Portrait of Sartre as a Cartsian

THE Metaphysical meditations of Descartes constitute the secret which allows us to understand the thought of Sartre? This is the audacious thesis of C. Riquier, but can it extend to the whole of his work??

How to show the importance of a philosophical work? A first method is to bring to light, through an internal reading, the power of one's theses, concepts and arguments. It is also possible, through comparative work, to compare it with another work considered as classic. It is this second path that Camille Riquier proposes in her book Metamorphosis of Descartes. Sartre's secret: it is a question of showing that Sartre composed an important work in particular because it confronted the work of Descartes. In doing so, Camille Riquier participates in the movement of Sartrean renaissance in France for around twenty years.

His work is composed of two parts: the first, the shortest, focuses on the relationship maintained with Descartes by the French philosophy of XXe century then the revival of Cartesianism in France through the work of Husserl. The second, which gives its subtitle to the book, is devoted to the influence of Descartes on the work of Sartre.

Descartes and French philosophy

In the first part, Camille Riquier argues that French philosophers, more than their counterparts in the United Kingdom, Germany or other countries, are marked by the figure of Descartes. If this is not necessarily a reference for all French philosophers, it is a referent for those who can borrow from him the framework necessary to construct a work, without repeating his ideas (p. 21). Rather than supporting the existence of a French spirit, C. Riquier defends the idea that the context in which a philosopher writes determines his or her work: apart from the universalism of ideas defended by a number of philosophers, there would be, depending on the situation from which we writing, a certain way of doing philosophy, a shape And an order where to flow and deploy one’s ideas (p. 30). However, in France, according to the author, this form and this order would be drawn from the work of Descartes. Drawing what could become a research program in the history of philosophy, Camille Riquier distinguishes three paths taken by French philosophy: the path of the cogito, the path of the system and the path of the moderns. If Descartes' work undoubtedly constitutes a turning point in the history of philosophy, readers may wonder if these three paths would not have existed without Descartes: basically each of them also found its deployment in European philosophical works (i.e. here not French). However, we can recognize that a passage through Descartes (his ideas or his method) seems essential in France. Since C. Riquier recognizes, for example, Montaigne as a precursor of authors who mix the narrative of the self their pursuit of the universal (p. 114), readers could also wonder if it would not be possible to trace a lineage that would go beyond Descartes and of which he would be a tutelary, but not principled, figure.

Then C. Riquier focuses on the relationship between Husserl and Cartesianism and clearly shows how Descartes is an important interlocutor for the author of Cartesian meditations, more than Kant in particular. This chapter allows C. Riquier to draw an interesting dividing line between two paths of French phenomenology: that of intentionality versus that of reduction. This sharing also allows us to show the relationship that French phenomenology has with a certain form of realism. This question also underlines the originality of the phenomenological method in France in contrast to the works of the precursors Husserl and Heidegger, particularly in the criticism of idealism. Here again, a real research program on the history of phenomenology could be deployed.

Read Sartre's work as one of the Metaphysical meditations by Descartes

The second part, which constitutes two thirds of the work, begins this research program on one of the most important authors of French phenomenology. It consists of showing that the construction of Sartre's work responds to the different parts of the Metaphysical meditations of Descartes. In reality, throughout the reading, Camille Riquier's references to Sartre's work are mainly taken from Being and nothingness, Nausea, The imagination and the Notebooks for a morality. A few rare forays are made into existential biographies (Baudelaire, Mallarm, Saint Genet, actor and martyr And The family idiot), and very little in The Critique of Dialectical Reason. The influence of Marxism on the work of Sartre and the problems of collective action dealt with in this latter work make it more difficult to establish links with the work of Descartes. That being said, even if it is not realized in this work, we can perfectly agree with C. Riquier on the ambition to carry out a unifying reading of the works of Sartre.

From specific elements, Camille Riquier proves that the Descartes reference is certainly discreet, but frequent, which would mean according to him that the author of Being and nothingness borrows a Cartesian approach or transposes it into his own work, in particular when it comes to removing God in the economy of reasons, even if it means disrupting the order that they must follow (p. 111). However, is this upheaval of the order of reasons not an obstacle to the thesis according to which the work of Descartes would be for Sartre the matrix of his ideas? After all, wouldn’t the work of Heidegger or even that of Kant play similar roles?? Although these last two authors are influences or philosophical adversaries of Sartre, C. Riquier maintains that it is the work of Descartes alone which is at the principle of Sartre's approach.

If we want to account for some essential moments of Camille Riquier's work, we must first emphasize how he shares the influences suffered by Sartre with regard to the question of the cogito and the ego. obviously Husserl is a privileged interlocutor in LEGO Transcendencebut C. Riquier also shows that it is the Cartesian cogito which is questioned throughout this work to extend Descartes' gesture, then go beyond it in order to achieve a pure, instantaneous reflection which does not claim that a I is hidden behind the acts of conscience. Sartre can thus respond to Kantian critiques of paralogisms (p. 157).

We can then follow with great interest the third meditation from the book p. 168 et seq.) by which the author shows how Sartre criticizes the idealism that he reads in the Idea of Husserl, rejecting the phenomenological reduction and, defending intentionality, how he can establish the reality of being in a ontological proof inspired by that of Descartes (p. 179).

This is yet another of the Cartesian proofs of the existence of God which is mobilized in the fourth meditation consecrates the temporalization and existence of others. However, C. Riquier notes: Where Descartes showed how God maintained theego temporally in existence, it is, without God and without egoto join the for-itself as the present self temporalizing itself beyond instantaneity. (p. 201) Indeed, beyond the Cartesian approach, it is thanks to his description of the for-itself as a power of nihilation that Sartre manages to account for temporalization, in particular the importance of projection into the future. More stimulating, in our opinion, is the connection that C. Riquier draws between the proof of God by the idea of ​​infinity and the relationship of the for-itself to others in the philosophy of Sartre. The existence of the other transcends that of the for-itself, making it elusive (p.220). This same proof can also be considered influential in the thought of Levinas, who in doing so, responds to Sartre: as C. Riquier points out, the idea of ​​infinity in Levinas is understood as desire, it does not cause shame my facticitybut my freedom, its arbitrariness, its violence (p. 313).

The fifth and final meditation is finally the one which establishes the links between Cartesian morality and that of Sartre. By examining Sartre's attempt to found a morality in the Notebooks for a morality, Camille Riquier seeks to show how the generosity understood by Sartre borrows from that of Descartes: it is based on the freedom recognized or demanded from others (p. 250-251). However, even if C. Riquier notes that Sartrean generosity requires action in History, the analysis of Sartrean philosophy on this question is not deployed. This change of perspective in relation to Descartes finally leads the author of Metamorphosis of Descartes address the motif of failure in Sartre’s thought. By rereading Sartre's latest texts, his autobiography The words and his latest interviews, C. Riquier develops a meditation on who loses wins And who wins loses: by integrating and assuming failure in his work, Sartre achieves success.


Finally, Camille Riquier's work is a very stimulating read in more than one way: it allows us to reinvest Sartrean thought and to extract it from the unfounded criticisms which consider the author as a bad reader of Husserl or Heidegger, thereby neglecting his ambition to construct an original philosophy without remaining in the position of interpreting previous works. On this point, Camille Riquier clearly shows the power of Sartrean theses. He quite often emphasizes the originality of Sartre's work, beyond its Cartesian affiliation: we can think in particular of the relationship of the human being to the situation, the contingency of existence, the conception of nothingness and freedom. By presenting them as a metamorphosis of Descartes, the author does not seek to reduce their originality, but to place the author of Metaphysical meditations and Trait of the passions of the soul to the principle of Sartrean ambition. C. Riquier's method thus seems to us more that of a comparative and vertical history of philosophy than that proposed by Bergson who would seek to reach the philosophical intuition of the author studied. This perhaps explains why certain connections with Descartes seem less convincing. They relate Sartre's theses to a Cartesian inspiration rather than confronting them with the concrete reality which they seek to account for. These analyzes have the merit of providing insight that had not been produced with such systematicity until now, but they take the risk of putting Sartre's ambition to be a great philosopher at the principle of his work rather than showing that it is his existential and political commitment which commands his work and its evolution.

In short, we can wonder if the method used in his book by C. Riquier does not replace that of Sartre: writing while reading Descartes, rather than resolving the philosophical problems of his time. Readers will judge this demonstration. written in a clear and distinct language, with a constant concern for precision, this work resonates a secret which we then wonder if it will exhaust it or if the tutelary figure of Descartes (as he remains central in philosophical studies at the University in France) will not continue to be a model with which any philosopher aspiring to forge a work must confront himself.