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From In-Itself to Practico-Inert

Freedom, Subjectivity and Progress

Kimberly S. Engels

This article focuses on Sartre’s concept of the practicoinert 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.

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Paul Gyllenhammer, Bruce Baugh and Thomas R. Flynn

The articles in this section deal with two concepts from Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason analyzed in the work of Tom Flynn. The first is the practico-inert, the materialized result of human activity that can turn that activity against itself, but which can also take on a positive and progressive role in history. It is this progressive role that Paul Gyllenhammer analyzes. Bruce Baugh’s article looks at Flynn’s analyses of how, in the Critique, the “third” mediates group praxis in such a way that it moves from passivity to activity but without fusing into a hyperorganism, and how this decisive shift accounts for “the revolutionary moment.”

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Contemporary "Structures" of Racism

A Sartrean Contribution to Resisting Racial Injustice

Justin I. Fugo

This paper develops an account of racism as rooted in social structural processes. Using Sartre, I attempt to give a general analysis of what I refer to as the “structures” of our social world, namely the practico-inert, serial collectives, and social groups. I then apply this analysis to expose and elucidate “racist structures,” specifically those that are oftentimes assumed to be ‘race neutral’. By highlighting structures of racial oppression and domination, I aim to justify: 1) the imperative of creating conditions free from oppression and domination, over the adherence to ‘ideal’ principles which perpetuate racial injustice; 2) the shared responsibility we have collectively to resist and transform social structural processes that continue to produce racial injustice.

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Joseph S. Catalano

I understand Sartre's ontology to develop in three stages: first, through Being and Nothingness and Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr; second, through the Critique of Dialectical Reason; and, finally, as it unfolds in The Family Idiot. Each stage depends upon the former and deepens the original ontology, while still introducing novel elements. For example, in Being and Nothingness, the in-itself, which is the source of our world-making, develops in the Critique into the practico-inert, which is the world made artifact, and in The Family Idiot, both the in-itself and the practico-inert unite to become the Spirit of the Age, joining our adventure with nature to that of our adventure with our family and our history. My reflection will be developed in four stages: first, a general overview; second, a more extended study of what Sartre calls the problematic of human reality; third, a brief reflection on Sartre's methodology; and finally, a concluding survey.

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Paul Gyllenhammer

The age of the Anthropocene is arguably upon us. Heidegger’s famous discussion of technology helps us understand the attitude that put us in this crisis. Although Sartre’s work in the Critique of Dialectical Reason seems to be distinct from Heidegger’s, I show how his concern with the socially alienating phenomenon of seriality explains why this technological attitude is so persistent. And by studying Heidegger and Sartre together, we get a better sense of how our environmental destitution is correlated to a social-political one. Relational respect is offered as an existential norm that helps us move beyond our violent tendency to objectify beings, both human and other than human.

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Joseph S. Catalano

My goal in writing this article is to give a brief overview of the two volumes of Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason. After a brief introduction, I proceed in three stages that move from the abstract to the concrete. I thus trace the development of such notions as comprehension into the dialectic, praxis into singularity and incarnation, the practico-inert into the totalization-of-envelopment, and the enhancement of the notion of scarcity as a general historical condition into a collective free choice. I also suggest new divisions for Critique II.