Jean-Paul Sartre, French existentialist philosopher and author, was born in Paris where he attended prestigious lycées and then the École Normale Supérieur from 1924 to 1928. After passing his agrégation the following year, he taught in several lycées both in Paris and elsewhere.
In 1933, he succeeded Raymond Aron (1905–1983) as a research stipendiary for a year at the Institut Français in Berlin, where he immersed himself in phenomenology, concentrating on Edmund Husserl but also reading Max Scheler and some Martin Heidegger.
In the years following his return to France, he published several phenomenological works as well as the philosophical novel La nausea (Nausea) (1938) that brought him public recognition. He resumed his teaching till conscripted into the French Army in 1939.
After serving ten months as a prisoner of war chiefly in Trier, where he taught Heidegger's Being and Time (1962) to several imprisoned priests and continued writing his masterwork caps for L'etre (L'être et le néant) (Being and nothingness) (1943), he returned to Paris for three more years of lycée teaching.
Soon he was able to make his living from his writing and would never teach again. He was involved in a short-lived resistance movement of intellectuals that included Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Simone de Beauvoir, the latter his lifelong companion.
With these and several others, he founded the journal Les temps modernes (Modern times), its first issue appearing in October 1945, which quickly became the voice of existentialism and remains a leading literary and political publication to this day.
In the aftermath of the war, Sartre emerged as the leader of the existentialist movement, the quasi manifesto of which he delivered in a famous address subsequently published as L'existentialisme est un humanisme (1946). By then, he was world famous.
He used his celebrity to promote political and social causes of the Left in accord with the theory of committed literature introduced in a series of essays published as Qu'est-ce que la littérature? (What is literature?) in Les temps modernes (1947).
He wrote a number of short stories, novels, and plays as well as several studies of the lives of famous authors, including his autobiography, Les mots (The words), for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1964) and which he declined. After an unsuccessful association with an incipient noncommunist nonparty of the Left, he abandoned organized politics.
His relations with the Communist Party ran hot and cold. Initially vilified by the party as a bourgeois individualist, he gradually became a fellow traveler, using different standards with which to judge the East and the West during the Cold War.
But after the Soviet occupation of Budapest in 1956 and the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, he turned against the French Communist Party and moved farther Left, titling one interview: "Les Communistes ont peur de la revolution" (The Communists are afraid of revolution) (Situations, VIII, 1969).
In 1960 he published his second major philosophical work, the first volume of Critique de la raison dialectique, précédé de questions de méthode (The critique of dialectical reason) preceded by a kind of preface Questions de méthode (Search for a method) that had appeared in Les temps modernes in 1957.
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This marked his theoretical shift from a philosophy of consciousness and subjectivity to one of dialectical praxis (human activity in its socioeconomic milieu). Many see this as the theoretical basis for the student revolt known as the events of May, 1968 that constituted a turning point in French cultural life.
Throughout these years of political turmoil and despite his proclaimed abandonment of imaginative literature in favor of political action, Sartre continued to labor on his multivolume study of Gustave Flaubert's life and times, L'idiot de la famille; Gustave Flaubert de 1821–1857 (The family idiot: Gustave Flaubert de, 1821–1857) (1971–1972).
After a number of strokes in the 1970s left him almost totally blind, he began a series of interviews with former Maoist activist Benny Lévy (1945–2003), then serving as his secretary, that he announced would leave none of his earlier positions unchanged. The proposed elements of an ethic of the 'We', as he called it, appeared in three issues of the weekly magazine Le nouvel observateur.
Titled "L'espoir maintenant" (Hope now) these interviews constitute his last publication during his lifetime. After his death on April 15, 1980, the funeral cortege was joined by thousands of people in the largest spontaneous demonstration Paris had seen since the death of France's president Charles De Gaulle (1890–1970). France had lost "the conscience of his time," proclaimed the lead essay in a major journal (Magazine littéraire, September 1981) and the immense crowd of mourners seemed to agree.
A Philosopher of the Imagination
Starting with his thesis for the diplôme d'études supérieures titled "The Image in Psychological Life: Role and Nature" (1926) Sartre exhibited a strong interest in the realm of the imaginary. This becomes the object of two of his early publications, L'imagination (1936), a reworking of the earlier thesis, and the more important L'imaginaire (The imaginary) (1940), in many ways the key to his subsequent thought.
For what he attributes to imaging consciousness in the latter—namely, that it is the locus of possibility, negativity, and lack—is precisely how he will later characterizes being-for-itself or consciousness in Being and Nothingness. Imaging consciousness becomes the paradigm of consciousness in general for Sartre.
|A Philosopher of the Imagination|
From this follow several characteristic features of his aesthetics, ethics, and political theory as well as the choice of the imaginary on the part of the subjects of his existentialist biographies or psychoanalyses.
It also explains the ease with which he employed the method of free imaginative variation of examples (eidetic reduction) from Husserlian phenomenology in constructing his philosophical position. Many of his arguments are descriptive in nature, exhibiting Husserl's remark that the point of phenomenology is not to explain but to get us to see.
Moreover, the matching of imaging consciousness with conceptual analysis in Sartre's works serves to bridge the commonly perceived distance between philosophy and imaginative literature, helping us better appreciate the philosophical approach to literature and the literary approach to philosophy that mark his writings. His novel Nausea, for example, anticipates, and his play No Exit (1944) applies, theses and themes of Being and Nothingness in concrete fashion.
Sartre remained faithful to the descriptive method of phenomenology throughout his career. Even when he introduced the dialectical progressive-regressive method in Search for a Method, it was to be preceded by a phenomenological description of the situation at hand.
But he was not an uncritical reader of Husserl. In a major essay, "Transcendence of the Ego," composed while in Berlin but published in 1937, Sartre defends what Aron Gurwitsch called a nonegological conception of consciousness.
The of in the title denotes both a subjective and an objective genitive: The transcendental ego of Husserlian phenomenology has been rendered unnecessary (transcended) whereas the empirical ego (the subject of our reflective knowledge and scientific study) transcends consciousness in the sense that it is other than the consciousness one has of it.
This allows Sartre to distinguish between an autonomous, prereflective consciousness that is impersonal or prepersonal and the realm of reflective awareness that constitutes our psychological life, which he will call the Psyche. He wrote a lengthy manuscript on the latter, only a portion of which was ever published— Esquisse d'une théorie des émotions (Sketch for a phenomenological theory of the emotions) (1939).
One of the core theses of phenomenology is the claim that all consciousness is consciousness of an otherthan-consciousness. Consciousness simply is this aiming at or intending an object. This is Husserl's famous thesis of intentionality as the defining characteristic of the mental.
Perhaps no other phenomenologist has pursued the thesis of intentionality with such consistency as Sartre, even to the point of accusing Husserl, rightly or not, of having betrayed this principle by his understanding of mental images as simulacra inside the mind.
Sartre will insist that if images are conscious, then they, too, are ways of intending the world as are our emotions. The challenge is to articulate the distinguishing features of these various ways of being in-the-world, an expression Sartre adopts from Heidegger.
In The Imaginary Sartre undertakes the task of describing the defining characteristics of the image. Relying on the evidence from his reflective description of our prereflective awareness, he identifies four essential features of the image:
- The image is a consciousness rather than an object inside consciousness (Sartrean consciousness has no inside; it is essentially outside, in-the-world). The image is a relationship to an object. Hence, it is more accurate to speak of imaging consciousness than of images. The latter term suggests miniatures that we project outside the mind, an example of what Sartre terms the illusion of immanence, which is contrary to the intentionality of consciousness.
- In contradistinction to perception, which must grasp its object in profiles that it synthesizes into a perceptual judgment of identity (these are profiles of one and the same cube that cannot all be given simultaneously) imaging consciousness presents its object all at once (we see in the object only what we place there; the image teaches us nothing). Whereas the perceived object overflows our perception of it and invites further investigation, in the case of imaging consciousness, what you imagine is what you get. The studying of an imagined object is actually the sequential viewing of a series of imagings. Sartre calls this the phenomenon of quasi-observation. I can synthesize the series into the object of flesh and blood (my friend Peter, for example) that I could perceive, were he available for perception, but ex hypothesi, as imagined, he is unavailable.
- Imaginative consciousness posits its object as a nothingness. Sartre describes this as making its object present-absent, that is, present but out of the circuit of my perceptual beliefs that define the real. The realm of the imaginary is what Sartre designates the irreal as distinct from the unreal, which could apply to the perceptual or the conceptual realm. Following Husserl, Sartre allows for just four types of presenceabsence: One can imagine the object as nonexistent (unicorns), as absent (Peter as not here), as existing elsewhere (Peter in Berlin), or in a neutral mode that simply prescinds from its existence (as with ideal objects, for example). This is what distinguishes my awareness of the imagined tree from that of the perceived one, which is grasped as present in its materiality. Sartre will elaborate this nothingness when he describes the othering or nihilating nature of consciousness in general in Being and Nothingness.
- Imaging consciousness is spontaneous, another feature that Sartre will later extend to consciousness sans phrase. This characteristic denotes the prereflective and implicit (Sartre calls it nonthetic) awareness that imaging consciousness has of its creative power as it sustains the object in presence-absence. Sartre will speak of this as an awareness of freedom, which he already extends to prereflective consciousness across-the-board and which he will later liken to Descartes's notion of God's power to conserve in existence the created world.
Much of Sartre's aesthetic theory turns on this idea of the image, which he defines as: "an act that aims in its corporeality at [intends] an absent or nonexistent object, through a physical or psychic content that is given not as itself, but in the capacity of analogical representative of the object aimed at [intended]".
As intentional, consciousness has no contents but it does have objects. In the case of aesthetic objects such as the portrait of Charles VIII or the playing of the Appassionata Sonata, the artifact, say the physical painting or the musical performance, serves as analogon for the creative imagination of artist and public alike.
By our assuming the aesthetic attitude, that is, by derealizing the perceptual object, the artifact serves as analogon for making presentabsent (re-presenting) this particular aesthetic object. Sartre emphasizes that the imaging act is a synthesis of cognitive and emotional intendings. But his analysis attends chiefly to the primary role of imaging consciousness in this derealizing act.
To indicate the pervasiveness of imagination in Sartre's thought, it suffices at this point to mention the role reserved in his existentialist ethic for the image of the kind of person I want to be that is implicit in my moral choices, a clear reference to the phenomenological ethics of Scheler.
Nor should we overlook the guiding ideal of the City of ends throughout Sartre's political philosophy. And when we recall its character as the locus of negativity, possibility, and lack, the presence of the imagination appears as far-ranging as consciousness itself.
Sartre remarked late in his career that what distinguished him from the Marxists was that he raised the class question starting with being, which is wider than class, whereas they do not. He elaborates his ontology in two major works.
BEING AND NOTHINGNESS. The subtitle of Being and Nothingness is "A Phenomenological Ontology." Like Heidegger, whose presence is palpable in this work as was that of Husserl in the earlier ones, Sartre begins his study with the being for whom being is a problem, namely, human reality (Heidegger's Dasein).
By accepting this translation of that basic Heideggerian term, Sartre already seems to be following the anthropological track that Heidegger sought to move beyond. But, in fact, Sartre, too, is concerned with gaining access to being in order to delineate its fundamental modes. Still, his point of access is the immediate experience of the phenomenon of being in experiences of boredom, nausea, and the like.
In his novel Nausea, Sartre's protagonist experiences the sheer contingency of the tree root that captures his attention, its gratuitous existence—and his own: "Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance".
Sartre's formal ontology in Being and Nothingness will follow from the descriptive analysis of that phenomenon of the being of things. Against idealism, against those who succumb to the illusion of immanence, Sartre insists on the transphenomenal character of being, that is, its irreducibility to appearances.
Showing himself as much the pupil of Henri Bergson as of Heidegger in this regard, Sartre appeals to a revealing intuition of the phenomenon of being. But this being is not some Kantian thing-in-itself standing behind the appearances; the phenomenon of being is coterminous with, though irreducible to, the being of the phenomena.
The phenomena that the eidetic reduction yields are the objects of knowledge; for example, the kind of knowledge that we gain about the nature of imaging consciousness. Such phenomena are reflective and our awareness of them cognitive.
The phenomenon of being is prereflective and noncognitive. It follows that knowledge cannot give an account of transphenomenal being. To attempt to do so Sartre calls metaphysics, to which he gives short shrift toward the end of the book.
Using the phenomenological method of descriptive analysis, Sartre discovers three irreducible modes of being, namely, being in-itself, or the inert; being-foritself, or the spontaneous (consciousness); and being-forothers, or the interpersonal. Though he claims that the for-others is as fundamental as the for-itself, it is clear that being-for-others is inconceivable without the other two, which are conceivable without it.
So having distinguished between being and the phenomena, Sartre's descriptive analysis now reveals two radically different regions of being: the transphenomenal being of the prereflective cogito or I think that precedes and sustains any reflective awareness such as Descartes's Cogito or any other phenomena insofar as they are consciousnessrelative, on the one hand, and the transphenomenal being of the objects of consciousness, revealed in the experiences of nausea, boredom and the like, on the other.
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Pursuing this analysis, Sartre discovers that consciousness, which he will soon call being for-itself, simply is the transphenomenal dimension of nonbeing, which he calls nothingness (le néant), the nothingness of Being and Nothingness, whereas being-in-itself denotes the dimension of transphenomenal being of the object of consciousness.
Each region bears distinctive features. Being in-itself, in Sartre's metaphorical discourse, is thing-like in its solidity and identity. An inert plenum, the in-itself simply is what it is. This region includes any aspect of experience that manifests these properties; for example, substances or the temporal past or any of the givens of our experience that Sartre, borrowing from Heidegger, calls our facticity.
Once other subjects enter the scene and a third, irreducible. dimension emerges, which Sartre calls being-for-others (l'être-pour-autrui), the scope of facticity expands to include such givens as our reputations, social institutions, and cultural phenomena generally. These, too, are forms of being-in-itself.
Being-for-itself bears contradictory features. As the nothingness of Being and Nothingness, the for-itself is the internal negation, or nihilation, of the in-itself. Sartre agrees with Heidegger that negativity is not simply a property of propositions but that it is introduced into the world by human reality itself.
As evidence, Sartre cites a whole series of negativities (négatités), such as our experience of the fragility of entities, of absence, of distance, of distraction, of regret, and of lack. (Recall his characterization of imaging consciousness). The for-itself is an exception to the Parmenidean rule of self-identity: Consciousness is nonself-identical. It is always other than itself, which is an ontological expression of its intentionality.
That inner distance that separates consciousness from itself accounts for three major characteristics of human reality (which is the human being as a composite but not a synthesis of these two ontological regions, related as thing and no-thing).
First, it gives rise to the three dimensions of original, ekstatic temporality whereby human reality stands out from the other and from its very self, namely, the past as facticity, the future as existence or project, and the present as presence-to. This is another way of parsing the nonself-identity of the for-itself.
A second consequence of this gap or time lag that consciousness introduces is the ontological freedom that characterizes our existence. Human reality is free, Sartre insists, because it is not a self but a presence-toself. Part of Sartre's political endeavor after the war is to pursue the kind of concrete freedom that completes this abstract freedom as the definition of the human.
Finally, it is this nonself-coincidence that accounts for the paradoxical discourse that Sartre adopts with regard to human reality. Besides the traditional paradoxes of temporality that he inherits, the chief paradox is that human reality is what it is not (its possibilities) and is not what it is (its facticity as nihilated by consciousness).
On this account, whatever I am, be it my previous choices or the labels others have affixed to me, I am in the manner of not-being them, that is, with the possibility of changing my particular stance in their regard. For the quasi motto of Sartrean humanism is that you can always make something out of what you've been made into. This is both the burden of our responsibility and the source of our hope.
With the advent of another subject into my world comes another realm of being as well—being-for-others. Ontologically, this gives rise to an additional set of characteristics that belong to the interpersonal dimension of our existence. The existence of the other subject cannot be deduced; it must be encountered.
The most dramatic argument for the existence of other subjects is Sartre's eidetic reduction of shame consciousness. His descriptive analysis centers on the experience one has of being caught in the act of looking at a couple through a keyhole.
The feeling of shame that registers in bodily changes such as the face turning red is stronger evidence for the existence of other minds, Sartre believes, than any argument from analogy. As he unpacks the experience, in one and the same moment, I become aware of the vulnerability of my embodiedness to the look of the other.
In other words, what is revealed in this instant is my prereflective consciousness of being objectified by that gaze of another subject. My experience of objectification is simultaneously my experience of the other as subject. Even if on this occasion I happen to be mistaken about the source of the sound I hear behind me, the experience is indicative of being seen by another.
Though Sartre admits that other, derivative modes of access to being-for-others are available (for example, the existence of cultural objects such as directional signs or language itself), he insists that the look (le regard) is the basic form of interpersonal relation, and he interprets this gaze as objectifying and alienating.
"Conflict is the original meaning of being-for-others" (Sartre 1943/1956, p. 364). The interpersonal is like a game of mutual staredown, each trying to objectify the other. The only type of social philosophy that one can expect from such a thesis is a Hobbesian war of all against all.
In a famous footnote Sartre concedes that "an ethic of deliverance and salvation" is possible but that this can be achieved only after "a radical conversion" which, he insists, cannot be discussed in that work (Sartre 1943/1956, p. 412). In fact, the elements of an ethic of authenticity are sketched in his posthumously published Cahiers pour une morale (Notebooks for an Ethics) composed in 1947–1948, where the basics of this conversion are discussed.
Human reality is being-in-situation. Situation is composed of facticity and freedom as transcendence; that is, the given that we are always surpassing in our projects. Though he insists that the situation is an ambiguous phenomenon because the precise contribution of each component cannot be determined, it is clear that, as Sartre's sense of social conditioning increases with his shift from abstract to concrete freedom, his respect for the force of circumstance in our situations grows apace.
At this stage of his thought, he seems ambivalent as to the limiting and conditioning role of facticity in our actions. But later in life Sartre's sense of what Max Weber called objective possibility will heighten and, with it, the claim that fundamental changes in our socioeconomic system are required for abstract freedom to be made concrete.
Thus, he will note shortly after the end of the war that "it is the elucidation of the new ideas of 'situation' and of 'beingin-the-world' that revolutionary behavior specifically calls for" ("Materialism and Revolution," Michelson 1962, p. 253).
It is in the context of situation that the concept of bad faith arises. Bad faith is a kind of self-deception, a sort of lying to oneself about the truth of one's situated being. Its most common form consists in collapsing our transcendence (our freedom) into our facticity by appeal to a type of determinism or by simply confessing: That's just the way I am.
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It is a denial of the possibility that consciousness brings to every situation. A related version of this type appeals to the image I wish to present to others or the one they have of me. That, too, is part of my facticity with which I seek to identify in self-deception as if my consciousness did not resist any attempt at full identity.
A less common form of bad faith volatilizes our facticity into transcendence by choosing to ignore the givens of our situation. This is the bad faith of the dreamer or of the person who flees their past as if it were not part of their situation.
But the possibility for self-deception arises from the dividedness of our consciousness as prereflective and reflective such that one can be prereflectively aware of more than one knows at the reflective level. Not that one is dealing with two consciousnesses: This deception occurs within the unity of one and the same consciousness.
Since Sartre denies the existence of the Freudian unconscious as he understands it because of its incompatibility with the ontological freedom of human reality, this notion of bad faith cannot appeal to unconscious drives or complexes. What Sartre calls existential psychoanalysis aims at dealing with such phenomena as bad faith and fundamental project without appealing to unconscious motives.
Its basic premise is that "man is a totality and not a collection" (Sartre 1943/1956, p. 568). In other words, at the base of human reality is a fundamental, unifying choice that establishes the criteria for all subsequent selections.
We come on the scene having already made that choice, which Sartre believes is guided by the ruling value to consciously be self-identical, that is, to be in-itself-foritself—an ontological impossibility. This is the meaning of Sartre's famous claim that humankind is a futile passion. But how each one lives out that self-defining choice is revealed in the subsequent choices that define a life.
"There is not a taste, a mannerism, or a human act," Sartre insists, "which is not revealing" (Sartre 1943/1956, p. 568). The task of psychoanalysis is hermeneutical: to interpret the specific nature of that fundamental choice, that is, the way one acquiesces in or resists that futile passion, by deciphering the symbols of a person's life.
What he calls the possibility of conversion is the constant threat of altering this basic choice, which haunts our lives. Echoing Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, Sartre calls this the anguish that accompanies the experience of our radical freedom.
Admitting that this psychoanalysis has yet to find its Freud, and with a nod toward the work that will occupy a good part of his remaining years, Sartre finds the intimations of such psychoanalysis in certain successful biographies.
In many ways, one can read Being and Nothingness as an argument moving from the highly abstract (nihilating consciousness, being in-itself and for-itself) to increasingly concrete phenomena such as my concrete relations with others, and culminating in the hermeneutic of our particular actions in order to determine the fundamental choice that defines the unity of our lives. Existentialist psychoanalysis both brings this undertaking to a close and opens the door for its application in the several biographies that will occupy Sartre's attention over the following decades.
THE CRITIQUE OF DIALECTICAL REASON. It was during the war, Sartre insists, that he discovered the philosophical significance of social relations. Being and Nothingness, with its emphasis on the looking/looked-at model of interpersonal relations, was incapable of explaining the positive reciprocity, collective action, and unintended consequences that a social philosophy requires.
In fact, Being and Nothingness describes the we subject as a "purely subjective Erlebnis (experience)" (Sartre 1943/1956, p. 420). Sartre breaks the barrier that confined Being and Nothingness to the psychological by introducing the concepts of dialectical praxis, the practico-inert and the mediating third.
Together, they account for the dialectical enrichment of individual praxis by group praxis that bears properly social predicates such as rights/duties, power, and function while preserving the freedom and responsibility of the individual, which is a defining characteristic of existentialist thought.
Praxis supplants consciousness in the lexicon of the Critique. It denotes human activity in its sociohistorical context. Praxis is dialectical in the sense that it both negates and conserves aspects of its object in a totalizing action that advances toward a more comprehensive viewpoint.
Thus, the negative reciprocity of two boxers in a match, in Sartre's example, when viewed dialectically, is realizing an enveloping social whole called professional boxing, which itself invites a still broader contextualization in various socioeconomic systems, such as racism, colonialism, and capitalism.
In Sartre's view dialectical thinking is holistic; unlike analytical reason, it welcomes properly social phenomena as irreducible to purely atomistic, usually psychological, relations. While admitting the validity of analytical reason within its domain, at a certain level of abstraction, he notes, the class struggle can be seen as the conflict of rationalities.
Sartre reserves a threefold primacy for free organic praxis in his social ontology: ontological, epistemic, and moral. Ontologically, there are only individuals and real relations among them. Praxis is the constitutive dialectic of social phenomena, which are relational entities constituted by individual praxes.
This is true even of group praxis, which is the synthetic enrichment of individual praxes in relation, mediated by each member as third to every other. Epistemically, the intelligibility of the group and of other social units is a function of the intelligibility of individual praxis, which is its foundation.
Sociohistorical intelligibility is dialectical, and the dialectic is grounded in individual praxis. In other words, Sartre denies the existence of a collective consciousness or subject except insofar as it can be seen as a quality of individuals-in-relation.
Sartre speaks of comprehension as the translucidity of individual praxis. It assumes the clarity that Sartre has reserved for the prereflective cogito in Being and Nothingness. The moral primacy of individual praxis follows from the other two forms.
Sartre is intent on preserving the moral responsibility of the group members as well as of those he describes as serialized by the mediation of worked matter, such as the television-viewing audience or the crowd waiting for a bus. In either case, whether the same in group activity and concern or other through the separation effected by the mediation of material things, individuals retain moral and not just causal responsibility for the praxis that sustains such relations.
The second basic component of Sartre's social ontology is what he calls the practico-inert. This complex term introduces aspects of being-in-itself into the realm of action. Sartre describes it as "simply the activity of others in so far as it is sustained and diverted by inorganic inertia" (Sartre 1960/1985, p. 556). Not raw nature, but the practico-inert is this mediating factor.
It includes the sedimentation of prior praxes whether in the form of socioeconomic systems such as colonialism and capitalism or as alienating forms of thought and behavior such as racism, which Sartre calls a serial idea. It constitutes the material memory of a society.
Sartre allows for two fundamental kinds of social reality: the active group constituting the common field and the effectively separated though ostensibly united (serialized) individuals forming the practico-inert field. The practico-inert constitutes fundamental sociality.
Since Sartre conceives the group as arising through an essential negation of practico-inert seriality, he characterizes the practico-inert ensemble as the matrix of groups and their grave. This rich concept is amenable to analytic reason since it is atomistic in nature.
But insofar as it occasions counterfinality in the sense that it sustains the boxer's feints and jabs, the conspirator's traps, and the unintended consequences of historical projects, its very antidialectic plays a role in dialectical rationality, conveying the experience of what Sartre calls dialectical necessity. Perhaps Sartre's best example of such counterfinality is the flooding and resultant soil erosion caused by Chinese peasants' deforestation undertaken to conserve their land.
But the concept of the mediating third is the key that opens the door to properly group praxis in Sartre's social ontology. There was a concept of the third in Being and Nothingness, but this third exercised an objectifying and an alienating function in accord with the looking/looked at model. That concept continues in the Critique, where it generates the alienating relations of serial individuals and collectives.
But the mediating third is a functional concept denoting the group member who is the same as the others in common interest and action. As such, it does not objectify or diminish but enriches the responsibility of each in a common practice. Sartre refers to this ternary relation as a free, interindividual reality.
Simply put, where the practico-inert mediates, human relations are serial; where praxis mediates, these relations are free. And where the practico-inert is modified by material scarcity, Sartre argues, this mediation becomes violent. Such is his bridge between social ontology and history as we know it.