso» literario: es lo que hicieron los escritores experimentalistas del Nouveau Roman, por algo Sartre se apresuró a calificarlo de «anti-novela». Probablemente Proust hubiera empleado el mismo término de haber llegado a conocer La náusea.

 

Notas

1. Annie Cohen-Solal, Sartre, Gallimard, Paris, 1985

2. Anna Boschetti, Sartre et «les Temps Modernes», une entreprise intellectuelle, Les Éditions de Minuit, París, 1985.

3. Colette Audry, Sartre et la réalité humaine, Seghers, París, 1966.

4. Iris Murdoch, Sartre, Collins, London, 1953: Sartre, Romantic Rationalist, Yale University Press, Yale, EE.UU., 1953.

5. Francis Jeanson, «Un quidam nommé Sartre», que es un apéndice de Le problème moral et la pensée de Sartre, Éditions du Seuil, 1966; Sartre dans sa vie, Éditions du Seuil, París, 1974.


Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980): Existentialism - Christian J. Onof - University College, London

Sartre's philosophical career focuses, in its first phase, upon the construction of a philosophy of existence known as 'Existentialism'. Adopting and adapting the methods of phenomenology, Sartre sets out to develop an ontological account of what it is to be human. The main features of this ontology are the groundlessness and radical freedom which characterise the human condition. These are constrasted with the unproblematic being of the world of things. Sartre's substantial literary output adds dramatic expression to the always unstable co-existence of facticity and freedom in an indifferent world. After a brief summary of Sartre's life, we shall look at the main themes characterizing Sartre's early philosophical works. The ontology developed in Sartre's main existential work, Being and Nothingness will then be analysed. Finally, an overview is provided of the further development of existentialist themes in his later works.

Table of Contents

    1. Sartre's life
    2. Early works
            a. Methodology
            b. The ego
            c. Ethics
            d. Existential phenomenology
    3. The Ontology of Being and Nothingness
            a. The being of the phenomenon and consciousness
            b. Two types of being
            c. Nothingness
    4. The for-itself in Being and Nothingness
            a. A lack of self-identity
            b. The project of bad faith
            c. The fundamental project
            d. Desire
    5. Relations with others in Being and Nothingness
            a. The problem of other minds
            b. Human relationships
    6. Authenticity
            a. Freedom
            b. Authenticity
            c. An ethical dimension
    7. Other contributions to existential phenomenology
            a. Critique of Dialectical Reason
            b. The Problem of Method
    8. Conclusion
    9. References
            a. Sartre's works
            b. Commentaries

    1. Sartre's life

    Sartre was born in 1905 in Paris. After a childhood marked by the early death of his father, the important role played by his grandfather, and some rather unhappy experiences at school, Sartre finished High School at the LycÈe Henri IV in Paris. After two years of preparation, he gained entrance to the prestigious Ecole Normale SupÈrieure, where, from 1924 to 1929 he came into contact with Raymond Aron, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and other notables. He passed the 'AgrÈgation' on his second attempt, by adapting the content and style of his writing to the rather traditional requirements of the examiners. This was his passport to a teaching career. After teaching philosophy in a lycÈe in Le Havre, he obtained a grant to study at the French Institute in Berlin where he discovered phenomenology in 1933 and wrote The Transcendence of the Ego. His phenomenological investigation into the imagination was published in 1936 and his Theory of Emotions two years later. During the Second World War, Sartre wrote his existentialist magnum opus Being and Nothingness and taught the work of Heidegger in a war camp. He was briefly involved in a Resistance group and taught in a lycÈe until the end of the war. Being and Nothingness was published in 1943 and Existentialism and Humanism in 1946. His study of Baudelaire was published in 1947 and that of the actor Jean Genet in 1952. Throughout the Thirties and Forties, Sartre also had an abundant literary output with such novels as Nausea and plays like Intimacy (The wall), The flies, Huis Clos, Les Mains Sales. In 1960, after three years working on it, Sartre published the Critique of Dialectical Reason. In the Fifties and Sixties, Sartre travelled to the USSR, Cuba, and was involved in turn in promoting Marxist ideas, condemning the USSR's invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and speaking up against France's policies in Algeria. He was a high profile figure in the Peace Movement. In 1964, he turned down the Nobel prize for literature. He was actively involved in the May 1968 uprising. His study of Flaubert, L'Idiot de la Famille, was published in 1971. In 1977, he claimed no longer to be a Marxist, but his political activity continued until his death in 1980.

    2. Early works

     

    Sartre's early work is characterised by phenomenological analyses involving his own interpretation of Husserl's method. Sartre's methodology is Husserlian (as demonstrated in his paper "Intentionality: a fundamental ideal of Husserl's phenomenology") insofar as it is a form of intentional and eidetic analysis. This means that the acts by which consciousness assigns meaning to objects are what is analysed, and that what is sought in the particular examples under examination is their essential structure. At the core of this methodology is a conception of consciousness as intentional, that is, as 'about' something, a conception inherited from Brentano and Husserl. Sartre puts his own mark on this view by presenting consciousness as being transparent, i.e. having no 'inside', but rather as being a 'fleeing' towards the world.

    The distinctiveness of Sartre's development of Husserl's phenomenology can be characterised in terms of Sartre's methodology, of his view of the self and of his ultimate ethical interests.


    a. Methodology

     

    Sartre's methodology differs from Husserl's in two essential ways. Although he thinks of his analyses as eidetic, he has no real interest in Husserl's understanding of his method as uncovering the Essence of things. For Husserl, eidetic analysis is a clarification which brings out the higher level of the essence that is hidden in 'fluid unclarity' (Husserl, Ideas, I). For Sartre, the task of an eidetic analysis does not deliver something fixed immanent to the phenomenon. It still claims to uncover that which is essential, but thereby recognizes that phenomenal experience is essentially fluid.

    In Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions, Sartre replaces the traditional picture of the passivity of our emotional nature with one of the subject's active participation in her emotional experiences. Emotion originates in a degradation of consciousness faced with a certain situation. The spontaneous conscious grasp of the situation which characterizes an emotion, involves what Sartre describes as a 'magical' transformation of the situation. Faced with an object which poses an insurmountable problem, the subject attempts to view it differently, as though it were magically transformed. Thus an imminent extreme danger may cause me to faint so that the object of my fear is no longer in my conscious grasp. Or, in the case of wrath against an unmovable obstacle, I may hit it as though the world were such that this action could lead to its removal. The essence of an emotional state is thus not an immanent feature of the mental world, but rather a transformation of the subject's perspective upon the world. In The Psychology of the Imagination, Sartre demonstrates his phenomenological method by using it to take on the traditional view that to imagine something is to have a picture of it in mind. Sartre's account of imagining does away with representations and potentially allows for a direct access to that which is imagined; when this object does not exist, there is still an intention (albeit unsuccessful) to become conscious of it through the imagination. So there is no internal structure to the imagination. It is rather a form of directedness upon the imagined object. Imagining a heffalump is thus of the same nature as perceiving an elephant. Both are spontaneous intentional (or directed) acts, each with its own type of intentionality.


    b. The ego

     

    Sartre's view also diverges from Husserl's on the important issue of the ego. For Sartre, Husserl adopted the view that the subject is a substance with attributes, as a result of his interpretation of Kant's unity of apperception. Husserl endorsed the Kantian claim that the 'I think' must be able to accompany any representation of which I am conscious, but reified this 'I' into a transcendental ego. Such a move is not warranted for Sartre, as he explains in The Transcendence of the Ego. Moreover, it leads to the following problems for our phenomenological analysis of consciousness.

    The ego would have to feature as an object in all states of consciousness. This would result in its obstructing our conscious access to the world. But this would conflict with the direct nature of this conscious access. Correlatively, consciousness would be divided into consciousness of ego and consciousness of the world. This would however be at odds with the simple, and thus undivided, nature of our access to the world through conscious experience. In other words, when I am conscious of a tree, I am directly conscious of it, and am not myself an object of consciousness. Sartre proposes therefore to view the ego as a unity produced by consciousness. In other words, he adds to the Humean picture of the self as a bundle of perceptions, an account of its unity. This unity of the ego is a product of conscious activity. As a result, the traditional Cartesian view that self-consciousness is the consciousness the ego has of itself no longer holds, since the ego is not given but created by consciousness. What model does Sartre propose for our understanding of self-consciousness and the production of the ego through conscious activity? The key to answering the first part of the question lies in Sartre's introduction of a pre-reflective level, while the second can then be addressed by examining conscious activity at the other level, i.e. that of reflection. An example of pre-reflective consciousness is the seeing of a house. This type of consciousness is directed to a transcendent object, but this does not involve my focussing upon it, i.e. it does not require that an ego be involved in a conscious relation to the object. For Sartre, this pre-reflective consciousness is thus impersonal: there is no place for an 'I' at this level. Importantly, Sartre insists that self-consciousness is involved in any such state of consciousness: it is the consciousness this state has of itself. This accounts for the phenomenology of 'seeing', which is such that the subject is clearly aware of her pre-reflective consciousness of the house. This awareness does not have an ego as its object, but it is rather the awareness that there is an act of 'seeing'. Reflective consciousness is the type of state of consciousness involved in my looking at a house. For Sartre, the cogito emerges as a result of consciousness's being directed upon the pre-reflectively conscious. In so doing, reflective consciousness takes the pre-reflectively conscious as being mine. It thus reveals an ego insofar as an 'I' is brought into focus: the pre-reflective consciousness which is objectified is viewed as mine. This 'I' is the correlate of the unity that I impose upon the pre-reflective states of consciousness through my reflection upon them. To account for the prevalence of the Cartesian picture, Sartre argues that we are prone to the illusion that this 'I' was in fact already present prior to the reflective conscious act, i.e. present at the pre-reflective level. By substituting his model of a two-tiered consciousness for this traditional picture, Sartre provides an account of self-consciousness that does not rely upon a pre-existing ego, and shows how an ego is constructed in reflection.

    c. Ethics

     

    An important feature of Sartre's phenomenological work is that his ultimate interest in carrying out phenomenological analyses is an ethical one. Through them, he opposes the view, which is for instance that of the Freudian theory of the unconscious, that there are psychological factors that are beyond the grasp of our consciousness and thus are potential excuses for certain forms of behaviour.

    Starting with Sartre's account of the ego, this is characterised by the claim that it is produced by, rather than prior to consciousness. As a result, accounts of agency cannot appeal to a pre-existing ego to explain certain forms of behaviour. Rather, conscious acts are spontaneous, and since all pre-reflective consciousness is transparent to itself, the agent is fully responsible for them (and a fortiori for his ego). In Sartre's analysis of emotions, affective consciousness is a form of pre-reflective consciousness, and is therefore spontaneous and self-conscious. Against traditional views of the emotions as involving the subject's passivity, Sartre can therefore claim that the agent is responsible for the pre-reflective transformation of his consciousness through emotion. In the case of the imaginary, the traditional view of the power of fancy to overcome rational thought is replaced by one of imaginary consciousness as a form of pre-reflective consciousness. As such, it is therefore again the result of the spontaneity of consciousness and involves self-conscious states of mind. An individual is therefore fully responsible for his imaginations's activity. In all three cases, a key factor in Sartre's account is his notion of the spontaneity of consciousness. To dispel the apparent counter-intuitiveness of the claims that emotional states and flights of imagination are active, and thus to provide an account that does justice to the phenomenology of these states, spontaneity must be clearly distinguished from a voluntary act. A voluntary act involves reflective consciousness that is connected with the will; spontaneity is a feature of pre-reflective consciousness.


    d. Existential phenomenology

     

    Is there a common thread to these specific features of Sartre's phenomenological approach? Sartre's choice of topics for phenomenological analysis suggests an interest in the phenomenology of what it is to be human, rather than in the world as such. This privileging of the human dimension has parallels with Heidegger's focus upon Dasein in tackling the question of Being. This aspect of Heidegger's work is that which can properly be called existential insofar as Dasein's way of being is essentially distinct from that of any other being. This characterisation is particularly apt for Sartre's work, in that his phenomenological analyses do not serve a deeper ontological purpose as they do for Heidegger who distanced himself from any existential labelling. Thus, in his "Letter on Humanism", Heidegger reminds us that the analysis of Dasein is only one chapter in the enquiry into the question of Being. For Heidegger, Sartre's humanism is one more metaphysical perspective which does not return to the deeper issue of the meaning of Being.

    Sartre sets up his own picture of the individual human being by first getting rid of its grounding in a stable ego. As Sartre later puts it in Existentialism is a Humanism, to be human is characterised by an existence that precedes its essence. As such, existence is problematic, and it is towards the development of a full existentialist theory of what it is to be human that Sartre's work logically evolves. In relation to what will become Being and Nothingness, Sartre's early works can be seen as providing important preparatory material for an existential account of being human. But the distinctiveness of Sartre's approach to understanding human existence is ultimately guided by his ethical interest. In particular, this accounts for his privileging of a strong notion of freedom which we shall see to be fundamentally at odds with Heidegger's analysis. Thus the nature of Sartre's topics of analysis, his theory of the ego and his ethical aims all characterise the development of an existential phenomenology. Let us now examine the central themes of this theory as they are presented in Being and Nothingness.


    3. The Ontology of Being and Nothingness

     

    Being and Nothingness can be characterized as a phenomenological investigation into the nature of what it is to be human, and thus be seen as a continuation of, and expansion upon, themes characterising the early works. In contrast with these however, an ontology is presented at the outset and guides the whole development of the investigation.

    One of the main features of this system, which Sartre presents in the introduction and the first chapter of Part One, is a distinction between two kinds of transcendence of the phenomenon of being. The first is the transcendence of being and the second that of consciousness. This means that, starting with the phenomenon (that which is our conscious experience), there are two types of reality which lie beyond it, and are thus trans-phenomenal. On the one hand, there is the being of the object of consciousness, and on the other, that of consciousness itself. These define two types of being, the in-itself and the for-itself. To bring out that which keeps them apart, involves understanding the phenomenology of nothingness. This reveals consciousness as essentially characterisable through its power of negation, a power which plays a key role in our existential condition. Let us examine these points in more detail.


    a. The being of the phenomenon and consciousness

     

    In Being and Time, Heidegger presents the phenomenon as involving both a covering and a disclosing of being. For Sartre, the phenomenon reveals, rather than conceals, reality. What is the status of this reality? Sartre considers the phenomenalist option of viewing the world as a construct based upon the series of appearances. He points out that the being of the phenomenon is not like its essence, i.e. is not something which is apprehended on the basis of this series. In this way, Sartre moves away from Husserl's conception of the essence as that which underpins the unity of the appearances of an object, to a Heideggerian notion of the being of the phenomenon as providing this grounding. Just as the being of the phenomenon transcends the phenomenon of being, consciousness also transcends it. Sartre thus establishes that if there is perceiving, there must be a consciousness doing the perceiving.

    How are these two transphenomenal forms of being related? As opposed to a conceptualising consciousness in a relation of knowledge to an object, as in Husserl and the epistemological tradition he inherits, Sartre introduces a relation of being: consciousness (in a pre-reflective form) is directly related to the being of the phenomenon. This is Sartre's version of Heidegger's ontological relation of being-in-the-world. It differs from the latter in two essential respects. First, it is not a practical relation, and thus distinct from a relation to the ready-to-hand. Rather, it is simply given by consciousness. Second, it does not lead to any further question of Being. For Sartre, all there is to being is given in the transphenomenality of existing objects, and there is no further issue of the Being of all beings as for Heidegger.

    b. Two types of being

     

    As we have seen, both consciousness and the being of the phenomenon transcend the phenomenon of being. As a result, there are two types of being which Sartre, using Hegel's terminology, calls the for-itself ('pour-soi') and the in-itself ('en-soi').

    Sartre presents the in-itself as existing without justification independently of the for-itself, and thus constituting an absolute 'plenitude'. It exists in a fully determinate and non-relational way. This fully characterizes its transcendence of the conscious experience. In contrast with the in-itself, the for-itself is mainly characterised by a lack of identity with itself. This is a consequence of the following. Consciousness is always 'of something', and therefore defined in relation to something else. It has no nature beyond this and is thus completely translucent. Insofar as the for-itself always transcends the particular conscious experience (because of the spontaneity of consciousness), any attempt to grasp it within a conscious experience is doomed to failure. Indeed, as we have already seen in the distinction between pre-reflective and reflective consciousness, a conscious grasp of the first transforms it. This means that it is not possible to identify the for-itself, since the most basic form of identification, i.e. with itself, fails. This picture is clearly one in which the problematic region of being is that of the for-itself, and that is what Being and Nothingness will focus upon. But at the same time, another important question arises. Indeed, insofar Sartre has rejected the notion of a grounding of all beings in Being, one may ask how something like a relation of being between consciousness and the world is possible. This issue translates in terms of understanding the meaning of the totality formed by the for-itself and the in-itself and its division into these two regions of being. By addressing this latter issue, Sartre finds the key concept that enables him to investigate the nature of the for-itself.


    c. Nothingness

     

    One of the most original contributions of Sartre's metaphysics lies in his analysis of the notion of nothingness and the claim that it plays a central role at the heart of being (chapter 1, Part One).

    Sartre (BN, 9-10) discusses the example of entering a cafÈ to meet Pierre and discovering his absence from his usual place. Sartre talks of this absence as 'haunting' the cafÈ. Importantly, this is not just a psychological state, because a 'nothingness' is really experienced. The nothingness in question is also not simply the result of applying a logical operator, negation, to a proposition. For it is not the same to say that there is no rhinoceros in the cafÈ, and to say that Pierre is not there. The first is a purely logical construction that reveals nothing about the world, while the second does. Sartre says it points to an objective fact. However, this objective fact is not simply given independently of human beings. Rather, it is produced by consciousness. Thus Sartre considers the phenomenon of destruction. When an earthquake brings about a landslide, it modifies the terrain. If, however, a town is thereby annihilated, the earthquake is viewed as having destroyed it. For Sartre, there is only destruction insofar as humans have identified the town as 'fragile'. This means that it is the very negation involved in characterising something as destructible which makes destruction possible. How is such a negation possible? The answer lies in the claim that the power of negation is an intrinsic feature of the intentionality of consciousness. To further identify this power of negation, let us look at Sartre's treatment of the phenomenon of questioning. When I question something, I posit the possibility of a negative reply. For Sartre, this means that I operate a nihilation of that which is given: the latter is thus 'fluctuating between being and nothingness' (BN, 23). Sartre then notes that this requires that the questioner be able to detach himself from the causal series of being. And, by nihilating the given, he detaches himself from any deterministic constraints. And Sartre says that 'the name (...) [of] this possibility which every human being has to secret a nothingness which isolates it (...) is freedom' (BN, 24-25). Our power to negate is thus the clue which reveals our nature as free. Below, we shall return to the nature of Sartre's notion of freedom.


    4. The for-itself in Being and Nothingness

     

    The structure and characteristics of the for-itself are the main focal point of the phenomenological analyses of Being and Nothingness. Here, the theme of consciousness's power of negation is explored in its different ramifications. These bring out the core claims of Sartre's existential account of the human condition.

    a. A lack of self-identity

     

    The analysis of nothingness provides the key to the phenomenological understanding of the for-itself (chapter 1, Part Two). For the negating power of consciousness is at work within the self (BN, 85). By applying the account of this negating power to the case of reflection, Sartre shows how reflective consciousness negates the pre-reflective consciousness it takes as its object. This creates an instability within the self which emerges in reflection: it is torn between being posited as a unity and being reflexively grasped as a duality. This lack of self-identity is given another twist by Sartre: it is posited as a task. That means that the unity of the self is a task for the for-itself, a task which amounts to the self's seeking to ground itself.

    This dimension of task ushers in a temporal component that is fully justified by Sartre's analysis of temporality (BN, 107). The lack of coincidence of the for-itself with itself is at the heart of what it is to be a for-itself. Indeed, the for-itself is not identical with its past nor its future. It is already no longer what it was, and it is not yet what it will be. Thus, when I make who I am the object of my reflection, I can take that which now lies in my past as my object, while I have actually moved beyond this. Sartre says that I am therefore no longer who I am. Similarly with the future: I never coincide with that which I shall be. Temporality constitutes another aspect of the way in which negation is at work within the for-itself. These temporal ecstases also map onto fundamental features of the for-itself. First, the past corresponds to the facticity of a human life that cannot choose what is already given about itself. Second, the future opens up possibilities for the freedom of the for-itself. The coordination of freedom and facticity is however generally incoherent, and thus represents another aspect of the essential instability at the heart of the for-itself.


    b. The project of bad faith

     

    The way in which the incoherence of the dichotomy of facticity and freedom is manifested, is through the project of bad faith (chapter 2, Part One). Let us first clarify Sartre's notion of project. The fact that the self-identity of the for-itself is set as a task for the for-itself, amounts to defining projects for the for-itself. Insofar as they contribute to this task, they can be seen as aspects of the individual's fundamental project. This specifies the way in which the for-itself understands itself and defines herself as this, rather than another, individual. We shall return to the issue of the fundamental project below.

    Among the different types of project, that of bad faith is of generic importance for an existential understanding of what it is to be human. This importance derives ultimately from its ethical relevance. Sartre's analysis of the project of bad faith is grounded in vivid examples. Thus Sartre describes the precise and mannered movements of a cafÈ waiter (BN, 59). In thus behaving, the waiter is identifying himself with his role as waiter in the mode of being in-itself. In other words, the waiter is discarding his real nature as for-itself, i.e. as free facticity, to adopt that of the in-itself. He is thus denying his transcendence as for-itself in favour of the kind of transcendence characterising the in-itself. In this way, the burden of his freedom, i.e. the requirement to decide for himself what to do, is lifted from his shoulders since his behaviour is as though set in stone by the definition of the role he has adopted. The mechanism involved in such a project involves an inherent contradiction. Indeed, the very identification at the heart of bad faith is only possible because the waiter is a for-itself, and can indeed choose to adopt such a project. So the freedom of the for-itself is a pre-condition for the project of bad faith which denies it. The agent's defining his being as an in-itself is the result of the way in which he represents himself to himself. This misrepresentation is however one the agent is responsible for. Ultimately, nothing is hidden, since consciousness is transparent and therefore the project of bad faith is pursued while the agent is fully aware of how things are in pre-reflective consciousness. Insofar as bad faith is self-deceit, it raises the problem of accounting for contradictory beliefs. The examples of bad faith which Sartre gives, serve to underline how this conception of self-deceit in fact involves a project based upon inadequate representations of what one is. There is therefore no need to have recourse to a notion of unconscious to explain such phenomena. They can be accounted for using the dichotomy for-itself/in-itself, as projects freely adopted by individual agents. A first consequence is that this represents an alternative to psychoanalytical accounts of self-deceit. Sartre was particularly keen to provide alternatives to Freud's theory of self-deceit, with its appeal to censorship mechanisms accounting for repression, all of which are beyond the subject's awareness as they are unconscious (BN, 54-55). The reason is that Freud's theory diminishes the agent's responsibility. On the contrary, and this is the second consequence of Sartre's account of bad faith, Sartre's theory makes the individual responsible for what is a widespread form of behaviour, one that accounts for many of the evils that Sartre sought to describe in his plays. To explain how existential psychoanalysis works requires that we first examine the notion of fundamental project (BN, 561).

    c. The fundamental project

     

    If the project of bad faith involves a misrepresentation of what it is to be a for-itself, and thus provides a powerful account of certain types of self-deceit, we have, as yet, no account of the motivation that lies behind the adoption of such a project.

    As we saw above, all projects can be viewed as parts of the fundamental project, and we shall therefore focus upon the motivation for the latter (chapter 2, Part Four). That a for-itself is defined by such a project arises as a consequence of the for-itself's setting itself self-identity as a task. This in turn is the result of the for-itself's experiencing the cleavages introduced by reflection and temporality as amounting to a lack of self-identity. Sartre describes this as defining the `desire for being~ (BN, 565). This desire is universal, and it can take on one of three forms. First, it may be aimed at a direct transformation of the for-itself into an in-itself. Second, the for-itself may affirm its freedom that distinguishes it from an in-itself, so that it seeks through this to become its own foundation (i.e. to become God). The conjunction of these two moments results, third, in the for-itself's aiming for another mode of being, the for-itself-in-itself. None of the aims described in these three moments are realisable. Moreover, the triad of these three moments is, unlike a Hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis triad, inherently instable: if the for-itself attempts to achieve one of them, it will conflict with the others. Since all human lives are characterised by such a desire (albeit in different individuated forms), Sartre has thus provided a description of the human condition which is dominated by the irrationality of particular projects. This picture is in particular illustrated in Being and Nothingness by an account of the projects of love, sadism and masochism, and in other works, by biographical accounts of the lives of Baudelaire, Flaubert and Jean Genet. With this notion of desire for being, the motivation for the fundamental project is ultimately accounted for in terms of the metaphysical nature of the for-itself. This means that the source of motivation for the fundamental project lies within consciousness. Thus, in particular, bad faith, as a type of project, is motivated in this way. The individual choice of fundamental project is an original choice (BN, 564). Consequently, an understanding of what it is to be Flaubert for instance, must involve an attempt to decipher his original choice. This hermeneutic exercise aims to reveal what makes an individual a unity. This provides existential psychoanalysis with its principle. Its method involves an analysis of all the empirical behaviour of the subject, aimed at grasping the nature of this unity.

    d. Desire

     

    The fundamental project has been presented as motivated by a desire for being. How does this enable Sartre to provide an account of desires as in fact directed towards being although they are generally thought to be rather aimed at having? Sartre discusses desire in chapter I of Part One and then again in chapter II of Part Four, after presenting the notion of fundamental project.

    In the first short discussion of desire, Sartre presents it as seeking a coincidence with itself that is not possible (BN, 87, 203). Thus, in thirst, there is a lack that seeks to be satisfied. But the satisfaction of thirst is not the suppression of thirst, but rather the aim of a plenitude of being in which desire and satisfaction are united in an impossible synthesis. As Sartre points out, humans cling on to their desires. Mere satisfaction through suppression of the desire is indeed always disappointing. Another example of this structure of desire (BN, 379) is that of love. For Sartre, the lover seeks to possess the loved one and thus integrate her into his being: this is the satisfaction of desire. He simultaneously wishes the loved one nevertheless remain beyond his being as the other he desires, i.e. he wishes to remain in the state of desiring. These are incompatible aspects of desire: the being of desire is therefore incompatible with its satisfaction. In the lengthier discussion on the topic 'Being and Having', Sartre differentiates between three relations to an object that can be projected in desiring. These are being, doing and having. Sartre argues that relations of desire aimed at doing are reducible to one of the other two types. His examination of these two types can be summarised as follows. Desiring expressed in terms of being is aimed at the self. And desiring expressed in terms of having is aimed at possession. But an object is possessed insofar as it is related to me by an internal ontological bond, Sartre argues. Through that bond, the object is represented as my creation. The possessed object is represented both as part of me and as my creation. With respect to this object, I am therefore viewed both as an in-itself and as endowed with freedom. The object is thus a symbol of the subject's being, which presents it in a way that conforms with the aims of the fundamental project. Sartre can therefore subsume the case of desiring to have under that of desiring to be, and we are thus left with a single type of desire, that for being.

    5. Relations with others in Being and Nothingness

     

    So far, we have presented the analysis of the for-itself without investigating how different individual for-itself's interact. Far from neglecting the issue of inter-subjectivity, this represents an important part of Sartre's phenomenological analysis in which the main themes discussed above receive their confirmation in, and extension to the inter-personal realm.


    a. The problem of other minds

     

    In chapter 1, Part Three, Sartre recognises there is a problem of other minds: how I can be conscious of the other (BN 221-222)? Sartre examines many existing approaches to the problem of other minds. Looking at realism, Sartre claims that no access to other minds is ever possible, and that for a realist approach the existence of the other is a mere hypothesis. As for idealism, it can only ever view the other in terms of sets of appearances. But the transphenomenality of the other cannot be deduced from them.

    Sartre also looks at his phenomenologist predecessors, Husserl and Heidegger. Husserl's account is based upon the perception of another body from which, by analogy, I can consider the other as a distinct conscious perspective upon the world. But the attempt to derive the other's subjectivity from my own never really leaves the orbit of my own transcendental ego, and thus fails to come to terms with the other as a distinct transcendental ego. Sartre praises Heidegger for understanding that the relation to the other is a relation of being, not an epistemological one. However, Heidegger does not provide any grounds for taking the co-existence of Daseins ('being-with') as an ontological structure. What is, for Sartre, the nature of my consciousness of the other? Sartre provides a phenomenological analysis of shame and how the other features in it. When I peep through the keyhole, I am completely absorbed in what I am doing and my ego does not feature as part of this pre-reflective state. However, when I hear a floorboard creaking behind me, I become aware of myself as an object of the other's look. My ego appears on the scene of this reflective consciousness, but it is as an object for the other. Note that one may be empirically in error about the presence of this other. But all that is required by Sartre's thesis is that there be other human beings. This objectification of my ego is only possible if the other is given as a subject. For Sartre, this establishes what needed to be proven: since other minds are required to account for conscious states such as those of shame, this establishes their existence a priori. This does not refute the skeptic, but provides Sartre with a place for the other as an a priori condition for certain forms of consciousness which reveal a relation of being to the other.

    b. Human relationships

     

    In the experience of shame (BN, 259), the objectification of my ego denies my existence as a subject. I do, however, have a way of evading this. This is through an objectification of the other. By reacting against the look of the other, I can turn him into an object for my look. But this is no stable relation. In chapter 1, Part Three, of Being and Nothingness, Sartre sees important implications of this movement from object to subject and vice-versa, insofar as it is through distinguishing oneself from the other that a for-itself individuates itself. More precisely, the objectification of the other corresponds to an affirmation of my self by distinguishing myself from the other. This affirmation is however a failure, because through it, I deny the other's selfhood and therefore deny that with respect to which I want to affirm myself. So, the dependence upon the other which characterises the individuation of a particular ego is simultaneously denied. The resulting instability is characteristic of the typically conflictual state of our relations with others. Sartre examines examples of such relationships as are involved in sadism, masochism and love. Ultimately, Sartre would argue that the instabilities that arise in human relationships are a form of inter-subjective bad faith.

    6. Authenticity

     

    If the picture which emerges from Sartre's examination of human relationships seems rather hopeless, it is because bad faith is omnipresent and inescapable. In fact, Sartre's philosophy has a very positive message which is that we have infinite freedom and that this enables us to make authentic choices which escape from the grip of bad faith. To understand Sartre's notion of authenticity therefore requires that we first clarify his notion of freedom.

    a. Freedom

     

    For Sartre (chapter 1, Part Four), each agent is endowed with unlimited freedom. This statement may seem puzzling given the obvious limitations on every individual's freedom of choice. Clearly, physical and social constraints cannot be overlooked in the way in which we make choices. This is however a fact which Sartre accepts insofar as the for-itself is facticity. And this does not lead to any contradiction insofar as freedom is not defined by an ability to act. Freedom is rather to be understood as characteristic of the nature of consciousness, i.e. as spontaneity. But there is more to freedom. For all that Pierre's freedom is expressed in opting either for looking after his ailing grandmother or joining the French Resistance, choices for which there are indeed no existing grounds, the decision to opt for either of these courses of action is a meaningful one. That is, opting for the one of the other is not just a spontaneous decision, but has consequences for the for-itself. To express this, Sartre presents his notion of freedom as amounting to making choices, and indeed not being able to avoid making choices.

    Sartre's conception of choice can best be understood by reference to an individual's original choice, as we saw above. Sartre views the whole life of an individual as expressing an original project that unfolds throughout time. This is not a project which the individual has proper knowledge of, but rather one which she may interpret (an interpretation constantly open to revision). Specific choices are therefore always components in time of this time-spanning original choice of project.

    b. Authenticity

     

    With this notion of freedom as spontaneous choice, Sartre therefore has the elements required to define what it is to be an authentic human being. This consists in choosing in a way which reflects the nature of the for-itself as both transcendence and facticity. This notion of authenticity appears closely related to Heidegger's, since it involves a mode of being that exhibits a recognition that one is a Dasein. However, unlike Heidegger's, Sartre's conception has clear practical consequences.

    For what is required of an authentic choice is that it involve a proper coordination of transcendence and facticity, and thus that it avoid the pitfalls of an uncoordinated expression of the desire for being. This amounts to not-grasping oneself as freedom and facticity. Such a lack of proper coordination between transcendence and facticity constitutes bad faith, either at an individual or an inter-personal level. Such a notion of authenticity is therefore quite different from what is often popularly misrepresented as a typically existentialist attitude, namely an absolute prioritisation of individual spontaneity. On the contrary, a recognition of how our freedom interacts with our facticity exhibits the responsibility which we have to make proper choices. These are choices which are not trapped in bad faith.


    c. An ethical dimension

     

    Through the practical consequences presented above, an existentialist ethics can be discerned. We pointed out that random expressions of one's spontaneity are not what authenticity is about, and Sartre emphasises this point in Existentialism and Humanism. There, he explicitly states that there is an ethical normativity about authenticity. If one ought to act authentically, is there any way of further specifying what this means for the nature of ethical choices? There are in fact many statements in Being and Nothingness which emphasise a universality criterion not entirely dissimilar from Kant's. This should come as no surprise since both Sartre and Kant's approaches are based upon the ultimate value of a strong notion of freedom. As Sartre points out, by choosing, an individual commits not only himself, but the whole of humanity (BN, 553). Although there are no a priori values for Sartre, the agent's choice creates values in the same way as the artist does in the aesthetic realm. The values thus created by a proper exercise of my freedom have a universal dimension, in that any other human being could make sense of them were he to be placed in my situation. There is therefore a universality that is expressed in particular forms in each authentic project. This is a first manifestation of what Sartre later refers to as the 'singular universal'.


    7. Other contributions to existential phenomenology

     

    If Being and Nothingness represents the culmination of Sartre's purely existentialist work, existentialism permeates later writings, albeit in a hybrid form. We shall briefly indicate how these later writings extend and transform his project of existential phenomenology.


    a. Critique of Dialectical Reason

     

    The experience of the war and the encounter with Merleau-Ponty contributed to awakening Sartre's interest in the political dimension of human existence: Sartre thus further developed his existentialist understanding of human beings in a way which is compatible with Marxism. A key notion for this phase of his philosophical development is the concept of praxis. This extends and transforms that of project: man as a praxis is both something that produces and is produced. Social structures define a starting point for each individual. But the individual then sets his own aims and thereby goes beyond and negates what society had defined him as. The range of possibilities which are available for this expression of freedom is however dependent upon the existing social structures. And it may be the case that this range is very limited. In this way, the infinite freedom of the earlier philosophy is now narrowed down by the constraints of the political and historical situation.

    In Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre analyses different dimensions of the praxis. In the first volume, a theory of "practical ensembles" examines the way in which a praxis is no longer opposed to an in-itself, but to institutions which have become rigidified and constitute what Sartre calls the 'practico-inert'. Human beings interiorise the universal features of the situation in which they are born, and this translates in terms of a particular way of developing as a praxis. This is the sense Sartre now gives to the notion of the 'singular universal'.

    b. The Problem of Method

     

    In this book Sartre redefines the focus of existentialism as the individual understood as belonging to a certain social situation, but not totally determined by it. For the individual is always going beyond what is given, with his own aims and projects. In this way, Sartre develops a 'regressive-progressive method' that views individual development as explained in terms of a movement from the universal expressed in historical development, and the particular expressed in individual projects. Thus, by combining a Marxist understanding of history with the methods of existential psychoanalysis which are first presented in Being and Nothingness, Sartre proposes a method for understanding a human life. This, he applies in particular to the case of an analysis of Flaubert. It is worth noting however that developing an account of the intelligibility of history, is a project that Sartre tackled in the second volume of the Critique of Dialectical Reason, but which remained unfinished.

    8. Conclusion

     

    Sartre's existentialist understanding of what it is to be human can be summarised in his view that the underlying motivation for action is to be found in the nature of consciousness which is a desire for being. It is up to each agent to exercise his freedom in such a way that he does not lose sight of his existence as a facticity, as well as a free human being. In so doing, he will come to understand more about the original choice which his whole life represents, and thus about the values that are thereby projected. Such an understanding is only obtained through living this particular life and avoiding the pitfalls of strategies of self-deceit such as bad faith. This authentic option for human life represents the realisation of a universal in the singularity of a human life.


    9. References


    a. Sartre's works

     

    "Intentionality: a fundamental ideal of Husserl's phenomenology" (1970) transl. J.P.Fell, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 1 (2), 4-5

    Psychology of the Imagination (1972) transl. Bernard Frechtman, Methuen, London Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions (1971) transl. Philip Mairet, Methuen, London The Transcendence of the Ego: An Existentialist Theory of Consciousness (1957) transl. and ed. Forrest Williams and Robert Kirkpatrick, Noonday, New York Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (1958) transl. Hazel E. Barnes, intr. Mary Warnock, Methuen, London (abbreviated as BN above) Existentialism and Humanism (1973) transl. Philip Mairet, Methuen, London Critique of Dialectical Reason 1: Theory of Practical Ensembles (1982) transl. Alan Sheridan-Smith, ed. Jonathan RÈe, Verso, London The Problem of Method (1964) transl. Hazel E. Barnes, Methuen, London


    b. Commentaries

     

    Caws, P. (1979) Sartre, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London

    Danto, A.C. (1991) Sartre, Fontana, London Howells, C. (1988) Sartre: The necessity of freedom, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Howells, C. ed. (1992) Cambridge Companion to Sartre, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Murdoch, I. (1987) Sartre : Romantic Rationalist, Chatto and Windus, London Natanson, M. (1972) A Critique of Jean-Paul Sartre's Ontology, Haskell House Publishers, New York Schilpp, P.A. ed. (1981) The philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, Open Court, La Salle Silverman, H.J. and Elliston, F.A. eds. (1980) Jean-Paul Sartre: Contemporary Approaches to his Philosophy, Harvester Press, Brighton

Biography - Storm Heter - sheter@po-box.esu.edu - East Stroudsburg University

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), the best known European public intellectual of the twentieth century, developed a highly original political philosophy, influenced in part by the work of Hegel and Marx. Although he wrote little on ethics or politics prior to W.W. II, political themes dominated his writings from 1945 onwards. Sartre co-founded the journal Les Temps Modernes, which would publish many seminal essays on political theory and world affairs. The most famous example is Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew, a blistering criticism of French complicity in the Holocaust which also put forth the general thesis that oppression is a distortion of interpersonal recognition. In the 1950’s Sartre moved towards Marxism and eventually released Critique of Dialectical Reason, Vol. 1 (1960), a massive, systematic account of history and group struggle. In addition to presenting a new critical theory of society based on a synthesis of psychology and sociology, Critique qualified Sartre’s earlier, more radical view of existential freedom. His last systematic work, The Family Idiot (1971), would express his final and most nuanced views on the relation between individuals and social wholes.

Sartre’s pioneering combination of Existentialism and Marxism yielded a political philosophy uniquely sensitive to the tension between individual freedom and the forces of history. As a Marxist he believed that societies were best understood as arenas of struggle between powerful and powerless groups. But as an Existentialist he held individuals personally responsible for vast and apparently authorless social ills. The chief existential virtue—authenticity—would require a person to lucidly examine his or her social situation and accept personal culpability for the choices made in this situation. Unlike competing versions of Marxism, Sartre’s Existentialist-Marxism was based on a striking theory of individual agency and moral responsibility.

In addition to class analysis Sartre offered critiques of anti-Semitism, racism, violence and colonialism. His theoretical account of oppression re-worked Hegel’s master/slave dialectic, arguing that oppression is a concrete, historical instance of mastery. To oppress another is to attempt to validate one’s sense of self by denying the freedom of another. The self-contradictory nature of oppression led him to the optimistic conclusion that oppression is not an inevitable, ontological condition, but a historical reality that should be contested, through both self-assertion and collective action. As a social-political thinker, Sartre defended a large number of innovative methodological and substantive theses. He steered a middle path between reductive individualism and ontological holism. He answered the perennial question “What defines a social group?” with an ingenious re-working of Hegelian recognition. His account of the fusion and disillusion of social groups remains unique to this day. Both broad and original, Sartre’s social-political theory is one of the great contributions to twentieth century philosophy.

Table of Contents

    1. Texts
    2. Hegelian-Marxism
    3. Freedom
    4. Oppression
    5. Engagement
    6. Ideal Society
    7. Conclusion
    8. References and Further Reading

1. Texts

Sartre’s prolific writings span multiple genres and have variously been divided into two or three major phases (early and late; or early, middle and late). Sartre’s political writings began in earnest after World War II. In prewar works like Nausea (La Nausée, 1938) and Being and Nothingness (L’Etre et le Néant, 1943) Sartre wrote almost exclusively about individual psychology, imagination and consciousness. Sartre’s primary goal in these works was to discredit determinism and defend the creativity, contingency and freedom of human action. While Sartre’s prewar works are apolitical and inward, his postwar works are politically engaged and historical. The political shift in Sartre’s thinking is reflected by his adoption of the term “praxis” rather than “consciousness” as the active term in his analysis. Turning away from pure psychology, Sartre’s central concerns in the postwar period become group struggle, oppression and the nature of history.

The main theoretical texts of Sartre’s post-war period are Critique of Dialectical Reason (Critique de la raison dialectique Vol.1, 1960, and Vol. 2, 1985) and The Family Idiot (L’Idiot de la famille, 1971). In addition to these theoretical tomes (both over 1,000 pages), Sartre wrote a large number of political essays, most of which were first published in Modern Times (Les Temps modernes), the journal founded by Sartre and others in 1945. The significant essays have been collected in a ten volume set by Gallimard entitled Situations. Of the four novels and nine major plays Sartre published, many have political content.

While writing frequently and passionately about politics and ethics, Sartre never published a systematic philosophical treatise outlining his political or ethical views. There is no Sartrean equivalent to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Rousseau’s On the Social Contract, or Mill’s On Liberty. His political philosophy emerges from his situational pieces, which were reactions to contemporary political issues, such as the Algerian and Vietnam Wars, French Anti-Semitism and Soviet communism. Critique of Dialectical Reason is the major work of Sartre’s political phase, and is the closest approximation to a work of traditional political philosophy in his corpus. The main themes of Critique include the nature of social groups, history, and dialectical reason. Critique only briefly addresses the canonical themes of political philosophy, such as the theory of the state, political obligation, citizenship, justice and rights.

2. Hegelian-Marxism

Sartre’s contributions to political philosophy are best understood from within the historical context of Hegelianism and Marxism. His political views were influenced heavily by Hegel. In Being and Nothingness he shows some familiarity with the work of Hegel, but this knowledge was indirect and piecemeal. Sartre did not begin a serious study of Hegel until the late 1940s. Between 1947 and 1948 he composed a series of notebooks outlining his plans for a major work in ethical theory. The surviving notebooks, published posthumously as Notebooks for an Ethics (Cahiers pour une morale, 1982), reveal that he developed his own political views through a dialogue with Hegel and Marx. Above all, Sartre was concerned to rethink the master/slave dialectic of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. In Being and Nothingness he agreed with Hegel that humans struggle against one another to win recognition, but rejected the possibility of transcending struggle through relations of reciprocal, mutual recognition. Sartre thought that all human relations were variations of the master/slave relation (see Being and Nothingness,pp. 471-534). However, in the Notebooks, and in the works published beginning in the late 1940s, he dramatically altered his thinking on master/slave relations. First, he accepted the possibility that struggle could be transcended through mutual, reciprocal recognition. His best example was the collaboration between artists and their audience. Second, he located the struggle for recognition in society and history, not in ontology. Third, Sartre’s historical view of the struggle for recognition allowed him to analyze oppression as a type of domination. Finally, he came to agree that social solidarity was not, as claimed in Being and Nothingness, a mere psychological projection, but an ontological reality, based on ties of recognition. In short, Sartre’s main contributions in social and political philosophy were in large part due to his original adaptation and expansion on the Hegelian ideal of intersubjective recognition.

Some scholars contend that Sartre’s normative ethical assumptions (including, by extension, his political views) were derived from Kant. It is true that his best known work, “Existentialism is a Humanism” (“L’Existentialisme est un humanisme,” 1945), presented a universalization argument similar to Kant’s categorical imperative. However, the majority of his works speak critically of Kant. The influence of Hegel vastly outweighs that of Kant. In the autobiographical film Sartre by Himself (Sartre par lui-même, 1976), Sartre admits a deep dissatisfaction with the popularity of Existentialism is a Humanism, a short lecture that was subsequently turned into a widely-distributed essay. In Notebooks, where Sartre reflects on ethics for an extended period, he rejects Kantian ethics, calling it a form of “slave morality” and an “ethics of demands” (pp. 237-274). While he speaks favorably of a “kingdom of ends,” this phrase refers to a socialist society, not a community governed by Kant’s categorical imperative.

Marx’s influence on Sartre is undeniable. While he identified with the French Left prior to the war, experiences during the war politicized him and motivated the turn to Marxism. Sartre’s Marxism was always accompanied by his existentialism. Overwhelmingly devoted to ontological and phenomenological explanations, he would powerfully describe social reality using Marxist structural analysis. The result was a highly original political theory that, while recognizably Marxist, did not resemble the work of structuralist contemporaries such as Louis Althusser. Sartre described himself as rescuing Marxism from lazy dogmatism (Search for a Method, pp. 21 and 27). Like his contemporaries in Germany at the Frankfurt School for Social Research, he sought to develop a general critical theory of society. While accepting the reality of economic class, he strongly criticized those who reduced all social conflicts and all personal motivations to class. In his political period, Sartre deepened his psychological explanations of human behavior by contextualizing individual action within wide social structures (class, family, nation, and so on). He held that economic class was only one of many important structural factors that explained human action. Vehemently criticizing all forms of social scientific reductionism, he claimed that the human situation includes birth, death, family, nationality, gender, race and body, to name only the most relevant (Anti-Semite and Jew, pp. 59-60). Like later analytic Marxists, he would claim that “objective interests” are insufficient to explain the intentions of individual agents. Class analysis must be combined with personal history.

The massive Critique of Dialectical Reason is Sartre’s defense of the unity of Existentialism and Marxism. He showed that functionalist explanations of social phenomena could be grounded in the intentional states of individual agents. Search for a Method (Question de méthode, 1967), the preface to the French Critique, formulates the “progressive-regressive” method, which melds psychological and sociological explanations of human action. The two major components of the method are a regressive analysis of static social structures such as class, family and era, and a second progressive analysis where complex permutations of structures are explained from the lived perspective of individuals and groups. In his existential biographies, such as those on G. Flaubert, S. Mallarmé, and J. Genet, Sartre applies the progressive-regressive method, arguing that individuals “incarnate” (internalize and express) the major social events, movements and values of their era. His view should not be confused with deterministic Marxism, which holds that individuals are mere pawns in a historical game that would be the same with or without them. Individuals have the power to change history, especially through group struggle.

In addition to its methodological contributions, Critique offers a broad account of history, social groups and mass phenomenon. Sartre’s dialectical theory of society, written in the spirit of Hegel and Marx, holds that group struggle is the animating principle of human history. Pace Hegel, Sartre rejects group minds, arguing that there is a basic ontological distinction between the action of persons (individual praxis) and the action of groups (group praxis) (Critique, pp. 345-8). While groups exhibit collective intentionality, no group is a literal organism. Individuals are ontologically prior to the groups they create. Sartre would label his unique approach to social reality “dialectical nominalism” (Critique, p. 37).

In Critique, social groups are divided into four main types: fusing groups, pledge groups, organizations, and institutions (see “Book II: From Groups to History”). Distinct from genuine groups, social “collectives” are semi-unified gatherings of individuals where collective action and mutual recognition are absent (Critique, p. 254). Under Sartre’s pen these distinctions come to life. His analysis of the Bastille is a case in point. Rioting citizens were transformed from a disorganized collective into a group by internalizing the perspective of government officials who thought the rioters were a coherent movement with a single aim (Critique, pp. 351-5). Throughout Critique Sartre develops his foundational claim that social groups are unified when they internalize threatening features of their environment. A “fraternity-terror” dynamic (Critique, p. 430) exists not only in spontaneous groups, but also in oath-based groups and highly bureaucratic institutions.

The social theory of Critique is a far cry from Being and Nothingness, which had asserted that social groups were mere psychological projections (Being and Nothingness, p.536). Critique introduces a new technical concept, that of “mediating third parties,” to explain the nature of groups above and beyond I-thou relations (pp. 100-9). Mediating third parties are members of groups who temporarily act as external threats (for example, when giving orders) but who subsequently re-enter the group (Critique, p.373). The concept of the mediating third party allows Sartre to extend his theory of interpersonal recognition beyond the fictionalized, abstract encounter between self and other, and better explain the fundamentals of group solidarity.

The direct political implications of Critique’s group theory are ambiguous. One popular, plausible interpretation holds that spontaneous groups (for example, fusing and pledge groups) promote human freedom, while bureaucratic groups (such as organizations and institutions) engender alienation. Characteristically, Sartre uses moral terminology to describe groups, but subsequently distances himself from moral conclusions. Institutions, for example, are “degraded forms of community” where “freedom . . . becomes alienated and hidden from its own eyes.” (Critique, pp. 615 and 591). Nonetheless, any politics consistent with Critique would have to favor spontaneous, decentralized social groups.

The concept of alienation also plays an important role in Sartre’s thinking. In Notebooks he defines alienation as being an “other” to oneself (p. 382). In Critique he uses the terms “serialized” and “atomized” to describe persons who are alienated from one another. Unlike Being and Nothingness, where alienation is depicted as an unavoidable ontological condition, in the later political works alienation is rooted in material scarcity. If material scarcity can be eliminated, then we might enjoy “a margin of real freedom, beyond the production of life” (Search for a Method, p. 34).

For most of his life, Sartre remained at a distance from party politics and articulated his political principles without reference to any existing parties. In 1948, however, he co-founded a short-lived non-Communist leftist party, the Rassemblement Démocratique Révolutionnaire. From 1952 to 1956 Sartre supported but did not join the French Communist Party. Later he became disillusioned by the soviet invasion of Hungary and distanced his vision of socialism from Soviet-style communism. In the last years of his life, Sartre associated himself with Maoist groups and took as a personal secretary the young Jewish-Egyptian Maoist Benny Lévy.

On the whole, Sartre’s contributions to Hegelian-Marxism are substantial. He forcefully argued against deterministic, structuralist versions of Marxism, inserting human subjectivity back into the equation. With a keen eye towards interpersonal relations, he showed that social struggle, whether among classes, races or interest groups, must be understood simultaneously at the psychological and the systemic level. Sartre, more than any Marxist of his generation, exposed the limits of classical Marxism and paved the way for a general critical theory of society.

3. Freedom

The concept of freedom, central to Sartre’s system as a whole, is a dominant theme in his political works. Sartre’s view of freedom changed substantially throughout his lifetime. Scholars disagree whether there is a fundamental continuity or a radical break between Sartre’s early view of freedom and his late view of freedom. There is a strong consensus, though, that after World War II Sartre shifted to a material view of freedom, in contrast to the ontological view of his early period. According to the arguments of Being and Nothingness human freedom consists in the ability of consciousness to transcend its material situation (p. 563). Later, especially in Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre shifts to the view that humans are only free if their basic needs as practical organisms are met (p. 327). Let us look at these two different notions of freedom in more depth.

Early Sartre views freedom as synonymous with human consciousness. Consciousness (“being-for-itself”) is marked by its non-coincidence with itself. In simple terms, consciousness escapes itself both because it is intentional (consciousness always targets an object other than itself) and temporal (consciousness is necessarily future oriented) (Being and Nothingness, pp. 573-4 and 568). Sartre’s view that human freedom consists in consciousness’ ability to escape the present is “ontological” in the sense that no normal human being can fail to be free. The subtitle of Being and Nothingness, “An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology,” reveals Sartre’s aim of describing the fundamental structures of human existence and answering the question “What does it mean to be human?” His answer is that humans, unlike inert matter, are conscious and therefore free.

The notion of ontological freedom is controversial and has often been rejected because it implies that humans are free in all situations. In his early work Sartre embraced this implication unflinchingly. Famously, Sartre claimed the French public was as free as ever during the Nazi occupation. In Being and Nothingness, he passionately argued that even prisoners are free because they have the power of consciousness (p. 622). A prisoner, though coerced, can choose how to react to his imprisonment. The prisoner is free because he controls his reaction to imprisonment: he may resist or acquiesce. Since there are no objective barriers to the will, the prison bars restrain me only if I form the will to escape. In a similar example, Sartre notes that a mountain is only a barrier if the individual wants to get on the other side but cannot (Being and Nothingness, p. 628).

Sartre’s ontological notion of freedom has been widely criticized, from both political and ontological standpoints. An important contemporary critic of Sartre’s work was his colleague Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose essay “Sartre and Ultrabolshevism” directly attacked Sartre’s Cartesianism and his ontological conception of freedom (Merleau-Ponty, Adventures of the Dialectic, 1955).

While Sartre never renounced the ontological view of freedom, in later works he became critical of what he then called the “stoical” and “Cartesian” view that freedom consists in the ability to change one’s attitude no matter what the situation (Notebooks, pp. 331 and 387; Critique, pp. 332 and 578 fn). It is an open question whether and how to reconcile the early, ontological conception of freedom with the late, material conception of freedom. However, it is undeniable that in his political phase Sartre adopted a new, material view of freedom. Several points stand out in particular. In later works he never again used the notion of consciousness to characterize human existence, preferring instead the Marxist notion of praxis. Further, he came to emphasize the “situation” (i.e. structural influences) in explaining individual choice and psychology (Anti-Semite and Jew, pp. 59-60). Finally, he criticized all “inward” notions of freedom, claiming that a change of attitude is insufficient for real freedom.

Sartre’s shift to a material conception of freedom was motivated directly by the holocaust and World War II. Anti-Semite and Jew (Réflexions sur la question juive, 1946), published just after the war, was the first of many works analyzing moral responsibility for oppression. The fact that Sartre’s view in Being and Nothingness seemed to leave little room for diagnosing oppression did not stop him from articulating a forceful normative critique of Anti-Semitism. His analysis of oppression would, in fact, use the same dialectical tools as those in the section on “concrete relations with others” in Being and Nothingness. Anti-Semite and Jew argues that oppression is a master/slave relationship, where the master denies the freedom of the slave and yet becomes dependent on the slave (pp. 27, 39 and 135). Sartre modified his notion of “the look” by arguing that only some, not all, interpersonal relations result in alienation and loss of freedom.

Sartre’s new appreciation of oppression as a concrete loss of human freedom forced him to alter his view that humans are free in any situation. He did not explicitly discuss such alterations, though clearly abandoning the view that humans are free in all situations. “[I]t is important not to conclude that one can be free in chains,” and “It would be quite wrong to interpret me as saying that man is free in all situations as the Stoics claimed” (Critique, pp. 578 and 332). Sartre’s basic assumption in his political writings is that oppression is a loss of freedom (Critique, p. 332). Since humans can never lose their ontological freedom, the loss of freedom in question must be of a different sort: oppression must compromise material freedom.

Take the case of the prisoner. The prisoner is ontologically free because she controls whether to attempt escape. On this view, freedom is synonymous with choice. But there is no qualitative distinction between types of choices. If freedom is the existence of choice, then even a bad choice is freedom promoting. As he will put it later, an attacker who gives me the choice of “what sauce to be eaten in” could hardly be said to meaningfully promote my freedom (Notebooks, p. 331). The early view is subject to the charge that if there are no qualitative distinctions between types of choices, then the phenomena of oppression and coercion cannot be recognized.

In Anti-Semite and Jew and Notebooks Sartre implicitly addresses the above criticism, arguing that oppression consists not in the absence of choice, but in being forced to choose between bad, inhumane options (Notebooks, pp. 334-5). Jews in anti-Semitic societies, for example, are forced to choose between self-effacement or caricatured self-identities (Anti-Semite and Jew, pp. 135 and 148). In Critique Sartre uses the example of a labor contract to illustrate the claim that choice is not synonymous with freedom (Critique, pp. 721-2). An impoverished person who accepts a degrading, low wage job for the sake of meeting her basic needs has a choice—she may starve or accept a degrading job—but her choice is inhumane. He does not claim that diffuse social structures like poverty have the literal agency of individual human beings, but that class structure is a “destiny” and we can speak cogently of social forces which exert causality and turn us into “slaves” (Critique, p. 332).

In the political period as a whole Sartre developed his material view of freedom by contrasting the free person with the slave. Though his notion of slavery is derived from Hegel, Sartre, unlike Hegel, diagnosed literal cases like American chattel slavery. Sartre follows Hegel in portraying slavery as a form of “non-mutual recognition” where one person dominates the other psychologically and physically. A slave, he argues, is un-free because he is dominated by a master (Notebooks pp. 325-411). Material freedom requires, therefore, non-domination, or freedom from coercion. He adds that in master/slave relations, the self-conception of the victim and perpetrator are intertwined and distorted; both parties are in “bad faith”; both fail to fully understand their own freedom. Though both perpetrator and victim are in bad faith, only the slave is coerced physically (Notebooks, p. 331).

Sartre’s view of material freedom is independent of any notion of human nature. He consistently rejects the existence of a pre-social human essence or a set of natural human desires (“Existentialism is a Humanism”; Anti-Semite and Jew, p. 49; Search for a Method, pp. 167-181). The material view of freedom assumes a thin set of universal human goods, including positive human goods (food, water, shelter and education) and negative goods (freedom from all of the following: slavery, poverty, discrimination, domination and persecution). While Critique elaborates an economic understanding of human goods (the essential needs are those of the physical organism), elsewhere Sartre defends a wider spectrum of human needs including cultural goods and access to shared values (Notebooks pp. 329-331). In sum, we can say that a person is materially free in Sartre’s sense if (a) she enjoys basic material security; (b) she is un-coerced; and (c) she has access to cultural and social goods necessary for pursuing her chosen projects.

The foregoing definition casts Sartre as an ally of political liberalism, and suggests that material freedom is a version of liberal autonomy. Liberals who defend the primacy of autonomy typically claim that positive notions of freedom assume substantive, controversial conceptions of the good life. Indeed, Sartre’s rejection of human nature and his thin conception of universal human goods are consistent with liberalism. However, Sartre criticizes classical liberalism, especially in Critique, arguing against asocial, atomistic notions of selfhood (p. 311). Further, like civic republican philosophers (such as Aristotle and Rousseau), Sartre contends that controlling the social forces to which one is subject is a valuable type of human freedom. Republican philosophers variously call such freedom “self-government” or “non-domination.” Whether Sartre’s view of freedom is a better fit with contemporary liberalism or civic republicanism is a matter of speculation. Sartre’s discussion of freedom in Critique is highly abstract and does not translate simply into one public policy or another. However, his preference for mass movements and bottom-up social organization suggest that he would favor radical participatory democracy. After the student revolts of May 1968 Sartre told an interviewer: “For me the movement in May was the first large-scale social movement which temporarily brought about something akin to freedom and which then tried to conceive of what freedom in action is” (Life/Situations, p. 52).

4. Oppression

The analysis of oppression is one of Sartre’s most original contributions to political philosophy. Adapting the master/slave dialectic of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Sartre developed a general theory of oppression that yielded moral critiques of anti-Semitism, colonialism, class bigotry and anti-black racism.

Consistent with his general methodology, Sartre denied that oppression reduces to either individual attitudes or impersonal social structures. Oppression is simultaneously “praxis” (the result of intentional acts) and “process” (a supra-individual phenomenon, irreducible to intentional states of individuals) (Critique,pp. 716-735). Oppression is defined by Sartre as the “exploitation of man by man . . . characterized by the fact that one class deprives the members of another class of their freedom” (Notebooks, p. 562). On the interpersonal level, oppression is a master/slave relationship; the oppressor tries to gain a robust sense of selfhood by dominating others. Sartre, like Hegel, showed that domination is a self-defeating practical attitude. The dominator tries to force others to recognize him as superior; but ironically, the dominator receives little confirmation of his superiority as he has ruled out in advance the weight of others’ judgments (Anti-Semite and Jew, p. 27; see also Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity, 1947, especially pp. 60-63). Sartre’s analysis works particularly well at diagnosing attitudes of racial superiority. An anti-Semite bases his self-image on the fact that he is not-a-Jew, but in so doing, he becomes depended upon the Jewish other from whom he claims total independence. Ultimately, the racist receives no satisfaction from domination because he solicits recognition from someone he denigrates.

The concept of bad faith also plays an important role in Sartre’s analysis of oppression. Bad faith is an original notion developed by Sartre, first in Being and Nothingness, and subsequently in Anti-Semite and Jew, Saint Genet and Situations. Despite his quip that bad faith does not imply moral blame, Sartre’s discussions of bad faith are heavily moralistic. Bad faith is a deep confusion about one’s own basic projects, attitudes, desires and actions. Bad faith is self-deception (See Being and Nothingness, pp. 86-119). And just as freedom is the chief value of existentialism, bad faith—misrecognizing one’s freedom—is the chief existential vice. In particular, racists are in bad faith if they believe humans have racial “essences” or “natures” (Anti-Semite and Jew, pp. 17, 20, 27 and 53). Race, Sartre claims, is socially constructed. The biological view of race, which says there are innate racial character traits, causes a host of distortions and misinterpretations of human action. Most fundamentally, the appeal to essences causes us to abdicate responsibility and blame our freely chosen actions on fictitious inner drives and motives. In Notebooks Sartre expanded his analysis of racist bad faith by arguing that all oppression, not just racist oppression, requires bad faith: “One oppresses only if one oppresses himself” (Notebooks, p.325).

Controversially, Sartre claimed that both perpetrators and victims of oppression exhibit bad faith. In Anti-Semite and Jew Sartre distinguished “authentic” from “non-authentic” Jews, arguing that inauthentic Jews (those who either ignore racism or internalize negative stereotypes) are in bad faith (pp. 44, 93, 96, 109 and 136). Existential authenticity, the ethical virtue that opposes bad faith, does not amount to embracing one’s biology or heritage. Rather, authenticity consists in properly affirming one’s own freedom through clarified reflection and responsible action. In Anti-Semite and Jew Sartre defines authenticity as follows:

If it is agreed that man may be defined as a being having freedom within the limits of a situation, then it is easy to see that the exercise of this freedom may be considered as authentic or inauthentic according to the choices made in the situation. Authenticity, it is almost needless to say, consists in 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. (p. 90)

While Sartre emphasized the lonely, individualistic aspect of affirming one’s freedom, (especially in early fiction like The Flies [Les Mouches, 1943]), he also explored the intersubjective conditions of authenticity. At times Sartre endorsed the view, held by fellow existentialist Simone de Beauvoir, that a proper relation to one’s own freedom requires affirming the freedom of others (de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity, p. 67; Sartre Notebooks, pp. 475–79). In “Existentialism is a Humanism,” Sartre gestured towards the interconnection of human freedoms, claiming that to will one’s own freedom required willing the freedom of others. But only later, in his unpublished writings on ethics did he fully explain his view: “If I grasp my freedom in a fulfilled intuition as both the source of all my projects and requiring universal freedom, I cannot think of destroying the freedom of others” (Notebooks, p. 328). His belief that each person’s freedom is connected to the freedom of others pervades his discussion of oppression in Notebooks.

Critique of Dialectical Reason offers a macro-social phenomenology of oppression. Oppression “serializes” (i.e. disperses and alienates) members of underprivileged collectives (Critique, pp. 721–3). Sartre’s view, while indebted to Marx’s notion of alienation, reflects his own unique blend of Marxism and Existentialism. “By alienation we mean a certain type of relations that man has with himself, with others and with the world, where he posits the ontological priority of the Other” (Notebooks, p. 382). The architecture of Critique as a whole depends on the distinction between alienating (“serial”) and non-alienating (“group praxis”) social relationships. Social relations range from utterly non-unified social “collectives” to groups that exhibit various levels of awareness and reciprocity. Written during the Algerian war, Critique frequently cites French colonialism in Africa as an example of serial, alienating action. Colonialism creates a climate of hostility where each person is alien to himself and alien to other members of his collective (Critique, pp. 716-721). Serialized collectives tend not to organize themselves into resistance groups and tend to lack awareness of their potential group power. For example, desperately impoverished Algerians compete against each other for low wage jobs and unintentionally harm the entire collective by driving down wages for everyone.

Sartre shows, then, that oppression is both an interpersonal dynamic and a social-institutional phenomenon. Adopting Hegel’s master/slave dialectic, he claims that oppressors attempt to validate their own sense of superiority by dominating others. Like Hegel, Sartre sees domination as ultimately self-defeating. To oppress requires implicitly acknowledging the victim’s humanity in order to subsequently revoke it. On the psychological level, the oppressor lives in bad faith, misunderstanding his own freedom and the freedom of his victim. In later works, especially Critique, the psychological portrait of oppression is mapped onto a macro-social analysis of group struggle. Institutionalized racism is seen as a special case of bureaucratic dehumanization. Victims of racist oppression become alienated, both from themselves and from one another, making organized resistance unlikely. Sartre’s lasting contribution to the politics of oppression consists in persuasively combining interpersonal and institutional explanations of oppression.
 
5. Engagement

Engagement is a specialized term in the Sartrean vocabulary and refers to the process of accepting responsibility for the political consequences of one’s actions. Sartre, more than any other philosopher of the period, defended the notion of socially responsible writing (littérature engagée). Like Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, Sartre argued that intellectuals, as well as ordinary citizens, are responsible for taking a stand on the major political conflicts of their era (What is Literature? p. 38). Somewhat idealistically, he hoped that literature might be a vehicle through which oppressed minorities could gain group consciousness, and through which members of the elite would be provoked into action.

Sartre was famous for writing scathing essays condemning French policies. While he intervened in most major French political issues in his lifetime, his critique of French colonialism in Algeria is the most striking instance of Sartrean engagement. He wrote dozens of essays attacking French colonialism in Algeria, and introduced to the French public works of lesser known political writers. Sartre wrote prefaces for F. Fanon’s study of psychic pathologies caused under French colonialism, Wretched of the Earth (Les damnés de la terre, 1961), H. Alleg’s book on torture in Algeria, The Question (La question, 1958), and A. Memmi’s Colonized and Colonizer (Portrait du colonisé, 1957). His preface to an anthology of black, anti-colonialist poets, A. Césaire and L. Senghor’s “Black Orpheus” (“Orphée Noir,” 1948), extended his theory of engaged literature and contributed to the Negritude movement.

The inaugural issue of Les Temps modernes (October, 1945) first articulated the vision of social responsibility which would become the hallmark of political existentialism. A socially responsible writer must address the major events of the era, take a stance against injustice and work to alleviate oppression. What is Literature? (Qu’est-ce que la literature?, 1947) bases the argument for responsible writing on a phenomenological description of the relationship between reader and writer. Writing is necessarily a dialogical, intersubjective process, where author and reader mutually recognize each other (What is Literature?, p. 58). Mutual respect, Sartre claims, is inherent in the relationship between artist and audience. What is Literature? is a landmark essay because it provides the social-ontological basis for Sartre’s view of mutual recognition and grounds his claim that authentic, engaged action must respect the needs of others.

Sartre’s claim that engagement is an ethical and political virtue begins with the premise that humans are necessarily situated in particular places and times. It is impossible to be politically neutral, he insists (What is Literature?, p. 38). The only honest course is to openly admit and defend one’s political commitments. Engagement is the political version of existential authenticity, which requires affirming one’s freedom within a social context. Authenticity is a wider notion than engagement, since authenticity requires awareness and responsibility with respect to the totality of one’s being, and overcoming bad faith globally. Existential engagement, on the other hand, requires political awareness and responsibility, and overcoming bad faith with respect to political issues.

Sartrean engagement can be usefully compared to common conceptions of moral responsibility. Sartre accepts the notion that a person should be held morally responsible for an action that she intentionally causes. The distinguishing mark of Sartre’s view is his broad extension of the notion of causal responsibility. Sartre holds an extremely demanding view of negative responsibility (responsibility for omissions). Passivity, Sartre claims, is equivalent to activity (Being and Nothingness, p. 707; What is Literature?, pp. 38, 232 and 234; Notebooks, p. 490). Any omitted action is an action for which an agent is culpable. In a variety of works, Sartre uses the case of war to illustrate his view. If I am the citizen of a nation at war then the war is “mine” and I bear a direct, personal responsibility for the action of my government. Sartre’s essay “We Are All Assassins” (“Nous sommes tous des assassins,” 1958) epitomizes his view: average French citizens are all equally culpable for the French government’s action of enforcing the death penalty.

In late works like Critique Sartre combines a demanding account of personal responsibility with the functionalist view that individuals incarnate their environment. The result is a portrait of social responsibility that holds average citizens responsible for diffuse social ills like racism, poverty, colonialism and sexism. Despite the fact that Sartre fell short of offering a detailed analysis of negative responsibility which would vindicate his sometimes exaggerated ascription of individual moral liability for collective harms, his portrait of political responsibility remains one of the most powerful of the twentieth century.

6. Ideal Society

While never presenting a complete portrait of his ideal society (whether in fiction or non-fiction), Sartre was a lifelong advocate of socialism. In interviews late in life Sartre allowed himself to be called an “anarchist” and a “libertarian socialist” (See “Interview with Jean-Paul Sartre” in The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, ed. P.A. Schilpp, p. 21.). Sartre hoped for a society based on two principles: individual freedom and the elimination of material scarcity.

In Notebooks Sartre described himself as developing a “concrete ethics” which would combine normative ethics and political theory (p. 104). The closest equivalent is Hegel’s notion of Sittlichkeit (ethical life), as described in Philosophy of Right. Like Hegel, Sartre claimed that ethics is more a matter of social convention than abstract rule following. Ethics must be lived in the everyday institutions of average citizens. The natural law approach to ethics, Kantianism in particular, is of limited value because of its universal, abstract character. Sartre accepted the Kantian injunction “always treat others as ends” but he vehemently rejected the existence of a single set of inflexible moral commandments governing all ethical situations (Notebooks, p. 258).

By contrast, Sartre wrote favorably of Hegelian ethics. Mirroring Hegel in Philosophy of Right, Sartre claimed that genuinely ethical relations arise from mutual recognition (Notebooks, pp. 274-279). Kant’s formulaic humanism, Sartre claimed, would strip individuals of their particularity. The real source of ethical injunctions—namely, other people—would be obscured behind notions of transcendental human nature and natural law.

In the late 1940’s Sartre coined the term “concrete liberalism” to describe the type of society he favored (Anti-Semite and Jew, p. 147). The main feature of concrete liberalism is that the fundamental regulative ideal of society—mutual respect—would be based on an individual’s particular projects, not on her abstract human nature (Notebooks, p. 140). Rights, for example, would be guaranteed because of a person’s “active participation in the life of society” not by appealing to a “problematical and abstract ‘human nature’” (Anti-Semite and Jew, p. 146). Sartre’s view anticipates the postmodern critique of Enlightenment values such as universal respect.

In Critique Sartre developed a group theory that is consistent with anarchistic-socialism, although he did not explicitly endorse anarchy in that work. The state, Sartre claimed, cannot represent the people because the people are a collective not a group (Critique, pp. 635-42). Only genuine groups can be represented. (Think, for example, of a labor union which has explicit mechanisms for forming policies and collective views). Modern industrialized societies consist of alienated, serially dispersed citizens. In Critique Sartre recommended, implicitly at least, a loose federation of democratically self-organized groups.

In short, ideal society for Sartre would likely consist of an anarchistic-socialist order where individuals would have the resources to pursue their own authentically chosen projects, with little interference from the state or other entrenched powers. Special emphasis would be placed on local, democratic groups which would support the freely chosen projects of authentic individuals.

7. Conclusion

Sartre’s contributions to twentieth century political philosophy are substantial. Sartre developed a unique political vocabulary that combined the personal redemption of existential authenticity with a call for systematic social change. Like Hegel, Sartre argued that freedom is the most central normative value and sought to reconcile the pursuit of individual freedom with the need for social institutions. Sartre’s analysis of colonialism, racism and anti-Semitism eloquently bridged the gap between theory and practice, and significantly enriched the categories of traditional Marxism. Justifiably, Sartre will be long remembered as both a systematic political philosopher and a trenchant social critic.

8. References and Further Reading

The following is a shortlist of Sartre’s most important political works which have been translated into English.

Anti-Semite and Jew. New York: Schocken, 1988.
Sartre’s classic analysis of anti-Semitism and his longest discussion of existential authenticity.

Between Existentialism and Marxism. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1974.
Includes several pivotal political essays including “A Plea for Intellectuals.”

Colonialism and Neocolonialism. London: Routledge, 2001.
A collection of anti-Colonial writings. Includes Sartre’s preface to F. Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth.

Communists and the Peace. New York: George Braziller, 1968.
Statement of Sartre’s brief alignment with the French Communist Party.

“The Condemned of Altona.” New York: Knopf, 1961.
Explores collective responsibility for the holocaust.

Critique of Dialectical Reason, Volume 1. London: Verso, 2004.
The principle theoretical text of Sartrean Existentialist-Marxism. Articulates Sartre’s theory of groups and history.

Critique of Dialectical Reason, Volume 2. London: Verso, 1991.
Unfinished volume devoted to the question of whether history can be understood as the result of group struggle.

“Existentialism is a Humanism” in Existentialism. New York: Philosophical Library, 1947.
Famous speech in which Sartre suggests that existentialism has an ethics, not unlike Kant’s categorical imperative.

Ghost of Stalin. New York: George Braziller, 1968.
Published in 1956, announces Sartre’s break with the French Communist Party over the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

Hope Now: The 1980 Interviews. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1996.
Interviews conducted by young Maoist Beny Lévy in the last year of Sartre’s life, suggesting a new Sartrean ethics.

Life/Situations: Essays Written and Spoken. New York: Pantheon, 1977.
Contains several important political essays including “Elections: A Trap for Fools.”

“Materialism and Revolution” in Literary and Philosophical Essays. New York: Crowell-Collier, 1962.
Describes the liberating potential of human work.

Notebooks for an Ethics. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1992.
Posthumously published set of notebooks exploring existential ethics and politics. Includes long discussions of oppression, slavery, Hegel’s master/slave dialectic and Marxism.

No Exit and Three Other Plays. New York: Vintage Books, 1946.
Contains “The Flies,” which is a parable about freedom, and “Dirty Hands,” which deals with the ethics of revolutionary violence.

On Genocide. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968.
Short article on the American war in Vietnam and the legacy of French colonialism.

Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr. New York: George Braziller, 1971.
Sartre’s existential biography of French writer and thief Jean Genet.

Sartre On Cuba. New York: Ballantine Books, 1961.
Report of Sartre’s visit to post-revolution Cuba.

Search for a Method. New York: Vintage Books, 1963.
Introduction to the longer Critique. Best succinct statement of Sartrean Existentialist-Marxism.

What Is Literature? and Other Essays. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.
The canonical statement of Sartrean engaged literature. Contains “Black Orpheus,” a defense of the “negritude” poetry of Césaire and Senghor, as well as the inaugural essay for Sartre’s journal Les Temps modernes.

The following secondary sources on Sartre’s political and ethical thinking are also recommended.

Anderson, Thomas C., 1993, Sartre's Two Ethics: From Authenticity to Integral Humanity, Chicago: Open Court.

Anderson, Thomas C., 1979, The Foundation and Structure of Sartrean Ethics, Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas.

Aron, Raymond, 1975, History and The Dialectic of Violence: An Analysis of Sartre’s Critique de la Raison Dialectique, New York: Harper and Row.

Aronson, Ronald, 1987, Sartre's Second Critique, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bell, Linda A., 1989, Sartre's Ethics of Authenticity, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

Catalano, Joseph, 1986, A Commentary on Jean-Paul Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason, vol. 1, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Charmé, Stuart Zane, 1991, Vulgarity and Authenticity: Dimensions of Otherness in the World of Jean-Paul Sartre, Amherst: University of Mass Press.

Chiodi, Pietro, 1978, Sartre and Marxism, Sussex: Harvester.

Detmer, David, 1988, Freedom as a Value: A Critique of the Ethical Theory of Jean-Paul Sartre, La Salle: Open Court.

Dobson, Andrew, 1993, Jean-Paul Sartre and the Politics of Reason, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Flynn, Thomas R., 1984, Sartre and Marxist Existentialism: The Test Case of Collective Responsibility, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Flynn, Thomas R., 1997, Sartre, Foucault and Historical Reason, vol. 1: Toward an Existentialist Theory of History, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Heter, T. Storm, 2006, Sartre’s Ethics of Engagement: Authenticity and Civic Virtue, London: Continuum.

Jeanson, Francis, 1981, Sartre and the Problem of Morality, tr. Robert Stone, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Martin, Thomas, 2002, Oppression and the Human Condition: An Introduction to Sartrean Existentialism, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.

McBride, William Leon, 1991, Sartre's Political Theory, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 1973, Adventures of the Dialectic, trans. Joseph Bien, Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Murphy, Julien S. (ed), 1999, Feminist Interpretations of Jean-Paul Sartre, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Santoni, Ronald E., 2003, Sartre on Violence: Curiously Ambivalent, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Stone, Robert and Elizabeth Bowman, 1986, “Dialectical Ethics: A First Look at Sartre's unpublished 1964 Rome Lecture Notes,” Social Text nos. 13-14 (Winter-Spring, 1986), 195-215.

Stone, Robert and Elizabeth Bowman, 1991, “Sartre's ‘Morality and History’: A First Look at the Notes for the unpublished 1965 Cornell Lectures” in Sartre Alive, ed. Ronald Aronson and Adrian van den Hoven, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 53-82.

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