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Love and Violence

Sartre and the Ethics of Need

Katharine Wolfe

Beginning with a study of need and its relationship to violence in Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, this paper argues that need, in the midst of scarcity, can both be a catalyst for violence and a force in the service of love. It warns against an antagonistic view of need and of ethics that emerges in Sartre’s Critique, drawing on Sartre’s own ongoing commitments to existentialism and also on the work of Primo Levi. In particular, it warns against the danger of reducing an ethics of need to one of Manichean violence. It also introduces the concept of ‘second-person needs’, which include (but are not limited to) needs of one’s own for the needs of others to be met. This concept is resonant with the idea of authentic love introduced in Sartre’s earlier, unfinished Notebooks for an Ethics, with the suggestions concerning a concrete, material ethics offered in Sartre’s Rome Lecture of 1964, as well as with Sartre’s concept of the fused group in the Critique itself.