A new release of Routledge's Great Minds series is Jean-Paul Sartre's Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions, translated by Philip Mairet with a new foreword by Sebastian Gardner. Overall, Gardner's contribution is better received as an introduction to the conversation Sartre is entering, rather than a thorough contextualization of Sartre's project in the Sketch.
Gardner begins with a surprisingly thorough biography of Sartre for the amount of space he is working with. In just three pages, he takes us through Sartre's childhood, education and meeting his life-long companion Simone de Beauvoir, his introduction to and passion for philosophy and literature, imprisonment during World War II, his revolutionary efforts and friendship with Albert Camus, Sartre's political commitments, and eventually, his death. As an introduction to Sartre's life it does well to impress and whet the appetite of the reader, leading in to Gardner's foreword of the essay.
Gardner's entry into his analysis of the Sketch is to position it as "the philosophical counterpart to the literary articulation of existentialism in Sartre's Nausea, which appeared a year earlier." He continues by offering a succinct summary of the essay, first by formulating the problem that Sartre is dealing with as a concern for whether emotions constrain self-determination or are themselves instances of self-determination, and continues to offer brief explanations of the targets of Sartre's theoretical opposition.
Moving into his exposition of Sartre's notion of emotion, Gardner passively introduces terms that may poison the well for the reader. Despite drawing from other material in this foreword, Gardner makes statements such as "This transformation, which is freely initiated at the pre-reflective level…" without detailing exactly what that means. One of, if not the most, controversial topics in Sartre's work is his idea of freedom, and it seems that Gardner missed the opportunity to better frame and contextualize this concept that would better equip the reader with the tools necessary to understand the broader scope of Sartre's work. Instead, they are left with their own understanding of freedom and further, how it operates at different levels of consciousness.
Interestingly, it is not until after Gardner uses terms meant to be understood within the context of phenomenological analysis that he describes Sartre's project as phenomenological and his theoretical influences. In fact, when he mentions Being and Nothingness in the beginning of the forward, he leaves out its full title: Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology.
To be fair, Gardner does say from the start that "Sartre's analysis of emotion can be grasped, and its penetrating brilliance appreciated, without any prior knowledge of Sartre's ideas or issues in philosophical psychology," and ends by stating "the Sketch continues to provide a reference point for reflection on emotion among philosophers who have no interest in or sympathy with Sartre's project of constructing a philosophy of freedom." This may be overreaching, but it seems that at the very least Gardner ought to have introduced us to the idea of intentionality or a more thorough description of the pre-reflective and reflective modes of consciousness than what he currently offers.
Despite the terminology used and lacked, however, Gardner does do well to introduce us to Sartre's project in a historical context and places us within the conversation that was being had during his time. As mentioned, the foreword is enough to impress the reader with biographical information and whet the appetite enough to further explore Sartre's work as a whole.
© 2013 Adam Kohler
Adam Kohler teaches philosophy at Suffolk County Community College and St. Joseph's College. His is also Director of Research for Mission Be, a not-for-profit that brings mindful education to schools and organizations on Long Island, NY.