Jean-Paul Sartre

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Name: Jean-Paul Sartre
Region: Western Philosophy
Birth Date: 21 June 1905




Personal Life

Sartre was born in Paris where he spent most of his life. His father was Jean-Baptiste Sartre, an officer of the French Navy, and Anne-Marie Schweitzer, an Alsation.
His father died when he was 15 months old, and he was subsequently raised by his mother and her father Charles Schweitzer, a high school professor of German.

Charles Schweitzer introduced Sartre to mathematics and classical literature at an early age, and this led to Sartre's lure to philosophy after reading Henri Bergson's Essay on the Immediate Data of Conciousness.

He studied and gained a doctorate in philosophy from the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he also met Simone de Beauvoir who studied at the Sorbonne. They went on to have a open marriage and influenced each others works greatly. In 1937-1940 Sartre published his first philosophical essays and novel, Nausea. He served in the army during the Second world War, spending much of his nine months as a prisoner of war in 1940 teaching Heidegger to his fellow prinonsers. He was released due to his poor health and took up a post as a teacher at the Lycée Pasteur near Paris, replacing a Jewish teacher who was forbidden to teach by Vichy law.

During the later years of the war Sartre was involved with underground publications, working closely with Beauvoir and Camus. In 1945 he founded Les Temps moderne, a journal in which many of his early essays were published.

Philosophical Development

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 - 1980) was a talented philosopher who developed numerous philosophical systems as well as acclaimed novels and plays. Sartre's work can be roughly split into three periods: the first of existential phenomenology (1934-1956), dialectical analysis of groups and history (1957-1970) and an exploration of lived historical experience (1971-1980). Sartre's influence in France peaked after the end of the second world war, fitting the countries love of liberation and freedom after occupation. Sartre never gained much ground in Britain where he was seen as more of a novelist than a serious philosopher by the more analytic traditions. His influence ebbed in France too as the country moved away from Structuralism and humanist traditions.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964, which he subsequently declined. He is perhaps best known for his contributions to existentialism, a dominating movement in post second world war European thought.

He also made major contributions to Marxist theory and adapted Freud's approach to understanding persons from deterministic to a teleological analysis that treats persons as self-constituting agents. His focus was on philosophy as applied to ever day life, and extended his philosophy into political views in opposition to the Vietnam war.


Phenomenology and existentialism




Psychology and ethics

Moral psychology


History and structure










  • "L'enfer, c'est les autres", usually translated as "Hell is other people" - Nausea
  • "Death is a continuation of my life without me..." - The Condemned of Altona
  • "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution." - Upon refusing the Nobel Prize, Oct. 22, 1964
  • "Existence precedes and rules essence." - Being and Nothingness (1943)
  • We are all actors


Primary Sources

  • French
    • L’être et le néant - Sartre 1943
    • Les Mots - Sartre 1964
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1936a) L’Imagination, Paris: Alcan; trans. F. Williams, Imagination, a Psychological Critique, AnnArbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1962. (A history of theories of the imagination leading up toHusserl.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1936b) ‘La Transcendance de l’ego, Esquisse d’une description phénoménologique’, RecherchesPhilosophiques 6; repr. in La Transcendance de l’ego, Esquisse d’une description phénoménologique, ed. S. leBon, Paris: Vrin, 1965; trans. F. Williams and R. Kirkpatrick, The Transcendence of the Ego. An ExistentialistTheory of Consciousness, New York: Noonday, 1962.(A phenomenological account of the ego.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1938) La Nausée, Paris: Gallimard; trans. L. Alexander, Nausea, or The Diary of Antoine Roquentin,New York: New Directions, 1949; trans. R. Baldick, Nausea, or The Diary of Antoine Roquentin, Middlesex:Penguin, 1965.(Novel in diary form about the discovery by Antoine Roquentin of the contingency ofexistence.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1939) Esquisse d’une théorie des émotions, Paris: Hermann; trans. B. Frechtman, The Emotions:Outline of a Theory, New York: Philosophical Library, 1948; trans. P. Mairet, Sketch for a Theory of The Emotions, London: Methuen, 1962. (Study of the psychology of the emotions.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1940) L’Imaginaire, psychologie phénoménologique de l’imagination, Paris: Gallimard; trans. B.Frechtman, The Psychology of the Imagination, New York: Philosophical Library, 1948.(A phenomenologicalstudy of imagination.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1943a) L’Être et le Néant. Essai d’ontologie phénoménologique, Paris: Gallimard; trans. H.E.Barnes, Being and Nothingness: An Essay of Phenomenological Ontology, New York: Philosophical Library,1956; London: Methuen, 1957.(Sartre’s major philosophical work: a study of the relationship betweenconsciousness and the world, and between consciousness and other consciousnesses.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1943b) Les Mouches, Paris: Gallimard; repr. Paris: Livres de Poche, 1971; trans. S. Gilbert, TheFlies, in No Exit and Three Other Plays, New York: Vintage Books, 1949.(Resistance play based on the Greekmyth of Orestes.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1945) Huis Clos, Paris: Gallimard; repr. Paris: Livres de Poche, 1971; trans. S. Gilbert, In Camera,in No Exit and Three Other Plays, New York: Vintage Books, 1949.(Drama of existence in which three peopleare trapped together for eternity.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1945-9) Les Chemins de la liberté (The Roads to Freedom), vol. 1, L’Âge de raison, Paris:Gallimard, 1945; trans. E. Sutton, The Age of Reason, New York: Knopf, 1947; vol. 2, Le Sursis, Paris:Gallimard, 1945; trans. E. Sutton, The Reprieve, New York: Knopf, 1947; vol. 3, La Mort dans l’âme, Paris:Gallimard, 1949; trans. G. Hopkins, Troubled Sleep, New York: Vintage Books, 1951.(Trilogy of novels set inParis of the early 1940s.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1946) L’Existentialism est un humanisme, Paris: Nagel; trans. B. Frechtman, Existentialism, NewYork: Philosophical Library, 1947, and Citadel, 1957.(A lecture purporting to present existentialist philosophyas a humanism - later repudiated by Sartre as over-simple.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1948) Les Mains Sales, Paris: Gallimard; trans. L. Abel, Dirty Hands, or Crime Passionel, in NoExit and Three Other Plays, New York: Vintage Books, 1949. (Political play opposing realism and idealism.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1960) Critique de la raison dialectique, précedé de Questions de methode, I, Théorie des ensemblespratiques, Paris: Gallimard; repr. in new annotated edn, 1985; first essay trans. H.E. Barnes, Search for aMethod, New York: Knopf, 1963; main text trans. A. Sheridan-Smith and ed. J. Rée, Critique of DialecticalReason, London: New Left Books, 1976, and Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1976.(A lengthy attempt to reconcile existentialism and Marxism within a philosophy of history.)artre, J.-P. (1963) Les Mots, Paris: Gallimard; trans. B. Frechtman, The Words, New York: Braziller, 1964;trans. I. Clephane, Words, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1964.(Sartre’s (ironic) account of his childhood.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1971-2) L’Idiot de la famille, G. Flaubert de 1821 à 1857, Paris: Gallimard; trans. C. Cosman, TheIdiot of the Family, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 3 vols, 1981, 1987, 1989.(A three-volumeexistential biography of Flaubert, intended to answer the question, ‘What can we know of a man today?’)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1983a) Les Carnets de la drôle de guerre, Paris: Gallimard; trans. Q. Hoare, The War Diaries ofJean-Paul Sartre, New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.(Sartre’s diaries at the onset of the Second World War.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1983b) Cahiers pour une morale (Notebooks for an Ethic), Paris: Gallimard. (Notebooks attemptinga sketch for an ethics with which Sartre was never fully satisfied.)
    • Sartre, J.-P. (1985) Critique de la raison dialectique, tome II (inachevé), L’Intelligibilité de l’Histoire (Critique ofDialectical Reason, vol. 2 (incomplete), The Intelligibility of History), ed. A. Elkaim-Sartre, Paris: Gallimard.(Volume 2 of the Critique, focusing in particular on the question of the intelligibility of history.)
    • Contat, M. and Rybalka, M. (1970) Les Ecrits de Sartre, Paris: Gallimard; trans. The Writings of Jean-PaulSartre, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973.(A full bibliography of Sartre’s works up to 1969.Later supplements are given in the English translation, and in Obliques 18-19 (1979), ed. M. Sicard.)
  • English

Secondary Sources

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