Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre

Editors Note: The following new entry by Jack Reynolds and Pierre-Jean Renaudie replaces theformer entryon this topic by the previous author.

Few philosophers have been as famous in their own life-time as Jean-Paul Sartre (190580). Many thousands of Parisians packed into his public lecture,Existentialism is a Humanism, towards the end of 1945 and the culmination of World War 2. That lecture offered an accessible version of his difficult treatise,Being and Nothingness(1943), which had been published two years earlier, and it also responded to contemporary Marxist and Christian critics of Sartres existentialism. Sartre was much more than just a traditional academic philosopher, however, and this begins to explain his renown. He also wrote highly influential works of literature, inflected by philosophical concerns, likeNausea(1938),The Roads to Freedomtrilogy (194549), and plays likeNo Exit(1947),Flies(1947), andDirty Hands(1948), to name just a few. He founded and co-editedLes Temps Modernesand mobilised various forms of political protest and action. In short, he was a celebrity and public intellectual par excellence, especially in the period after Liberation through to the early 1960s. Responding to some calls to prosecute Sartre for civil disobedience, the then French President Charles de Gaulle replied that you dont arrest Voltaire.

While Sartres public renown remains, his work has had less academic attention in the last thirty or so years ago, and earlier in France, dating roughly from the rise of post-structuralism in the 1960s. Although Gilles Deleuze dedicated an article to his master in 1964 in the wake of Sartres attempt to refuse the Nobel Prize for literature (Deleuze 2004), Michel Foucault influentially declared Sartres late work was a magnificent and pathetic attempt of a man of the nineteenth century to think the twentieth century (Foucault 1966 [1994: 5412])[1]. In this entry, however, we seek to show what remains alive and of ongoing philosophical interest in Sartre, covering many of the most important insights of his most famous philosophical book,Being and Nothingness. In addition, significant parts of his oeuvre remain under-appreciated and thus we seek to introduce them. Little attention has been given to Sartres earlier, psychologically motivated philosophical works, such asImagination(1936) or its sequel,The Imaginary(1940). Likewise, few philosophers have seriously grappled with Sartres later works, including his massive two-volumeCritique of Dialectical Reason(1960), or his various works in existential psychoanalysis that examine the works of Genet and Baudelaire, as well as his multi-volume masterpiece on Flaubert,The Family Idiot(19712). These are amongst the works of which Sartre was most proud and we outline some of their core ideas and claims.

2. Transcendence of the Ego: The Discovery of Intentionality

3. Imagination, Phenomenology and Literature

4.2 Bad faith and the critique of Freudian psychoanalysis

4.3 The Look, shame and intersubjectivity

5. Existential Psychoanalysis and the Fundamental Project

6. Existentialist Marxism: Critique of Dialectical Reason

Sartres life has been examined by many biographies, starting with Simone de BeauvoirsAdieux(and, subsequently, Cohen-Solal 1985; Levy 2003; Flynn 2014; Cox 2019). Sartres own literary life exemplifies trends he thematized in bothWordsandBeing and Nothingness, summed up by his claim that to be dead is to be prey for the living (Sartre 1943 [1956: 543]). Sartre himself was one of the first to undertake such an autobiographical effort, via his evocation of his own childhood inWords(1964a)in which Sartre applies to himself his method of existential psychoanalysis, thereby complicating this life/death binary.

Like many of his generation, Sartre lived through a series of major cultural and historical events that his existential philosophy responded to and attempted to shape. He was born in 1905 and died in 1980, spanning most of the twentieth century and the trajectory that the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm refers to as the age of extremes, a period that was also well-described in the middle of that century in Albert CamusThe Rebel, notwithstanding that the reception of Camus book inLes Temps Modernesin 19512 caused Sartre and Camus to very publicly fall out.

The major events of Sartres life seem relatively clear, at least viewed from an external perspective. A child throughout World War 1, he was a young man during the Great Depression but born into relative affluence, brought up by his grandmother. At least as presented inWords, Sartres childhood was filled with books, the dream of posterity and immortality in those books, and in which he grappled with his loss of the use of one eye and encountered the realities of his own appearance revealed through his mothers look after a haircutsuffice to say, he was not classically beautiful.

Sartres education, by contrast, was classicalthe cole Normale Suprieure. His education at the ENS was oriented around the history of philosophy, and the influential bifurcation of that time between the neo-Kantianism of Brunschvicg and the vitalism of Bergson. While Sartre failed his first attempt at the aggregation, apparently by virtue of being overly ambitious, on repeating the year he topped the class (de Beauvoir was second, at her first attempt and at the age of 21, then the youngest to complete). Sartre then taught philosophy at various schools, notably at Le Havre from 193136 and while he was composing his early philosophy and his great philosophical novel,Nausea. He never entered a classical university position.

Although Sartres philosophical encounter with phenomenology had already occurred (around 1933), which de Beauvoir described as causing him to turn pale with emotion (de Beauvoir 1960 [1962: 112]), with the onset of World War 2 Sartre merged those philosophical concerns with more obviously existential themes like freedom, authenticity, responsibility, and anguish, as translated into English from the Frenchangoisseby both Hazel Barnes and Sarah Richmond. He was a Meteorologist in Alsace in the war and was captured by the German Army in 1940 and imprisoned for just under a year (seeWar Diaries). During this socio-political turmoil, Sartre remained remarkably prolific. Notable publications include his play,No Exit(1947),Being and Nothingness(1943), and then completingExistentialism is a Humanism(1946),Anti-semite and Jew(1946), and founding and coeditingLes Temps Modernes, commencing from 1943 (Sartres major contributions are collected in his seriesSituations, especially volume V).

Sartre continued to lead various social and political protests after that period, especially concerning French colonialism (seesection 7below). By the time of the student revolutions in May 1968 he was no longer quite the dominant cultural and intellectual force he had been, but he did not retreat from public life and engagement and died in 1980. Estimates of the numbers of those attending his funeral procession in Paris range from 50100,000 people. Sartre had been in the midst of a collaboration with Benny Levy regarding ethics, the so-called Hope Now interviews, whose status remain somewhat controversial in Sartrean scholarship, given the interviews were produced in the midst of Sartres illness and shortly before he died, and the fact that the relevant audio-recordings are not publicly available.

One of the most famous foundational moments of existentialism concerns Sartres discovery of phenomenology around the turn of 1932/3, when in a Parisian bar listening to his friend Raymond Arons description of an apricot cocktail (de Beauvoir 1960 [1962: 135]). From this moment, Sartre was fascinated by the originality and novelty of Husserls method, which he identified straight away as a means to fulfil his own philosophical expectations: overcoming the opposition between idealism and realism; getting a view on the world that would allow him to describe objects just as he saw and touched them, and extract philosophy from the process. Sartre became immediately acquainted with Emmanuel Levinass early translation of HusserlsCartesian Meditationsand his introductory book on Husserls theory of intuition. He spent the following year in Berlin, so as to study more closely Husserls method and to familiarise himself with the works of his students, Heidegger and Scheler. With Levinas, and then later with Merleau-Ponty, Ricur, and Tran Duc Thao, Sartre became one of the first serious interpreters and proponent of Husserls phenomenology in France.

While he was studying in Berlin, Sartre tried to convert his study of Husserl into an article that documents his enthusiastic discovery of intentionality. It was published a few years later under the title Intentionality: a fundamental idea of Husserls phenomenology. This article, which had considerable influence over the early French reception of phenomenology, makes explicit the reasons Sartre had to be fascinated by Husserls descriptive approach to consciousness, and how he managed to merge it with his previous philosophical concerns. Purposefully leaving aside the idealist aspects of Husserls transcendental phenomenology, Sartre proposes a radicalisation of intentionality that stresses its anti-idealistic potential. Against the French contemporary versions of neo-Kantianism (Brochard, Lachelier), and more particularly against the kind of idealism advocated by Lon Brunschvicg, Sartre famously claims that intentionality allows us to discard the metaphysical oppositions between the inner and outer and to renounce to the very notion of the interiority of consciousness. If it is true, as Husserl states, that every consciousness is consciousnessofsomething, and if intentionality accounts for this fundamental direction that orients consciousness towards its object and beyond itself, then, Sartre concludes, the phenomenological description of intentionality does away with the illusion that makes us responsible for the way the world appears to us. According to Sartres radicalised reading of Husserls thesis, intentionality is intrinsically realistic: it lets the world appear to consciousnessas it really is, and not as a mere correlate of an intellectual act. This realistic interpretation, being perfectly in tune with Sartres lifelong ambition to provide a philosophical account of the contingency of beingits non-negotiable lack of necessityconvinced him to adopt Husserls method of phenomenological description.

While he was still in Berlin, Sartre also began to work on a more personal essay, which a few years later resulted in his first significant philosophical contribution,Transcendence of the Ego. With this influential essay Sartre engages in a much more critical way with the conception of the transcendental ego presented in HusserlsIdeasand defends his realistic interpretation of intentionality against the idealistic tendencies of Husserls own phenomenology after the publication ofLogical Investigations. Stressing the irreducible transparency of intentional experienceits fundamental orientation beyond itself towards its object, whatever this object may beSartre distinguishes between the dimensions of our subjective experiences that are pre-reflectively lived through, and the reflective stance thanks to which one can always make their experience the intentional object towards which consciousness is oriented. One of Sartres most fundamental claims inTranscendence of the Egois that these two forms of consciousness cannot and must not be mistaken with one another: reflexive consciousness is a form of intentional consciousness that takes ones own lived-experiences as its specific object, whereas pre-reflexive consciousness need not involve the intentional distance to the object that the act of reflection entails. In regard to self-consciousness, Sartre argues there is an immediate and non-cognitive form of self-awareness, as well as reflective forms of self-consciousness. The latter is unable to give access to oneself as thesubjectof unreflected consciousness, but only as the intentionalobjectof the act of reflection, i.e., the Ego in Sartres terminology. The Ego is the specific object that intentional consciousness is directed upon when performing reflectionan object that consciousness posits and grasps [] in the same act (Sartre 1936a [1957: 41; 2004: 5]), and that is constituted in and by the act of reflection (Sartre 1936a [1957: 801; 2004: 20]). Instead of a transcendental subject, the Ego must consequently be understood as a transcendent object similar to any other object, with the only difference that it is given to us through a particular kind of experience, i.e., reflection. The Ego, Sartre argues, is outside,in the world. It is a being of the world, like the Ego of another (Sartre 1936a [1957: 31; 2004: 1]).

This critique of the transcendental Ego is less opposed to Husserl than it may seem, notwithstanding Sartres reservations about the transcendental radicalisation of Husserls phenomenology. The neo-Humean claim that the I or Ego is nowhere to be found within ourselves remains faithful to the 5thLogical Investigation, in which Husserl had initially followed the very same line of reasoning (see Husserl 1901 [2001: vol. 2, 9193]), before developing a transcendental methodology that substantially modified his approach to subjectivity (as exposed in particular in Husserl 1913 [1983]). However, for the Husserl of theIdeas Pertaining to a Phenomenology(published in 1913), the sense in which a perceptual object, which is necessarily seen from one side but also presented to us as a unified object (involving other unseen sides), requires that there be a unifying structure within consciousness itself: the transcendental ego. Sartre argues that such an account would entail that the perception of an object would always also involve an intermediary perceptionsuch as some kind of perception or consciousness of the transcendental egothus threatening to disrupt the transparency or translucidity of consciousness. All forms of perception and consciousness would involve (at least) these two components, and there would be an opaqueness to consciousness that is not phenomenologically apparent. In addition, it appears that Husserls transcendental ego would have to pre-exist all of our particular actions and perceptions, which is something that the existentialist dictum existence precedes essence, which we will explicate shortly, seems committed to denying. Without considering here the extent to which Husserl can be defended against these charges, Sartres general claim is that the notion of a self or ego is not given in experience. Rather, it is something that is not immanent but transcendent to pre-reflective experience. The Ego is the transcendentobjectof ones reflexive experience, and not the subject of the pre-reflective experience that was initially lived (but not known).

Sartre devotes a great deal of effort to establishing the impersonal (or pre-personal) character of consciousness, which stems from its non-egological structure and results directly from the absence of theIin the transcendental field. According to him, intentional (positional) consciousness typically involves an anonymous and impersonal relation to a transcendent object:

When I run after a streetcar, when I look at the time, when I am absorbed in contemplating a portrait, there is noI.[] In fact I am plunged in the world of objects; it is they which constitute the unity of my consciousness; [] butme,I have disappeared; I have annihilated myself. There is no place formeon this level. (Sartre 1936a [1957: 49; 2004: 8])

The tram appears to mein a specific way(as having-to-be-overtaken, in this case) that is experienced as itsownmode of phenomenalization, and not as a mere relational aspect of its appearing tome. The object presents itself as carrying a set of objective properties that are strictly independent from ones personal relation to it. The streetcar is experienced as a transcendent object, in a way that obliterates andoverrides, so to speak, the subjective features of conscious experience; its having-to-be-overtaken-ness does not belong to mysubjectiveexperience of the world but to theobjectivedescription of the way the world is (see also Sartre 1936a [1957: 56; 2004: 1011]). When I run after the streetcar, my consciousness is absorbed in the relation to its intentional object, the streetcar-having-to-be-overtaken, and there is no trace of the I in such lived-experience. I do not need to be aware of my intention to take the streetcar, since the object itself appears as having-to-be-overtaken, and the subjective properties of my experience disappear in the intentional relation to the object. They are lived-through without any reference to the experiencing subject (or to the fact that this experience has to be experiencedby someone). This particular feature derives from the diaphanousness of lived-experiences. In a different example of this, Sartre argues that when I perceive Pierre as loathsome, say, I do not perceive my feeling of hatred; rather, Pierre repulses me and I experiencehimas repulsive (Sartre 1936a [1957: 634; 2004: 13]). Repulsiveness constitutes an essential feature ofhisdistinctive mode of appearing, rather than a trait ofmyfeelings towards him. Sartre concludes that reflective statements about ones Ego cannot be logically derived from non-reflective (irrflchies) lived-experiences:

Thus to say I hate or I love on the occasion of a singular consciousness of attraction or repulsion, is to carry out a veritable passage to the infinite [] Nothing more is needed for the rights of reflection to be singularly limited: it is certain that Pierre repulses me, yet it is and will remain forever doubtful that I hate him. Indeed, this affirmation infinitely exceeds the power of reflection. (Sartre 1936a [1957: 634; 2004: 13])

This critique of the powers of reflection forms one important part of Sartres argument for the primacy of pre-reflective consciousness over reflective consciousness, which is central to many of the pivotal arguments ofBeing and Nothingness, as we indicate in the relevant sections below.

For many of his readers, the book on theImaginarythat Sartre published in 1940 constitutes one of the most rigorous and fruitful developments of his Husserl-inspired phenomenological investigations. Along with theThe Emotions: Outline of a Theorywhich was published one year before (Sartre 1939b), Sartre presented this study of imagination as an essay in phenomenological psychology, which drew on his lifetime interest in psychological studies and brought to completion the research on imagination he had undertaken since the very beginning of his philosophical career. With this new essay, Sartre continues to explore the relationship between intentional consciousness and reality by focusing upon the specific case of the intentional relations to the unreal and the fictional, so as to produce an in-depth analysis of the great irrealizing function of consciousness. Engaging in a detailed discussion with recent psychological research that Sartre juxtaposes with (and against) fine-grained phenomenological descriptions of the structures of imagination, his essay proposes his own theory of the imaginary as the corollary of a specific intentional attitude that orients consciousness towards the unreal.

In a similar fashion to his analysis of the world-shaping powers of emotions (Sartre 1939b), Sartre describes and highlights how imagination presents us with a coherent world, although made of objects that do not precede butresultfrom the imaging capacities of consciousness. The object as imaged, Sartre claims, is never anything more than the consciousness one has of it (Sartre 1940 [2004: 15]). Contrary to other modes of consciousness such as perception or memory, which connect us to a world that is essentially one and the same, the objects to which imaginative consciousness connects us belong to imaginary worlds, which may not only be extremely diverse, but also follow their own rules, having their own spatiality and temporality. The island of Thrinacia where Odysseus lands on his way back to Ithaca needs not be located anywhere on our maps nor have existed at a specific time: its mode of existence is that of a fictional object, which possesses its own spatiality and temporality within the imaginary world it belongs to.

Sartre stresses that the intentional dimension of imaging consciousness is essentially characterised by itsnegativity.The negative act, Sartre writes, is constitutive of the image (Sartre 1940 [2004: 183]): an image consciousness is a consciousness of something thatis not, whether its object is absent, non-existing, or fictional. When we picture Odysseus sailing back to his native island, Odysseus is given to us as absent to intuition. In this sense, Sartre concludes,

one can say that the image has wrapped within it a certain nothingness. [] However lively, appealing, strong the image, it gives its object as not being. (Sartre 1940 [2004: 14])

The irrealizing function of imagination results from this immediate consciousness of the nothingness of its object. Sartres essay investigates how imaging consciousness allows us to operate with its objects as if they were present, even though these very objects are given to us as non-existing or absent. This is for instance what happens when we go to the theatre or read a novel:

To be present at a play is to apprehend the characters on the actors, the forest ofAs You Like Iton the cardboard trees. To read is to realize contact with the irreal world on the signs. In this world there are plants, animals, fields, towns, people: initially those mentioned in the book and then a host of others that are not named but are in the background and give this world its depth. (Sartre 1940 [2004: 64])

The irreality of imaginary worlds does not prevent the spectator or reader from projecting herself into this worldas if it was real. The acts of imagination can consequently be described as magical acts (Sartre 1940 [2004: 125]), similar to incantations with respect to the way they operate, since they are designed to make the object of ones thought or desire appear in such a way that one can take possession of it.

In the conclusion of his essay, Sartre stresses the philosophical significance of the relationship between imagination and freedom, which are both necessarily involved in our relationship to the world. Imagination, Sartre writes, is the whole of consciousness as it realizes its freedom (Sartre 1940 [2004: 186]). Imaging consciousness posits its object as out of reach in relation to the world understood as the synthetic totality within which consciousness situates itself. For Sartre, the imaginary creation is only possible if consciousness is not placed in-the-midst-of-the-world as one existent among others.

For consciousness to be able to imagine, it must be able to escape from the world by its very nature, it must be able to stand back from the world by its own efforts. In a word, it must be free. (Sartre 1940 [2004: 184])

In that respect, the irrealizing function of imagination allows consciousness to surpass the real so as to constitute it as a properworld: the nihilation of the real is always implied by its constitution as a world. This capacity of surpassing the real to make it a proper world defines the very notion of situation that becomes central in Sartres philosophical thought after the publication of theImaginary. Situations are nothing but the different immediate modes of apprehension of the real as a world (Sartre 1940 [2004: 185]). Consciousness situation-in-the-world is precisely that which motivates the constitution of any irreal object and accounts for the creation of imaginary worldsfor instance, and perhaps above all, in art:

Every apprehension of the real as a world tends of its own accord to end up with the production of irreal objects since it is always, in a sense, free nihilation of the world and this always from a particular point of view. (Sartre 1940 [2004: 185])

With this conclusion, which prioritises the question of the world over that of reality, Sartre begins to move away from the realist perspective he was initially aiming at when he first discovered phenomenology, so as to make the phenomenological investigation of our being-in-the-world (influenced by his careful rereading of Heidegger in the late 30s) his new priority.

Although Sartre never stated it explicitly, his interest in the question of the unreal and imaging consciousness appears to be intimately connected with his general conception of literature and his self-understanding of his own literary production. The concluding remarks of theImaginaryextend the scope of Sartres phenomenological analyses of the irrealizing powers of imagination, by applying them to the domain of aesthetics so as to answer the question about the ontological status of works of art. For Sartre, any product of artistic creationa novel, a painting, a piece of music, or a theatre playis just as irreal an object as the imaginary world it gives rise to. The irreality of the work of art allows us to experiencethough only imaginativelythe world it gives flesh to as an analogon of reality. Even a cubist painting, which might not depict nor represent anything, still functions as an analogon, which manifests

an irreal ensemble ofnew things, of objects that I have never seen nor will ever see but that are nonetheless irreal objects. (Sartre 1940 [2004: 191])

Likewise, the novelist, the poet, the dramatist, constitute irreal objects through verbal analogons.

This original conception of the nature of the work of art dominates Sartres critical approach to literature in the many essays he dedicates to the art of the novel. This includes his critical analyses of recent writers novels in the 30sFaulkner, Dos Passos, Hemingway, Mauriac, etc.and the publication in the late 40s of his own summative view,What is literature?(Sartre 1948a [1988]). In a series of articles gathered in the first volume of hisSituations(1947,Sit. I), Sartre defends a strong version of literary realism that can, somewhat paradoxically, be read as a consequence of his theory of the irreality of the work of art. If imagination projects the spectator within the imaginary world created by the artist, then the success of the artistic process is proportional to the capacity of the artwork to let the spectator experience it as a reality of its own, giving rise to a full-fledged world. Sartre applies in particular this analysis to novels, which must aim, according to him, at immersing the reader within the fictional world they depict so as to make her experience the events and adventures of the charactersas ifshe was living them in first person. The complete absorption of the reader within the imaginary world created by the novelist must ultimately recreate the particular feel of reality that defines Sartresphenomenologicalkind of literary realism (Renaudie 2017), which became highly influential over the following decades in French literature. The reader must be able to experience the actions of the characters of the novel as if they did not result from the imagination of the novelist, but proceeded from the characters own freedomand Sartre goes as far as to claim that this radical spellbinding (envotante, Sartre 1940 [2004: 175])) quality of literary fiction defines the touchstone of the art of the novel (See Franois Mauriac and Freedom, in SartreSit. I).

This original version of literary realism is intrinsically tied to the question of freedom, and opposed to the idea according to which realist literature is expected to provide a mere description of realityas it is. InWhat is Literature?, Sartre describes the task of the novelist as that of disclosing the world as if it arose from human freedomrather than from a deterministic chain of causes and consequences. The authors art consists in obliging her reader tocreatewhat [she]discloses, and so to share with the writer the responsibility and freedom involved in the act of literary creation (Sartre 1948a [1988: 61]). In order for the world of the novel to offer its maximum density,

the disclosure-creation by which the reader discovers it must also be an imaginary engagement in the action; in other words, the more disposed one is to change it, the more alive it will be.

The conception of the writers engagement that resulted from these analyses constitutes probably the most well-known aspect of Sartres relation to literature. The writer only has one topic: freedom.

This analysis of the role of imaginative creations of art can also help us to understand the role of philosophy within his own novels, particularly inNausea, a novel which Sartre began as he was studying Husserl in Berlin. In this novel Sartres pre-phenomenological interest for the irreducibility of contingency intersects with his newly-acquired competences in phenomenological analyses, makingNauseaa beautifully illustrated expression of the metaphysical register Sartre gave to Husserls conception of intentionality. The feeling of nausea that Roquentin, the main character of Sartres novel, famously experienced in a public garden while obsessively watching a chestnut tree, accounts for his sensitivity to the absolute lack of necessity of whatever exists. Sartre understands this radical absence of necessity as the expression of the fundamental contingency of being. Roquentins traumatic moment of realisation that there is absolutely no reason for the existence of all that exists illustrates the intuition that motivated Sartr