Jean-Paul Sartre


Jean-Paul Sartre was a great philosopher of his time and was credited with the establishment of a new school of thought that was referred to as existentialism. His main ideas in philosophy were nothingness and bad faith. He advanced existentialism through his works and gave it a very new meaning. This has made him occupy a very key position as one of the great contributors to philosophy. He believed in the concept of free will. In the context of this paper I am going to examine the life and works of Jean-Paul Sartre so that we can get a better understanding of his philosophical interests. I have particularly chosen him because of my interest in existentialism and the advancement he has brought in philosophy.

Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris on the 21st day of June 1905. He was the only child in a family that had both parents coming from very distinguished families. His father was called Jean-Baptiste while his mother was Anne-Marie Sartre. Jean-Baptiste, his father, was the son of Eymard Sartre who was a renowned medical doctor in Dordogne region in France. Eymard did a great deal of work in medical related research and is credited with many medical texts, some of which he wrote in his early twenties. His mother was a cousin to Albert Schweitzer, a German missionary who was very famous. His grandfather was a man who was always cautious about his social class, in this context he had to marry a pharmacist s daughter to ensure that he maintained his social position. Sartre also emerged to care so much about social status. The father of Anne-Marie Schweitzer was Karl Schweitzer. Karl was a man who published several books on religion, language as well as philosophy. With two grandfathers who were both famous writers, Sartre had all the reasons he needed to become a writer (Lvy, 2004, p.5-9).

The life of Sartre
Sartre s father died one year after his birth. His mother was forced to relocate to her parent s residence. His grandfather was a very strict person who valued and dedicated himself to learning. His mother did not like the way his grandfather treated her, and to avoid being hurt by such actions, she always spent the better part of her time taking care and playing with Sartre. Karl Schweitzer has an aura of authority and respect wherever he went. His grandfather used the fame he had to engage in many extramarital affairs which did not please Sartre and his mother. This was a habit that Sartre would later adopt in the course of his life. He was not handsome in looks, and was short in size. He became a figure of abuse among his peers. This made him develop an angry personality. The only thing that gave him hope was the self  confidence he had, he was sure his smartness outdid all the other children. Karl was very proud of Sartre s smartness, though in most occasions, Sartre denied that he was taught by his grandfather. He learnt to lie at a very tender age, and this was a habit he portrayed all through the course of his life.

Anne-Marie feared that his son would learn the ways of his grandfather, so whenever she could, she took her son out to experience other aspects of the world. His mother bought him puppets when he was eight years old. This inspired him to write scripts and engage in stage shows, which ensured that he would be tolerated by some children. Sartre came to like the attention he received by virtue of his shows. Eymard died in 1913. In 1914, German had declared war Frenchmen were in frenzy regarding nationalism.  Sartre liked war. He felt that the French had greater mental ability than the Germans.

Educational Background
He enrolled at Lyce Henri IV, in 1915. He made careless mistakes in school. He mother remarried when he was 12 years old. He always rebelled against step father at any instance, though the step-father tried his best to foster their relationship with him. He became very rude, and always fought other children in school. Sometimes he stole money fr9m his mother and denied doing so. He later joined Lyce Louis-le-Grande, a very famous French school, with his friend Paul-Yves Nizan. In 1924, they joined Ecole Normale Suprieure, which was considered one of the best French universities at the time. Sartre liked rebellion, not necessarily because of the underlying reason, but sometimes just because of the fun.

Sartre was a frequenter of the library and studied many books, key among them being the works of Freud. Though he denied having studied classics, existing information indicate that he often borrowed classic books. In class he wrote about theories he least understood. He was careless academically and the only thing that saved him from failing was his knowledge to use words well. He was very eloquent. Sartre was self-centred and always thought of engaging in things that served him. He thought that by writing books about him, they would apply to all humanity. Sartre wanted to be accorded equal attention to Nizan who was greatly obsessed with politics. He wanted to be smarter than all the people in their campus.

At a funeral of a cousin, he mat and fell in love with Simone-Camille Sans, who came from a well off family. Simone-Camille was very adventurous and often enjoyed sexual pleasures. He later fell in love with Simone de Beauvoir. Their meeting was after Sartre failed his final exam at the university by being the last ranked student. He had to repeat the exam, this time he studied with Simone de Beauvoir and emerged the best. They deeply love each other but in a number of occasions, they both had other lovers. He served as a teacher at Lyce in Le Havre. His friend Raymond Aron influenced him to study phenomenology as a school of philosophy. He joined the French military in the course of the Second World War. He was captured in 1940. This was the time when he had enough time at detention to write books and other articles. He never took care of himself and smelt. He managed to escape in 1941.

Literary works and Plays
In prison, he liked reading Being and Time, which was the literary work of Martin Heidegger as well as Edmund Husserl. His first novel was La Nause, it was published in 1938. It was greatly influenced by the phenomenological methods of Edmund Husserl which stipulated that life was purposeless. Antoine Roquentin, a protagonist discovers overabundance in his world, his solitude leads him to hat is referred to as Psychological nausea. He is impressed by stones in the sea and harbours a similar feeling on contemplating the bourgeois banality. Le Mur, which he wrote in 1938, is a collection of stories as well as a novella. The main theme in these stories is self deception. In one of the stories, The Childhood of a Leader, Lucien, does not believe that he exists instead, he feels that he is just an actor in the context of his life. He engages in a homosexual relationship. He joins Action Franaise, which is ultra-consercvative, with the ambition of beating the Jews and purifying French blood. Lucien appears not to be authentic but instead acts in a bid to conform.

The influence of Martin Heidegger led him to have his own enquiries which he published in his book Being and Nothingness, which was published in 1943. This book was more skewed towards phenomenology. The writing of this book was greatly due to the influence of literary work of Heidegger. Sartre sought to how humanity could be able to achieve a personal state of fulfilment that could be compared to Heideggerian hypothetical re-encounter with ones being. In this book Sartre feels that man is haunted by being  complete.  He refers to this state as ens causa sui. Religiously, this completeness can only be identified with God. Man is born with a body that is possessed with material needs and in a universe which is all-too-material. He expresses the opinion that consciousness cohabits with the material body, though it is not objectively real, he stated that it is  nothing.  Consciousness conceptualizes possibilities and is able to make them happen or annihilate them. He further developed this idea in Lexistentialisme Est Un Humanisme (1946), and Critique De La Raison Dialectique (1960). Sartre expressed his strong feelings that human being are more or less free and as such assume the full responsibility of the choices they make. They are also responsible for the wellbeing of the emotional lives. In Being and Nothingness, he expressed his opinion that a universe without God is meaningless. He felt that an individual needs to detach himself from things to make them meaningful.

His first play, Les Mouches, which was done in 1943, had the main themes of commitment as well as responsibility. Played in an ancient Greece setting, Orestes kills the people who murdered Agamemnon, thus the people are saved of their guilt. This is in accordance to the views of Sartre, who was an existentialist, only an individual who makes the choice of assuming responsibility by acting in a given situation, the way Orestes did, has made an effective use of his freedom. He staged many other plays, the most notable among them being, Huis Clos in 1944 and Typhus in 1953. Quest Ce Que La Littrature which was published in 1947 is credited with being his most notable literary criticism book. He feels that a writer is supposed to perform the function of a watchdog to ensure that no person becomes ignorant of the world. A writer always finds himself engaging in social as well as political issues. Sartre wrote a number of biographical studies, most notable among them being Saint Genet Actor and Martyr, which was written in 1952. It featured Jean Genet who died in 1986, and was a convicted felon as well as a writer.

The idea behind Sartre s literary works and plays was existentialism. He is credited with being the first person to adopt the term and it was later popularised by his associates, among them being Albert Camus, Maurice Merleau-Ponty as well as Simone de Beauvoir. Existentialism was mostly identified with a cultural movement across Europe. Many philosophers were identified as being existentialist some of them were Martin Heidegger, Martin Buber, Karl Jaspers, Jean Wahl, Gabriel Marcel, Nikolai Berdyaev, Lev Shestov, and Jos Ortega.

Sartre s model conflicted with that of Hegel, who states that ontologically, mutual recognition state can never be achieved. Sartre felt that existentialism was within the context of Marxism. He was influenced by several philosophers key among them being Plato, Hegel, Marx, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Husserl, Heidegger, De Beauvior, Camus as well as Dos Passos. He is also credited with influencing many people, some of the most notable among them being De Beauvoir, Che Guevara, Doris Lessing, William Burroughs, Frantz Fanon, Merleau-Ponty, and Michael Jackson among others. His influence was mainly because of his ideology of nothingness and bad faith. He died in 1980, in Paris.

Jean-Paul Sartre became a very great philosopher and was credited with the school of philosophy that has been referred to as existentialism. He did not feel that this was a school of thought on its own instead, he felt that it was in the context on Marxism. The main ideas behind his literary works were nothingness and bad faith. His existentialism was based on the concept of free will. He was a great philosopher who gave the concept of existentialism a new meaning. He is credited with being one of the great contributors to the field of philosophy. His works were recognized and this led to his awarding of the Nobel Prize in 1964, which he refused citing political grounds. Jean-Paul Sartre remains one of the greatest philosophers of all time. His contributions have since been advanced to fit into the sophisticated nature that philosophy has developed into.


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