In this article, I explore the question of whether authentic love is possible in Jean-Paul Sartre’s early philosophy. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre claims that love is inauthentic and doomed to failure. I dismiss a prominent view that is built upon Sartre’s account of love in Notebooks for an Ethics, which states that authentic love is possible after a radical conversion to authenticity. The continued existence of patriarchal oppression prevents men and women from undergoing such a conversion. Adopting a different approach, I examine a form of love which Sartre largely overlooks: the love between mother and child. Before the boundaries between Self and Other are fully formed, mother and child exist in an ambiguous union. It is here, I argue, that the existence of authentic love is possible.
Catrin Gibson is a philosophy DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford. Her doctoral research explores authentic love and the mother-child relationship in Sartre’s early philosophy, informed by the writings of twentieth-century French feminists.