Creating Society as a Work of Art
: Towards an Imaginative Logic of Action in Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason

  • Austin Hayden Smidt

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Jean-Paul Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason is generally read as a work of social ontology and/or normative social theory. The present project proposes that it is better to approach CDR as a heuristic, as a formal, logical investigation into the elementary formal structures of history. Once the ontological and normative hermeneutic is attuned towards a hypo-logical reading, CDR becomes a proto-text of critical theory that can aid future theorists in both analyzing material conditions and proposing paths for liberatory praxis.

    This thesis is divided into two parts. Part One is an analysis of the key formal, logical constructions in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason. Their intelligibility is the result of a fresh reading of a text that has been either relatively neglected or that has been read within a particular, predefined way. This reading will be challenged through an exegetical approach, while also engaging with key figures of the standard interpretive approach. The intent is not to smear previous interpreters, for this work is heavily indebted to them, but to suggest a slight corrective that will enable a hidden richness of this text to be uncovered. At the end of Part One, the various modes of “practical ensembles” will be understood by their formal, logical, and heuristic value. This will allow us to construct a theory of a logical disposition that is being termed an ‘imaginative logic of action’ that will resist the hegemonic control of seriality.

    Part Two connects these concepts with Sartre’s early work on the imagination and suggests further ways in which such a marriage can be strengthened by analyzing select tendencies from recent trends in Continental Philosophy. The result is that a renewed understanding of the ‘living logic of action’ in Critique of Dialectical Reason emerges as an ‘imaginative logic of action’, whereby the imagination becomes a latent, embedded moment of praxis itself in the latterʼs perpetual recreative active antagonism to serial conditions. By incorporating the imagination into Sartreʼs living logic of action, two results follow: 1) by further explicating the logic of the dynamic power relations that make up social life, a more robust set of analytical tools emerge with which novel social and political theory can develop and 2) by theorizing ways in which such a logic can be deployed in the perpetual transformation of life, a creative, forward-looking, utopic thought is developed.
    Date of Award2017
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAshley Woodward (Supervisor)


    • Sartre
    • Imagination
    • Critique of dialectical reason
    • Existentialism
    • Marx
    • Marxism
    • French philosophy
    • Continental philosophy
    • Philosophy
    • Political philosophy
    • Critical theory
    • Humanism

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