Sartre’s Affective Turn

Philosophy Today 65 (3):709-726 (2021)
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Jean-Paul Sartre’s theory of “the look” has generally been understood as an argument for the impossibility of mutual recognition between consciousnesses. Being-looked-at reveals me as an object for the other, but I can never grasp this object that I am. I argue here that the chapter “The Look” in Being and Nothingness has been widely misunderstood, causing many to dismiss Sartre’s view unfairly. Like Hegel’s account of recognition, Sartre’s “look” is meant as a theory of successful mutual recognition that proves the existence of others. Yet Sartre claims that such an account is plausible only if recognition is affective, not cognitive. Situating Sartre’s account of the look within his technical understanding of affect’s distinctness from cognition not only enables a better understanding of Sartre’s view, but also reveals a compelling alternative to the understanding of self-other relations in contemporary affect theory.



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Ellie Anderson
Pomona College

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