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Critique of Dialectical Reason (French: Critique de la raison dialectique) is a 1960 book by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, in which the author further develops the existentialist Marxism he first expounded in his essay Search for a Method (1957).[1] Critique of Dialectical Reason and Search for a Method were written as a common manuscript, with Sartre intending the former to logically precede the latter.[2] Critique of Dialectical Reason was Sartre's second large-scale philosophical treatise, Being and Nothingness (1943) having been the first.[1] The book has been seen by some as an abandonment of Sartre's original existentialism,[3] while others have seen it as a continuation and elaboration of his earlier work.[4] It was translated into English by Alan Sheridan-Smith.[5]

The first volume, "Theory of Practical Ensembles", was first published in English in 1976; a corrected English translation was published in 1991, based on the revised French edition of 1985.[5] The second volume, "The Intelligibility of History", was published posthumously in French in 1985 with an English translation by Quintin Hoare appearing in 1991.[6]

Sartre is quoted as having said this was the principal of his two philosophical works for which he wished to be remembered.[7][8]

Background

In the wake of Being and Nothingness, Sartre became concerned to reconcile his concept of freedom with concrete social subjects and was strongly influenced in this regard by his friend and associate Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose writings in the late 1940s and early 1950s (such as Sense and Non-Sense) were pioneering a path towards a synthesis of existentialism and Marxism.[9] Merleau-Ponty, however, then became increasingly skeptical of Marxism, culminating in his Adventures of the Dialectic (1955), while Sartre continued to grow more engaged with Marxist thought. Though Sartre had, by 1957, decisively broken with the Soviet Union and "official" Marxism in the wake of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising, he nonetheless declared Marxism "the philosophy of our time"[2] and stated the need to resuscitate it from the moribund state that Soviet dogma had left it in, a need he attempted to answer by writing Critique of Dialectical Reason. The conflict between Sartre and Merleau-Ponty on this issue ended their long-standing friendship, though Ronald Aronson states that, in part, Critique of Dialectical Reason was Sartre's answer to his former friend and political mentor's attack on Marxism.[10]

More generally, Critique of Dialectical Reason was written following the rejection of Communism by leftist French intellectuals sympathetic to Marxism, a process that not only ended Sartre's friendship with Merleau-Ponty but with Albert Camus as well. The work was part of Sartre's attempt to learn "the lessons of history" from these events, and to try to create an adequate Marxist history and sociology.[11]

Summary

Critique of Dialectical Reason is the product of a later stage in Sartre's thinking, during which he no longer identified Marxism with the Soviet Union or French Communism but came closer to identifying as a Marxist. In it, Sartre puts forward a revision of existentialism, and an interpretation of Marxism as a contemporary philosophy par excellence, one that can be criticized only from a reactionary pre-Marxist standpoint.

Sartre argues that while the free fusion of many human projects may possibly constitute a Communist society, there is no guarantee of this. Conscious human acts are not projections of freedom that produce human 'temporality', but movements toward 'totalization', their sense being co-determined by existing social conditions. People are thus neither absolutely free to determine the meaning of their acts nor slaves to the circumstances in which they find themselves. Social life does not consist only of individual acts rooted in freedom since it is also a sedimentation of history by which we are limited and a fight with nature, which imposes further obstacles and causes social relationships to be dominated by scarcity. Every satisfaction of a need can cause antagonism and make it more difficult for people to accept each other as human beings. Scarcity deprives people of the ability to make particular choices and diminishes their humanity. Communism will restore the freedom of the individual and his/her ability to recognize the freedom of others.[3]

Reception[5] The second volume, "The Intelligibility of History", was published posthumously in French in 1985 with an English translation by Quintin Hoare appearing in 1991.[6]

Sartre is quoted as having said this was the principal of his two philosophical works for which he wished to be remembered.[7][8]

In the wake of Being and Nothingness, Sartre became concerned to reconcile his concept of freedom with concrete social subjects and was strongly influenced in this regard by his friend and associate Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose writings in the late 1940s and early 1950s (such as Sense and Non-Sense) were pioneering a path towards a synthesis of existentialism and Marxism.[9] Merleau-Ponty, however, then became increasingly skeptical of Marxism, culminating in his Adventures of the Dialectic (1955), while Sartre continued to grow more engaged with Marxist thought. Though Sartre had, by 1957, decisively broken with the Soviet Union and "official" Marxism in the wake of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising, he nonetheless declared Marxism "the philosophy of our time"[2] and stated the need to resuscitate it from the moribund state that Soviet dogma had left it in, a need he attempted to answer by writing Critique of Dialectical Reason. The conflict between Sartre and Merleau-Ponty on this issue ended their long-standing friendship, though Ronald Aronson states that, in part, Critique of Dialectical Reason was Sartre's answer to his former friend and political mentor's attack on Marxism.[10]

More generally, Critique of Dialectical Reason was written following the rejection of Communism by leftist French intellectuals sympathetic to Marxism, a process that not only ended Sartre's friendship with Merleau-Ponty but with Albert Camus as well. The work was part of Sartre's attempt to learn "the lessons of history" from these events, and to try to create an adequate Marxist history and sociology.[11]

Summary