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Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre was born  in June 21, 1905, in Paris, France.

Sartre lost his father at an early age and grew up in the home of his maternal grandfather. As a boy, Jean Paul was  small in stature and cross-eyed. Jean Paul had troubles fitting in with other children, therefore was always in search of playmates. Due to this rejection of not being involved with others, he resorted to the world of books.  He would spend most of his time writing. As a result to resorting to writing, this was a chance for him to escape a world that had rejected him, yet allowed him to create and rebuild his own fanciful world on paper, nurturing his dreams of becoming a famous writer. One of his autobiographies  “Les Mots” was an example of his brilliant written work.

Sartre began to develop  his existential philosophy as he was captured by Germans and became a prisoner when  world war 11 broke out. Such a tragic event, however, allowed him to theorize that we humans are free regardless, even if we were stuck in chains.

As a result, Sartre’s theory generally claims that self is an event in time, in other words a dynamic, future-oriented project as opposed to  being static. He connected his theory with the project of building a bridge, as the “self” always being under active construction. A project continually changing, and never finished. He concluded that the self isn’t given a “guidebook” or instructions on how to construct it, therefore you must make it yourself.

I agree with Sartre’s philosophy. His philosophy overall concludes that one is born with a blank sheet on which one writes one’s own character, nature, essence. Therefore, everything is based on one self. As a result, the consequence of this, is that each individual is entirely  responsible for what he or she is. We are all in control of our own personal character, and nature. Our actions determine our self and the realization of this responsibility produces angoisse, the feeling of total solitude and despair. Humans are thrown into the world, and whatever we make of ourselves determines our essence. Therefore, we are not definable at first because we are nothing to begin with, so we must be what we makes of ourselves.



8 thoughts on “Jean-Paul Sartre

  1. Glad to see these metaphysics posts begin to come in this evening, Yazmeen – great work introducing us to one of the 20th century’s most revered minds! Why do you think Sartre’s ideas created such a lasting impression on his generation (and the ones that followed)? It is strange to think of a philosopher being something of a rock star in our present day, but Sartre was (and is) appreciated, or at least known of, across mainstream culture (he shows up in the Simpsons: http://improvidentlackwit.com/lackwit/2004/05/sartre_is_smart.html). What do you think it is about his ideas (or his personality) that made him so popular?

    Posted by bryanjack | October 24, 2012, 3:52 am
  2. Jean Paul did have a powerful lasting impact throughout his generation and several generations of philosophers and other creative writers due to the significance of his theory, acclaiming the freedom of the individual human being. I found out that he also created an anti-science version of humanism and it is currently strongly influencing members of the humanist community.
    His theory is one of the major sources of the postmodernism. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism and had a major influence on how humans thought of life and existence. However, not just the study of philosophy made him famous, but he was also a playwright and a face to the ideals of French existentialists, which was a major movement in the 50’s and 60’s. This contributes to why he was of such significance and still is as of today.
    I found it great to know he was shown in the Simpson and in the mainstream culture as of today too!

    Posted by Yasmeen Mezban | October 24, 2012, 6:28 pm
  3. Interesting! My person, Paul Ricoeur, was also a POW during WWII, and during that time he continued to study. I didn’t draw a major connection with that experience and his philosophy though, and was glad you did.

    I really identify with the idea that “we are not definable at first because we are nothing to begin with, so we must be what we makes of ourselves,” and how that connects to the bundle theory. To my understanding, the difference is that in the bundle theory experience defines the self, while in the project theory your chosen actions define yourself. You are more responsible.

    I was confused however by the statement that “Our actions determine our self and the realization of this responsibility produces angoisse, the feeling of total solitude and despair.” I didn’t feel total solitude and despair after reading this post…

    Posted by msbethechange | October 25, 2012, 1:38 am
  4. I’m sorry, i should have rephrased my point more clearer. What i meant was, since everything is based on one self, the consequence of this is that each of us are entirely responsible for what we are and due to our control of our own personal character, nature, and actions, can sometimes lead to the consequence of feeling solitude and despair.

    Posted by yasmeenmezban | October 25, 2012, 5:02 am
  5. I really agree with the idea that humans are by nature free to be who they choose to be through actions and self-determination. I prefer this over the ideology of predestination and determinism because I think that leads to apathy and laziness. Sarte would have you believe that who you are is completely based on what you do and the choices you make, which leads to more productive, involved, and better members of society. Determinism, on the other hand, has you believe that everything is mapped out in front of you already, and that it really isn’t up to you, making it easy and tempting to take a back seat in your own life.

    Did I understand that somewhat accurately?

    -Kelly Bryant

    Posted by kellyannebryant | October 25, 2012, 7:04 am
    • Even though I think I ascribe to Sartre-esque feelings about self-determination, or even Ricour’s narrative perspective (Jen wrote about it here: https://talonsphilosophy.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/jennifer-tell-your-own-story/), I don’t know if determinism needs to lead to apathy, or necessarily means that ‘everything is mapped out.’ I think that this sense of apathy might even be what Yazmeen characterizes as existentialism’s “consequence of feeling solitude and despair.”

      But couldn’t determinism leave some room for personal reflection, or action, amounting to an expression of our individual free will?

      Posted by Bryan | October 26, 2012, 11:24 pm
  6. Yes, Sartre overall states that what you do, and what choices you make (actions) defines who you are, therefore it’s all completely based on you. He refers life as not a “guide book”, and determinism, as you mentioned, has everything mapped out in front of you already which is what Sartre opposes.

    I also agree with his theory as opposed to the ideology of predestination and determinism. Humans are free to be who they are, and it all is based on our actions and self-determination.
    However, I don’t necessarily think that the ideology of predestination and determinism may always lead to apathy and laziness.

    Posted by yasmeenmezban | October 25, 2012, 5:50 pm


  1. Pingback: Rorty’s Duct Tape, Part 1 « Philosophy 12 - October 24, 2012

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