Sartre and the Rationalization of Human Sexuality

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Sartre and the Rationalization of Human Sexuality

ABSTRACT: Sartre rationalizes sexuality much like Plato. Rationalization here refers to the way Sartre tries to facilitate explanation by changing the terms of the discussion from sexual to nonsexual concepts. As a philosophy which, above all, highlights those features of human existence which seem most resistant to explanation, one would expect existentialism to highlight sexuality as a category that is crucial for considering human existence. Descartes comes immediately to mind when one focuses on Sartre's major categories. In Sartre's case however, it is not mind and matter but consciousness and its opposite: "nothingness" and "being." This irreducible dualism is the key to the trouble human beings have with existence. Humans try to deal with the tensions implied by this dualism by trying to pretend people are not subjects but objects. Sartre calls this "bad faith." He begins by attempting to take human sexuality seriously as a fundamental category, but ends by abandoning the effort in favor of other substitutes.

Akin to Plato in his rationalization of sexuality is Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre is probably the end of existentialist philosophy in two senses: in the first place in the sense of extending existentialist premises as far as they can be taken, and in the second place in the sense of serving as the canonical example of existentialist thought.

Since existentialism is the philosophy above all other philosophies which takes seriously the concrete existence of a human in all of its facticity, anxiety, temporality, and fleshliness, and will place this existence before all decisions about essence, it would seem that above all others we can expect from Sartre a philosop...

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...y important in sexuality. This is "bad faith" in reverse, the treating of objectivities as though subjective. On the other hand, the For-itself is too much bound or confined to abstract categories. Is sexuality really a dialectic of subject and object? It is this, but is it only this? These broad categories cover all cosmic relationships. Sex disappears into an abstraction. Wherein lies the distinguishing difference of sexuality and what difference does this make? These considerations are nowhere in Sartre.

This is Sartre's sexuality, a bloodless and a passionless dance of the categories.


(1) Translated and with an introduction by Hazel E. Barnes and published by Philosophical Library, New York, 1956. Page numbers placed in parentheses in the text refer to this edition.

(2) Sartre illustrates "bad faith" with a sexual illustration. See pages 55-56.
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