From In-Itself to Practico-Inert

Freedom, Subjectivity and Progress

in Sartre Studies International
Kimberly S. Engels Molloy College

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This article focuses on Sartre’s concept of the practico-inert in his major work A Critique of Dialectical Reason, Vol. 1 (CDR). I first show the progression from Sartre’s previous conception of in-itself to his concept of practico-inert. I identify five different layers of the practico-inert: human-made objects, language, ideas, social objects and class being. I show how these practico-inert layers form the possibilities for our subjectivity and how this represents a change from Sartre’s view of in-itself in Being and Nothingness. I then explore the relationship of freedom to the practico-inert and how Sartre argues that the practico-inert places limits on our freedom. Lastly, I argue that despite the pessimistic picture Sartre paints in CDR, the practico-inert has the potential to both limit and enhance our freedom. I appeal to Sartre’s post-CDR essay ‘A Plea for Intellectuals’ to argue that a Sartrean account of progress requires the utilisation of the practico-inert.

Contributor Notes

Kimberly S. Engels is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Molloy College. She has published several articles on Sartre and the implications of his views for contemporary ethical problems Email:

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Sartre Studies International

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Existentialism and Contemporary Culture


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