Volume 65, Issue 3, Summer 2021
Special Topic: Technology and Society
Beyond the Minimal Self
Sartre on the Imaginary Dimension of Selfhood
This article reconstructs Sartre’s theory of selfhood against the background of the contemporary debate between minimal-self theories and narrative-self theories. I argue that Sartre’s theory incorporates both an emphasis on the singular first-person perspective, which is characteristic of minimal-self theories, and an emphasis on the practical intelligibility of experience, which is characteristic of narrative-self theories. The distinctiveness of the Sartrean combination of these motifs consists in its idea of the necessary ideal-relatedness of consciousness. According to Sartre, the logical structure of the pre-reflective cogito requires the haunting presence of an ideal of self-coincidence, which determines for consciousness the meaning of its lived experiences. Consciousness exists as a question to itself due to this ideal-relatedness, and it answers this question by projecting its possibilities as creative and symbolic realizations of this ideal. Establishing the connection between Sartre’s theory of imagination and his theory of selfhood, I suggest that both the ideal and the possibility of consciousness are lived in the manner of the imaginary.