Reading Terry Pinkard’s “Practice, Power, and Forms of Life: Sartre’s Appropriation of Hegel and Marx” (2022), part 2.

What follows is less than a book review and more than a book report – I hope. My plan is to convey a first impression, chapter-by-chapter, every week or so.

Spontaneity’s Limits: Tragic Counter-Finality.

Spontaneity is a form of agency that’s dependent on the presence of others. In its basic form, this doesn’t necessarily imply acting with others, or collective action; it takes the form of acting on new reasons whether individually or collectively. I take it that what counts as a reason for action is to be broadly construed. It isn’t only a matter of inferences from principles, for example; a reason to act could take the form of an imaginative redescription of the possibilities latent in a situation. Whatever its form, a reason specifies a purpose: action is intelligible only teleologically, for only a purpose can draw together a sequence of acts such that they are understood as one action. This is the “finality” of action. Spontaneity, then, characterizes acts by which agents commit themselves to purposes other than those to which they were previously committed, at either the individual or the collective level.

The problem with individual spontaneity is that it can be rendered “inert” – meaning, I take it, that it can fail to manifest itself, either by being “frozen into routinized or institutionalized forms” or by “outright oppression or by means of a dominating ideology” (30). Under these circumstances, collective action – “a spontaneity that is possible only in the spontaneity of others, in which each serves as the mediating third party to any other two” (30) – is required to alter the institutional conditions responsible for the inertia. The new purpose is now attributed to what Pinkard, following Wittgenstein at this point rather than Sartre, calls a “form of life,” i.e. “a way of being together” or, in Sartre’s own terms, a “praxis.”

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