Beyond an Instrumental View of Violence: On Sartre’s Discussion of Violence in Notebooks for an Ethics

Human Studies 43 (2):237-255 (2020)
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Abstract

This paper argues that Jean-Paul Sartre’s discussion of violence from his Notebooks for an ethics constitutes an attempt to go beyond an instrumental view of violence. An “instrumental view of violence” essentially assumes that violent behavior is a form of pragmatic behavior whose distinguishing feature consists in the kind of means one employs for reaching one’s goals. For his part, Sartre attempts to provide a stronger demarcation between violent and pragmatic behaviors. First, violent behavior is, for Sartre, not necessarily characterized by the use of particular means, but by a particular manner of using means, one that involves a certain “forcing” or “straining” of the means. Second, I argue that, according to Sartre, in contrast with pragmatic behavior, violent behavior involves a modification of one’s attitude towards one’s goals. Three such modified attitudes with respect to one’s goals are detailed here, namely the non-productive attitude, the counter-productive attitude and the anti-productive attitude. Moreover, I show that Sartre’s view that violence involves the “straining” of one’s means is undergirded by his idea that violent behavior presupposes the modification of one’s attitude with respect to one’s goals.

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Ciprian Jeler
Al.I.Cuza Iasi University of Iasi

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