Jean Paul Sartre

The Nothingness At The Heart Of His Philosophy

Empowering perspectives undermined by intellectual arrogance and spiritual ignorance



Jean Paul Sartre - An Overview

Jean Paul Sartre (1905–1980) is one of the better known philosophers of the twentieth century.

He will always be remembered for his espousal and advocacy of the existentialist philosophical perspective. Alongside Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus he is rightly regarded as one of the leading lights of this modern movement.

At root, existentialism:

  • Views human existence as having no meaning other than that which you choose to give it, and 
  • Is about living life authentically by making your own choices for which you alone accept total responsibility.

Sartre the Existentialist

His writings  and lectures set the tone for intellectual life in the decade immediately following the Second World War as existentialism gained traction and became fashionable in the mid-20th century which was the post-war era of the rejection of absolutism, and a period of systemic challenges to the political and societal status quo. It was also the time of the emergence of the “swinging sixties”.

Existentialism provided a language for what was seen as the problem of life as a human being faced with a bewildering array of choices, in a world of absurdity devoid of any inherent meaning, and for which you hold total responsibility.

Jean Paul Sartre was born in Paris, where he lived for most of his life. He studied philosophy at École Normale Supérieure until 1929 when he met the existentialist feminist philosopher with whom he enjoyed a lifelong partnership.

He spent most of the 1930s teaching in the northern French port city of Le Havre, until he was drafted into the French army at the outbreak of World War II in 1939 and where he served as a meteorologist but was captured and held as a prisoner of war until 1941.

After returning to German-occupied Paris, he had some limited involvement with the underground resistance to the occupation and wrote many of his best-known works, including "Being and Nothingness", the plays "No Exit" and "The Files", and the novel "The Age of Reason".

Sartre the Marxist

In 1946 he quit teaching and from this period onward, Jean Paul Sartre’s work and public image became far more political and particularly anti-colonial in tone. He became a committed Marxist.






Sartre the humanist

In 1945 Jean Paul Sartre delivered what has become his famously popular public lecture “Existentialism is a Humanism” to an eagerly receptive crowd in Paris on 2th Oct 1945.

The transcript and analysis of this lecture continues to be the major introduction to his philosophy tom a non-specialist general audience.

Sartre allegedly regretted the publication of this lecture as it revealed his attempt to widen the social application of existentialism in response to his Communist and Catholic critics. 

For a key point summary of existentialism [in simple English] together with a closer look at some of it's big ideas and their weaknesses and a practical assessment of how this aligns with the key themes on this site please see: Existentialism

Sartre the Christian

It is interesting to observe that in his last days Sartre could not live with the consequences of his own atheist existential beliefs and he became a Christian believer and called for a priest...













Resources:


The academic view of Jean Paul Sartre:

Stanford University Encyclopedia Of Philosophy

Criticism of Jean Paul Sartre:

Jean-Paul Sartre - The nothingness at the heart of his philosophy

The academic view of existentialism:

Stanford University Encyclopedia Of Philosophy

Easy to read view of existentialism:

Notre Dame University - College of Arts & Letters







"...his philosophy was never felt, but all a pose."

[Clive James]






Return to: Existentialism








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