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Public egos: constructing a Sartrean theory of (inter)personal relations

Research paper by Daniel O’Shiel

Indexed on: 06 Aug '15Published on: 06 Aug '15Published in: Continental Philosophy Review



Abstract

Sartre’s conception of “the look” creates an ontological conflict with no real resolution with regard to intersubjective relations. However, through turning to the pages of The Transcendence of the Ego (1936) one will be able to begin constructing a rich public ego theory that can outline a dynamic and fruitful notion with regard to interpersonal relations. Such a dynamic plays itself out between the bad faith extremes of believing too much in an all-powerful look on the one hand, as well as believing too much in some deep “I” or persona on the other. Indeed: Through a rigorous analysis of Sartre’s main principles regarding his conception of the ego, we will see that the latter is first and foremost a transcendent object for reflective consciousness; an object, moreover, that gets “magically” reversed into a subject-bearer of states, qualities, and the like, only in a secondary moment. This has the consequence that there is no deep, graspable “I”; but precisely because of this one’s personality is there in the world, to be shared and displayed, discussed and challenged, at every turn. Thus a Sartrean notion of (inter)personality involves a matching up of external aspects of ourselves that others in fact know better (through the look), with our own interiorities that can nevertheless always be shared through a reflective language that always has the same structural core.