Sartre, Jean-Paul

Sartre, Jean-Paul

biographical name


Jean-Paul Sartre, photograph by Gisèle Freund, 1968.—Gisèle Freund

(born June 21, 1905, Paris, France—died April 15, 1980, Paris) French philosopher, novelist, and playwright, the foremost exponent of existentialism. He studied at the Sorbonne, where he met Simone de Beauvoir, who became his lifelong companion and intellectual collaborator. His first novel, Nausea (1938), narrates the feeling of revulsion that a young man experiences when confronted with the contingency of existence. Sartre used the phenomenological method of Edmund Husserl (see phenomenology) with great skill in three successive publications: Imagination: A Psychological Critique (1936), Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions (1939), and The Psychology of Imagination (1940). In Being and Nothingness (1943), he places human consciousness, or nothingness (néant), in opposition to being, or thingness (être); consciousness is nonmatter and thus escapes all determinism. In his postwar treatise Existentialism and Humanism (1946) he depicts this radical freedom as carrying with it a responsibility for the welfare of others. In the 1940s and '50s he wrote many critically acclaimed plays—including The Flies (1943), No Exit (1946), and The Condemned of Altona (1959)—the study Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr (1952), and numerous articles for Les Temps Modernes, the monthly review that he and de Beauvoir founded and edited. A central figure of the French left after the war, he was an outspoken admirer of the Soviet Union—though not a member of the French Communist Party—until the crushing of the Hungarian uprising by Soviet tanks in 1956, which he condemned. His Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960) faults Marxism for failing to adapt itself to the concrete circumstances of particular societies and for not respecting individual freedom. His final works include an autobiography, The Words (1963), and Flaubert (4 vol., 1971–72), a lengthy study of the author. He declined the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature.

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