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Practice, Power, and Forms of Life

Sartre’s Appropriation of Hegel and Marx

Philosopher Terry Pinkard revisits Sartre’s later work, illuminating a pivotal stance in Sartre’s understanding of freedom and communal action.

Jean-Paul Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, released to great fanfare in 1960, has since then receded in philosophical visibility. As Sartre’s reputation is now making a comeback, it is time for a reappraisal of his later work. In Practice, Power, and Forms of Life, philosopher Terry Pinkard interprets Sartre’s late work as a fundamental reworking of his earlier ideas, especially in terms of his understanding of the possibility of communal action as genuinely free, which the French philosopher had previously argued was impossible.

Pinkard reveals how Sartre was drawn back to Hegel, a move that was itself incited by Sartre’s newfound interest in Marxism. Pinkard argues that Sartre constructed a novel position on freedom that has yet to be adequately taken up and analyzed within philosophy and political theory. Through Sartre, Pinkard advances an argument that contributes to the history of philosophy as well as key debates on action and freedom.


"Renders accessible what is complicated and opens a window into the mind of a brilliant man. Highly recommended."


“Pinkard has written a pathbreaking and compelling work that shows the importance of Sartre’s extensive rethinking of his understanding of Hegel and Marx and the role of Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism in his later thought. Key concepts such as subjectivity, agency, reciprocity, dialectic, materiality, and sociality are given original and philosophically rich interpretations, all presented with striking lucidity. Practice, Power, and Forms of Life is an extraordinary tour de force, both as interpretation and as philosophy, and it should lead to a major reassessment of the later Sartre.”

Robert Pippin, University of Chicago

“In the extensive bibliography about Sartre’s work, his connection to classical German philosophy is seldom taken as a guideline. Focusing in particular on the Critique of Dialectical Reason and Sartre’s late writings, Pinkard’s book fills this gap by luminously considering Sartre’s creative ‘appropriation’ of Hegel and Marx. It shows how this mediation, as well as Sartre’s response to Heidegger’s criticism of humanism, reveals a striking proximity to Wittgenstein’s theme of the forms of life.”

Jean-François Kervegan, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Table of Contents

1 Spontaneity and Inertia
   1. The Background: The Form of the “I”
   2. “I” and “We,” Singular and Plural
   3. “I,” “You,” and the “Other”: Dialectical Thought
   4. Being Together: “We”
   5. Alienation in Inertia
   6. Reciprocity in Spontaneity and Reciprocity as Antagonism
2 Spontaneity’s Limits
   1. Tragic Counter-Finality
   2. Practical Identities, Singular and General: Differing Conceptions of “We”
   3. Spontaneity within the Revolt of the Oppressed: The Spontaneous “We”
   4. Actualized Freedom’s Fragility in the Myths of Self-Authorization
   5. Violence in the Enforcement of Norms
3 Ethics in Politics
   1. Rules, Groups, and Functionalist Ethics
   2. Active, Passive, or Neither?
   3. Humanism and Humanisms
   4. System versus Subjective Life
   5. Self-Knowledge in the System
   6. Ethos
   7. Ethos, Inequality, History
   8. What Follows Marxism?
   9. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Colonialism, Racism
   10. Morals on Holiday
   11. Power, Practice, Practico-Inert

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