The self and others

imitation in infants and Sartre's analysis of the look

Kathleen Wider

pp. 195-210

In Being and Nothingness Jean-Paul Sartre contends that the self's fundamental relation with the other is one of inescapable conflict. I argue that the research of the last few decades on the ability of infants - even newborns - to imitate the facial expressions and gestures of adults provides counter-evidence to Sartre's claim. Sartre is not wrong that the look of the other may be a source of self-alienation, but that is not how it functions in the first instance. An earlier and more primary form of looking with and at the other is a source of self-discovery. In early imitation, the infant and adult each see the other not as objects of experience but as subjects of action. Such looking is necessary for the infant to realize its own potential as a self-conscious, goal-directed subject of perception and action.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1023/A:1010033712334

Full citation:

Wider, K. (1999). The self and others: imitation in infants and Sartre's analysis of the look. Continental Philosophy Review 32 (2), pp. 195-210.

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