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Sartre, Jean-Paul

Jean-Paul Sartre

Born: June 21, 1905
Paris, France
Died: April 15, 1980
Paris, France

French philosopher and writer

The French philosopher and distinguished writer Jean-Paul Sartre ranks as the most versatile writer and as the dominant influence in three decades of French intellectual life.

Childhood and early work

Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris, France, on June 21, 1905. His father, a naval officer, died while on a tour of duty in Indochina before Sartre was two years old. His mother belonged to the Alsatian Schweitzer family and was a first cousin to the famous physician Albert Schweitzer (18751925). The young widow returned to her parents' house, where she and her son were treated as "the children." In the first volume of his autobiography, The Words (1964), Sartre describes his "unnatural" childhood as a spoiled and an unusually intelligent boy. Lacking any companions his own age, the child found "friends" exclusively in books. He began reading when he was a very young boy. Reading and writing thus became his twin passions. "It was in books that I encountered the universe," he once said.

Sartre received much of his early education from tutors. He entered the école Normale Supérieure at the University of Paris in 1924 and graduated in 1929. While there, he met the novelist Simone de Beauvoir (19081986), and the two formed a close relationship that lasted thereafter. After completing required military service, Sartre took a teaching job at a lycée (public secondary school) in Le Havre, France. There he wrote his first novel, Nausea (1938), which some critics have called the century's most influential French novel.

World War II

From 1933 to 1935 Sartre was a research student at the Institut Français in Berlin and Freiburg, Germany. He discovered the works of Edmund Husserl (18591938) and Martin Heidegger (18891976) and began to philosophize on phenomenology, or the study of human awareness. A series of works on the models of consciousness poured from Sartre's pen: two works on imagination, one on self-consciousness, and one on emotions. He also produced a first-rate volume of short stories, The Wall (1939).

Sartre returned to Paris to teach in a lycée and to continue his writing, but this was interrupted by World War II (193945; a war in which France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States and other countries fought against Germany, Italy, and Japan). Called up by the army, he served briefly on the Eastern front and was taken prisoner. After nine months he secured his release and returned to teaching in Paris, where he became active in the Resistance, a secret French group dedicated to removing the occupying German army. During this period he wrote his first major work in philosophy, Being and Nothingness: An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology (1943).

After the war Sartre abandoned teaching, determined to support himself by writing. He was also determined that his writing and thinking should be engaging, or intellectually activating. Intellectuals, he thought, must take a public stand on every great question of their day. He thus became fundamentally a moralist (a teacher of right and wrong), both in his philosophical and literary works.

Other works

Sartre had turned to playwriting and eventually produced a series of theatrical successes which are essentially dramatizations of ideas, although they contain some finely drawn characters and lively plots. The first two, The Flies and No Exit, were produced in occupied Paris. They were followed by Dirty Hands (1948), usually called his best play; The Devil and the Good Lord (1957), an insulting, anti-Christian rant; and The Prisoners of Altona (1960), which combined convincing character portrayal with telling social criticism. Sartre also wrote a number of comedies: The Respectful Prostitute (1946), Kean (1954), and Nekrassov (1956), which the critic Henry Peyre claimed "reveals him as the best comic talent of our times."

During this same period Sartre also wrote a three-volume novel, The Roads to Freedom (19451949); formal writings on literature; lengthy studies of Charles Baudelaire (18211867) and Jean Genet (19101986); and a large number of reviews and criticisms. He also edited Les Temps modernes.

Though never a member of the Communist Party (a political party that believes goods and services should be controlled by a strong government), Sartre usually sympathized with the political views of the (liberal) far left. Whatever the political issue, he was quick to publish his opinions, often combining them with public acts of protest.

Later work

In 1960 Sartre returned to philosophy, publishing the first volume of his Critique of Dialectical Reason. It represented essentially a modification of his existentialist ideas, or a philosophy that stresses the importance of the individual experience. The drift of Sartre's earlier work was toward a sense of the uselessness of life. In Being and Nothingness he declared man to be "a useless passion," forced to exercise a meaningless freedom. But after World War II, his new interest in social and political questions gave way to more optimistic and activist views.

Sartre was always controversial yet respected. In 1964 he was awarded but refused to accept the Nobel Prize in literature. Sartre suffered from declining health throughout the 1970s and died from lung problems in 1980. He is remembered as one of the most influential French writer of the twentieth century.

For More Information

Cohen-Solal, Annie. Sartre: A Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 1987.

Hayman, Ronald. Sartre: A Biography. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1992.

Kamber, Richard. On Sartre. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2000.

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"Sartre, Jean-Paul." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Sartre, Jean-Paul

Sartre, Jean-Paul 1905-1980

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris on June 13, 1905, and died there on April 15, 1980. He studied philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure, achieving his doctorate in 1929, and then taught high school until the publication of his first novel, Nausea, in 1938. Sartre was a prisoner of war in World War II from 1940 to 1941, after which he founded a group of resistance intellectuals, socialism et liberté, which he disbanded by the time of the 1943 publication of his most famous philosophical work, Being and Nothingness. Sartre became a celebrity at the end of the war, which enabled him to be a public intellectual on the world stage for a variety of causes that included fighting against anti-Semitism, supporting Third World liberation and workers struggles, protesting against the Vietnam War, and joining strikers in the student movement of the late 1960s. Some of Sartres causes, such as his support of the Algerian struggle for independence, led to assassination attempts on his life. Other causes, such as his support of communism without ever joining the Communist Party, led to attacks on him from extreme liberal and conservative critics. Sartre received many awards, two of which he refusedthe French Legion of Honor in 1945 and the Nobel Prize in 1964. He was co-founder of the influential magazine Les temps moderne in 1945.

Although he wished to achieve greatness as a novelist and playwright, Sartres legacy is primarily as a philosopher, where he contributed to the study of freedom and the challenges it poses for understanding human existence. His writings from the 1930s until the late 1940s gave him a leading and permanent place in existentialism and phenomenology. Phenomenology is the study of things as understood as objects of consciousness. Sartres motto Existence precedes essence, argued for in Being and Nothingness, became a major theme of existential thought and a rallying cry against essentialism in the study of human beings. Human beings create themselves through living a biography, which is the only real self that will emerge at each persons death. For a living human, choice is not only a constant possibility but is a precondition for itself. Even so-called choosing not to choose is a choice, and the act of choosing must in principle have preceded it. Sartres most famous play from this period, No Exit (1944), explored these themes in a situation, people encountering other people, with literally no material alternative to the hell of being forced together.

Many of Sartres writings in the late 1940s into the mid-1950s addressed existential themes in concrete situations. In Anti-Semite and Jew, he examined how the hating of Jews played a role in the construction of Jewish identity and the anti-Semites. This question of how humans create values that in turn create us was taken up in a unique genre (philosophical biography), in his demand for the writer to be politically engaged, and in his explorations of Marxism, reflected in works such as Baudelaire (1947), What Is Literature? (1947), and Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960). The Critique of Dialectical Reason explored the problem of agency in history and in developing existential Marxism, which is dialectical thought without determinism or the crushing of freedom.

Sartre, in effect, said good-bye to literature in The Words (1964), in which his hatred for his own class, the bourgeoisie (capitalist class), culminated in his rejection of literature as a bourgeois ideal in favor of devoting the rest of his life to political engagement. Although he continued to protest and sign declarations condemning human rights violations as long as his health permitted, this last period of Sartres life was marked by his conducting a sustained, multi-volume study of the life of the nineteenth century French novelist Gustave Flaubert, The Family Idiot (19711972), which he did not write for an audience but for himself. As with his works of philosophical biography, the role of bad faith in the formation of the self is illustrated in minute detail throughout. The text, like many of Sartres projects, was not completed, which is appropriate for a philosopher whose life was a struggle against ever being pinned down and standing still.

SEE ALSO Anti-Semitism; Bourgeoisie; Culture, Low and High; Epistemology; Existentialism; Human Rights; Jews; Literature; Marxism; Philosophy; Resistance;World War II

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Contat, Michel, and Michel Rybalka, eds. 1973. The Writings of Jean-Paul Sartre. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Contat, Michel, Yvan Cloutier, Michel Rybalka, and Laura Piccioni, eds. 1993. Sartre: Bibliography, 19801992. Bowling Green, OH: Philosophy Documentation Center.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. [1938] 1965. La nausée. Trans. Robert Baldick. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. [1943] 1948. Lêtre et le néant; essai dontologie phénomologique. Trans. Hazel E. Barnes. New York: Philosophical Library.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. [1960] 1976. Critique de la raison dialectique, précédé de Question de méthode, tome 1, Théorie des ensembles pratique. Trans. Alan Sheridan-Smith. London: New Left Books.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1972. Lidiot de la famille: Gustave Flaubert de 18211857, tome 13 [The Family Idiot]. Trans. Carol Cosman. 5 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. [1985] 1991. Critique de la raison dialectique, tome 2, Lintelligibilité de lhistoire. Trans. Quintin Hoare. London: Verso.

Lewis R. Gordon

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"Sartre, Jean-Paul." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Sartre, Jean-Paul

Sartre, Jean-Paul

Traditional European Christian philosophy, particularly in the eighteenth century, was filled with images of and sermons on the fear of the judgment that would come upon the time of death. Characterized by Plato as the need to free the soul from the "hateful" company of the body, death was seen as the entrance into another world. By contrast, the efforts of nineteenth- and twentieth-century existentialists were to humanize and individualize death as the last stage of life rather than the entrance into that which is beyond life. This shift historically helped to make death conceptually a part of life, and therefore could be understood as a human phenomenon rather than speculation as to the nature of a spiritual life.

If death is the last stage of life, then one philosophical question is, What is the nature of the experience? It is to this question that the phenomenological analysis of Jean-Paul Sartre contributed significant insight. It can be said that when a child dies, the child becomes frozen in time. Always a child, the potential of that child is never realized and the experience of the life of that child ends. Sartre explains in his analysis of time that the past is fixed in the experiential history of the person. Whatever the person did, or even did not do, is simply the way it is. If a person was a coward when he or she died, then the image of that person as a coward is how the individual is remembered.

In his book Being and Nothingness (1956) Sartre established his early phenomenological method, exploring the nature of the human experience. Since Socrates, Western philosophers have suggested that essence or those basic aspects that make up the person are divinely preordained or predesigned prior to birth. Sartre, on the other hand, understood that the person must first exist before that which makes up the person can be identified, as human beings are not objective objects but rather subjective in their dynamic ability to change. Thus for Sartre, existence precedes essence. If analysis starts with the first human experience and ends with the last, then one's past is the past that was experienced by the individual, the present is the current reality, and the future reflects his or her potential. For Sartre, at the point of death the person does not have a past, as he or she is now dead and cannot continue to write in the log of the present. Rather, a person then becomes his or her past. Like the child who has died, in death the person is frozen in the minds of those persons who remember him or her.

Sartre used the concept of a wall to explain the transition from life to death. This concept is best understood by persons in a hospice who find that their comrades in death often understand them better than their families or those who do not understand their own finite nature. As he often did, Sartre offered his existentialist philosophy in a more academic volume and then explained it in his plays and novels. In his story The Wall (1964) Sartre writes about Pablo, a Spanish loyalist in his cell with two other republicans waiting execution by Generalissimo Franco's soldiers. He reflects as follows: "For twenty-four hours I have lived at Tom's side, I had heard him, I had talked to him, and I knew that we had nothing in common. And now we resemble each other like twins, only because we shall die together" (Stern 1967, p. 174). Persons faced with their own finitude often see the meaning of both their experiences and their lives from a larger perspective.

Sartre would say that as he has not experienced death, he does not know what it is, but he can see that it must have some reality as others seem to experience its presence. An atheist, he believed that there is no divine being and therefore no heaven or an afterlife. Rather, there are only those aspects of the conscious choices made by the individual that live on in the lives of those the person has touched. Sartre's understanding of life is that it reflects the experience of one's existence. When the person is dead, he or she is only memories held by those who are in some way a part of the life of the individual. These contributions to the humanizing of the dying experience and the philosophical understanding of the role of death offer benchmarks in the history of the philosophy of death.

See also: Frankl, Viktor; Freud, Sigmund; Immortality; Philosophy, Western; Plato

Bibliography

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Truth and Existence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Nausea/The Wall and Other Stories: Two Volumes in One. New York: Fine Communications Books, 1964.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology. New York: Philosophical Library, 1956.

Stern, Alfred. Sartre: His Philosophy and Existential Psychoanalysis. New York: Delta, 1967.

JAMES W. ELLOR

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Sartre, Jean-Paul

Jean-Paul Sartre (zhäN-pôl sär´trə), 1905–80, French philosopher, playwright, and novelist. Influenced by German philosophy, particularly that of Heidegger, Sartre was a leading exponent of 20th-century existentialism. His writings examine man as a responsible but lonely being, burdened with a terrifying freedom to choose, and set adrift in a meaningless universe. His first novel, Nausea (1938, tr. 1949), was followed by Intimacy (1939, tr. 1949), a collection of short stories. Sartre served in the army during World War II, was taken prisoner, escaped, and was involved in the resistance. During the occupation he wrote his first plays, The Flies (1943, tr. 1946) and No Exit (1944, tr. 1946), and the monumental treatise Being and Nothingness (1943, tr. 1953). Theatrically expert, his plays also express his philosophy. After the war Sartre's writings became increasingly influential, and his ideas began to reflect his interest in Marxism. In 1945 he founded the periodical Les Temps modernes. His other major works include the trilogy of novels The Age of Reason,The Reprieve (both: 1945, tr. 1947), and Troubled Sleep (1949, tr. 1951); and the plays The Respectful Prostitute (1947, tr. 1949), Dirty Hands (1948, tr. 1949), The Devil and the Good Lord (1951, tr. 1953), The Condemned of Altona (1956, tr. 1961), and Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960, tr. 1963). He wrote several major studies of literary figures, including Baudelaire and Flaubert. His essay collections in translation include Essays in Aesthetics (1963), The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre (ed. by R. D. Cumming, 1965), and Of Human Freedom (1967). Among his later individual essays are What Is Literature? (1948, tr. 1965), The Ghost of Stalin (tr. 1968), and On Genocide (1968). Sartre declined the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature on the grounds that such awards lend too much weight to a writer's influence. Simone de Beauvoir, his close associate of many years, wrote about him in her autobiography, The Prime of Life (tr. 1962).

Bibliography

See his autobiographical The Words (1964); F. Jameson, Sartre after Sartre (1985); A. Cohen-Solal, Sartre (tr. 1987); S. de Beauvoir, ed., Quiet Moments in a War: The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir, 1940–1963 (1994); K. and E. Fullbrook, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre: The Remaking of a Twentieth-Century Legend (1994); B.-H. Levy, Sartre: The Philosopher of the Twentieth Century (2000); H. Rowley, Tête-à-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (2005).

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Sartre, Jean-Paul

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1905–80) French philosopher and writer. Sartre was the leading advocate of existentialism. His debut novel, Nausea (1939), depicted man adrift in a godless universe, hostage to his own angst-ridden freedom. Sartre was a fighter in the French Resistance during World War 2. During the war, he began to write plays, such as Huis Clos (No Exit) (1944). His major philosophical work is Being and Nothingness (1943). After the war, Sartre wrote a trilogy of novels, The Roads to Freedom (1945–49), and founded (1945) the philosophy periodical Modern Times. His complex relationship with Marxism is explored in Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960). Sartre refused the 1964 Nobel Prize in literature on ‘personal’ grounds, but is later said to have accepted it. He had a long-term relationship with Simone de Beauvoir.

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Sartre, Jean-Paul

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1905–80) A French existentialist writer and philosopher who attempted to develop a humanist critique of and philosophical foundation for Marxism. His most accessible work of interest to the social sciences is The Problem of Method (1957) but see also Bein and Nothingness (1943) and The Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960).

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