Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Profile: Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)


Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

Life and Works
. . Freedom
. . Responsibility
. . Self-Deception
. . Despair


Internet Sources

Educated in his native Paris and at German universities, Jean-Paul Sartre taught philosophy during the 1930s at La Havre and Paris. Captured by the Nazis while serving as an Army meteorologist, Sartre was a prisoner of war for one year before returning to his teaching position, where he participated actively in the French resistance to German occupation until the liberation. Recognizing a connection between the principles of existentialism and the more practical concerns of social and political struggle, Sartre wrote not only philosophical treatises but also novels, stories, plays, and political pamphlets. Sartre's personal and professional life was greatly enriched by his long-term collaboration with Simone de Beauvoir. Although he declined the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964, Sartre was one of the most respected leaders of post-war French culture, and his funeral in Paris drew an enormous crowd.

Sartre's philosophical influences clearly include Descartes, Kant, Marx, Husserl, and Heidegger. Employing the methods of descriptive phenomenology to new effect, his l'Être et le néant (Being and Nothingness) (1943) offers an account of existence in general, including both the being-in-itself of objects that simply are and the being-for-itself by which humans engage in independent action. Sartre devotes particular concern to emotion as a spontaneous activity of consciousness projected onto reality. Empasizing the radical freedom of all human action, Sartre warns of the dangers of mauvaise foi (bad faith), acting on the self-deceptive motives by which people often try to elude responsibility for what they do.

In the lecture l'Existentialisme est un humanisme ("Existentialism is a Humanism") (1946), Sartre described the human condition in summary form: freedom entails total responsibility, in the face of which we experience anguish, forlornness, and despair; genuine human dignity can be achieved only in our active acceptance of these emotions.

Sartre's complex and ambivalent intellectual relationship with traditional Marxism is more evident in Critique de la raison dialectique (Dialectical Reason) (1960), an extended sociological and philosophical essay.

Recommended Reading:
Primary sources:

The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, ed. by Robert D. Cummings (Random House, 1972) {Order from Amazon.com}
Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, tr. by Hazel E. Barnes (Washington Square, 1993) {Order from Amazon.com}
Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions (Lyle Stuart, 1984) {Order from Amazon.com}
Jean-Paul Sartre, Basic Writings, ed. by Stephen Priest (Routledge, 2001) {Order from Amazon.com}
Secondary sources:

The Cambridge Companion to Sartre, ed. by Christina Howells (Cambridge, 1992) {Order from Amazon.com}
Feminist Interpretations of Jean-Paul Sartre, ed. by Julien S. Murphy (Penn. State, 1999) {Order from Amazon.com}
Gregory McCulloch, Using Sartre: An Analytical Introduction to Early Sartrean Themes (Routledge, 1994) {Order from Amazon.com}

Additional on-line information about Sartre includes:
Katharena Eiermann's discussion of Sartre at The Realm of Existentialism.
Thomas Flynn's article in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The article in the Columbia Encyclopedia at Bartleby.com.
Heiner Wittman's site on Sartre's aesthetics.
The thorough collection of resources at EpistemeLinks.com.
Andy Blunden's biography of Sartre.
An interesting page (in German) from Jens Suckow.
Björn Christensson's brief guide to Internet resources.
The entry at Biography.com.
©1996-2006 Garth Kemerling.
Last modified 9 August 2006.
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