“Get the Guests:” Jean-Paul Sartre’s Theory of Intersubjectivity and its Implications for Communicative Action
Bealin, Edward J.
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In this paper, I will show that Jean-Paul Sartre’s ontological theory has broad and devastating effects on the possibility of successful language use. First, Sartre’s ontology of the isolated individual or being-for-itself leads to a complex dilemma with striking similarities to the paradox of Immanuel Kant’s moral theory. Sartre’s resolution of this paradox follows the same track of sociality found in Hegel’s earlier Master-slave dialectic, although Sartre alters the initial course of such a characteristic interaction. This change of direction causes Sartre’s social ontology to develop into a zero-sum exchange in which one can only serve as a free subject by casting the other into the mode of an object or instrument. Within such a system, the free subject who issues a speech act is incapable of taking the requisite communicative orientation towards the hearer, because she is wholly unreceptive to the potential of criticism from the hearer. With the speaker incapable of adopting the appropriate performative attitude towards a hearer, the two participants can never reach a cooperatively secured and shared understanding of any given speech act and linguistic communication becomes impossible within the framework of Sartre’s social ontology.