What else can I do?

Sissela Bok

  • Sartre: A Life by Annie Cohen-Solal, translated by Anna Cancogni
    Heinemann, 591 pp, £17.95, October 1987, ISBN 0 434 14020 1
  • Writing against: A Biography of Sartre by Ronald Hayman
    Weidenfeld, 487 pp, £14.95, October 1986, ISBN 0 297 79002 1
  • Sartre: Romantic Rationalist by Iris Murdoch
    Chatto, 158 pp, £11.95, September 1987, ISBN 0 7011 3095 4

‘What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope?’ Immanuel Kant’s three questions, set forth in his Critique of Pure Reason as encompassing all the interests of his reason, were also those which Jean-Paul Sartre pursued throughout his life, however different he intended his answers to be from those of Kant. Few thinkers in our time have pressed these questions with Sartre’s perseverence and imagination: but his subtle exploration of the first question contrasts with the shallowness of his various answers to the second, and with his growing disposition to posit improbable political utopias in response to the third. By the time he published his last, unfinished work on philosophy, the Critique of Dialectical Reason, he knew that the all-encompassing synthesis for which he had laboured was out of his reach.

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