Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre

03.05.2015 |

Episode #6 of the course “Brief history of Contemporary philosophy”

One of the most famous French thinkers of the 20th century, Jean-Paul Sartre was a writer and political activist as much as he was a philosopher. Writing essays, novels, plays, and biographies in addition to his nonfiction works, Sartre demonstrated his existential philosophy through his own examples; he believed that one of the best ways to demonstrate the turmoil of the human condition was through the experience of it captured in literature and theater. Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964 but refused it, stating that no writer should allow himself to become an institution, and that he always refused prizes.

Jean-Paul Sartre was greatly influenced by the concepts of time and consciousness and developed his own radical view of human reality, which later became known as existentialism (although Sartre never identified himself as an existentialist). He theorized that because there is no Creator, there is no predetermined purpose for each person, and therefore, each individual is responsible for his or her own life, decisions, choices, and liberty. The great maxim of this idea is that people are “condemned to be free.”

The philosophical text that Sartre is perhaps best remembered for is Being and Nothingness, which touches on multiple fields of philosophy, analyzing the anxiety and problems associated with the human condition. Critics claim that he is false in stating that his theories ignore metaphysics, because they clearly make metaphysical claims. He is also remembered for his literary works that express and model his ideas about human freedoms, including Nausea, and the famous line from No Exit: “Hell is other people.”


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