Date of Award

Fall 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

South, James

Second Advisor

Monahan, Michael

Third Advisor

Carter, Curtis


This dissertation reassesses the complex philosophical relationship between Sartre and psychoanalysis. Most scholarship on this topic focuses on Sartre’s criticisms of the unconscious as anathema both to his conception of the human psyche as devoid of any hidden depths or mental compartments and, correlatively, his account of human freedom. Many philosophers conclude that there is little common ground between Sartrean existentialism and psychoanalytic theory. I argue, on the contrary, that by shifting the emphasis from concerns about the nature of the unconscious to questions about the role of imagination in psychical life, we can see that Sartre and Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalytic theory develop strikingly similar accounts of human subjectivity. After establishing the historical background of Sartre’s career-long engagement with psychoanalysis, I demonstrate the proximity of Sartre and Lacan on the nature of unconscious thought. I proceed to develop the claim that there is a homology between the concept of unconscious fantasy in psychoanalysis and the concept of the imaginary in Sartre’s philosophical corpus. Despite the concept of fantasy being one of the more structuralist-inspired aspects of Lacan’s metapsychology, I show that Sartre’s concept of the imaginary is likewise a structural feature of the psyche, one which establishes the coordinates within which the subject engages with the world. For Sartre, Freud, and Lacan fantasies form the core of subjectivity, giving form to the basic patterns of one’s character. Taken together, these three thinkers furnish a nuanced view of fantasy/the imaginary. On the one hand it is determining insofar as it is responsible for many of the psychopathologies met with in psychoanalysis. On the other hand, it is liberating insofar as the agency of the subject is implicated in the formation of fantasy. I thereby show that Sartre does not fit the caricatured picture of a radical voluntarist that is often attributed to him and that psychoanalysis can accommodate a conception of human freedom.

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