Sartre's Theory Of Sexual Desire

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In this paper I will examine the question of whether Nagel is justified in his claims that Sartre’s notion of sexual desire is achievable. I will do this by first examining both Sartre and Nagel’s theories in turn and then identifying how they overlap and whether this overlap is enough to support Nagel’s claims.
In order to decide whether or not Nagel is able to claim that Sartre’s view is attainable, we must first examine Sartre’s argument. Sartre approaches the subject of sexual desire from an ontological standpoint. To him, sexual desire is not merely about some psycho-physiological predisposition to seek out partners for the purpose of procreation. He defends this by using the example of young children and adults ‘who are ignorant in the
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Where Sartre’s standpoint was ontological in nature, Nagel instead presents his idea through a psychological lense. Nagel’s paper takes a detailed focus on the notion of sexual perversion, and what makes certain desires able to be classified as ‘normal’ and others as ‘perverse’. According to Nagel, perversions are forms of desire with a complicated, psychologically based structure, opposed to a simple psycho-physiologically based one. Sexual desire is not the desire to procreate; it is instead the desire for the uniqueness of a particular individual. For Nagel, the goal of sexuality is to make ourselves and our desires visible to another person. We do not want them to simply see us, however: we want them to sense us, and us them. Through sensing the other person’s desires, we are able to gain a stronger understanding of our own, as he states; ‘Desire is therefore not merely the perception of a preexisting embodiment of the other but ideally a contribution to his further embodiment which in turn enhances the original subject’s sense of himself.’ (Nagel, 22). Nagel considers this reciprocation of sexual desire to be the sexual ‘norm’ to which other desires are compared, with major deviations to this ‘norm’ classified as ‘perversions’. The main two ‘perversions’ Nagel choses to examine are sadism and masochism. Both of these ‘perversions’ are considered as such due to the fact that neither require the other party to reciprocate their desires.…show more content…
This argument is not wrong; after all, Sartre’s stance is deeply rooted in ontology and Nagel’s in psychology. In fact, in his paper, Nagel even notes while Sartre’s notion is quite intelligent it is ultimately doomed to fail. This is due to the fact that Sartre’s notion of one reducing the Other to simply an object or subject is ultimately ‘unstable’, and thus nullifying the concepts of both ‘successful sexual relation(s)’ (20) and perversion. This idea of no possibility of success in Sartre’s notion is also alluded to by Rosalyn Diprose in her article ‘Generosity: Between Love and Desire’. Here, she describes how Sartre’s notion ‘deadens (the) possibilities’ of both oneself and the Other (Diprose, 7), by which she means that by reducing a body to flesh one removes its ‘situation’ (6). The body no longer has any freedom or future, and is thus reduced to something lesser than it was in prior to the encounter. It cannot even be argued that by removing the Other’s freedom and possibilities we ensure own, as in order to reduce the Other to this lesser state, we must first reduce ourselves. The Other cannot view themselves as flesh until we first ‘imply (our) own fleshness’ (7). As such, one is forced to conclude that Sartre’s notion is destined to fail; instead of discovering ourselves through the Other, as Sartre intends, we instead end up

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