The concept of perversity as a means towards a non-humanist existentialism in the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche

Mitchell, D
(2013) The concept of perversity as a means towards a non-humanist existentialism in the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche. Doctor of Philosophy thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Existentialism, broadly construed, can be understood in terms of a desire to ‘return to man’. In other words, underpinning existentialist thought is a sense that modern philosophy has lost touch with the essential goal of allowing man to comprehend his own existence. And it is this aim then, of a return to man’s being as it is concretely lived and experienced, that it seeks to realise. However it will be argued in this thesis that, against familiar criticisms of such a project, this ‘return’ does not simply necessitate a return to, or acceptance of, ‘humanism’. For influenced by Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism, Marxist, structuralist and post-structuralist critics have all suggested this movement is synonymous with a naive or romantic ‘humanist’ idea of the subject. That is, they have suggested that existentialism’s ‘return to man’ amounts at best to the radicalisation of a discredited subject-entity concept. As such, against this, we will argue that existentialism and its ‘return to man’ is not simply another humanism. And we will attempt to demonstrate this point, and resolve this apparent contradiction, by exploring the idea of perversity in the work of Sartre and Nietzsche. For if man is understood as a ‘perversion’ of something other than himself then it may be possible to have a philosophy of man without appealing to the notion of an isolated subject-entity. How will we do this though? In the first half of the thesis we will look at the way in which for Nietzsche the human can be understood as a perversion of fundamental natural forces. We will attempt this first of all by looking at the genesis of the free spirit as a perversion of man’s normal, fettered state. Secondly we will look at On The Genealogy of Morality, and explore how man can be understood there as a ‘perverse animal’; as a perversion of the active force of will-to-power. Continuing, in the second half of the thesis, we will then explore the idea of man as a ‘perversion of being’ that we find in Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. We will see there how man exists, first of all, as a perverse non-being in relation to being. Next though we will look at how this ontological fact implies a secondary perverse attempt by man to conceal this reality from himself. Consequently then by exploring such a ‘perverse’ conception of man we hope to show how a non-humanist existentialism, and ‘return to man’, is possible.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy)
Additional Information: Date: 2013-10 (completed)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Existentialism, Humanism, Anti-humanism, Phenomenological Ontology, Letter on Humanism
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of the Arts
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 31 Jul 2014 10:27
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2022 00:12
DOI: 10.17638/00017453
  • Whistler, D