Beyond an instrumental view of violence
on Sartre's discussion of violence in notebooks for an ethics
This paper argues that Jean-Paul Sartre’s discussion of violence from his Notebooks for an ethics constitutes an attempt to go beyond an instrumental view of violence. An “instrumental view of violence” essentially assumes that violent behavior is a form of pragmatic behavior whose distinguishing feature consists in the kind of means one employs for reaching one’s goals (violent behavior resorting to means that are harmful for others, whereas non-violent behavior does not). For his part, Sartre attempts to provide a stronger demarcation between violent and pragmatic behaviors. First, violent behavior is, for Sartre, not necessarily characterized by the use of particular means, but by a particular manner of using means, one that involves a certain “forcing” or “straining” of the means. Second, I argue that, according to Sartre, in contrast with pragmatic behavior, violent behavior involves a modification of one’s attitude towards one’s goals. Three such modified attitudes with respect to one’s goals are detailed here, namely the non-productive attitude (the assumption that the goal is not to be produced or that it is not to be produced by means that are under our control), the counter-productive attitude (the exacerbation of one’s proximate goal at the expense of more distant goals) and the anti-productive attitude (the active refusal of one’s previously set goal). Moreover, I show that Sartre’s view that violence involves the “straining” of one’s means is undergirded by his idea that violent behavior presupposes the modification of one’s attitude with respect to one’s goals.