Jean-Paul Sartre

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Sartre, Jean-Paul

(zhäN-pôl sär`trə), 1905–80, French philosopher, playwright, and novelist. Influenced by German philosophy, particularly that of HeideggerHeidegger, Martin
, 1889–1976, German philosopher. As a student at Freiburg, Heidegger was influenced by the neo-Kantianism of Heinrich Rickert and the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl.
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, Sartre was a leading exponent of 20th-century existentialismexistentialism
, any of several philosophic systems, all centered on the individual and his relationship to the universe or to God. Important existentialists of varying and conflicting thought are Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Gabriel Marcel, and Jean-Paul
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. 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 BeauvoirBeauvoir, Simone de
, 1908–86, French author. A leading exponent of existentialism, she is closely associated with Jean-Paul Sartre, with whom she had a life-long relationship.
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, his close associate of many years, wrote about him in her autobiography, The Prime of Life (tr. 1962).


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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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sartre, Jean-Paul


Born June 21, 1905, in Paris. French writer, philosopher, and publicist.

The son of a naval officer, Sartre graduated from the Ecole Normale Supérieure in 1929, after which he taught philosophy at various lycées. During the fascist German occupation of France (1940–44) he contributed to the patriotic press of the Resistance Movement. In 1945 he founded the journal Les Temps modernes.

The development of Sartre’s political and ideological views, which may be traced in the nine books of his publicistic writings (Situations, 1947–72), has been marked by sharp vacillations between liberal democratism and left-wing radical extremism. During the Cold War he vainly sought an intermediate path between liberal democratism and left-wing radicalism for the leftist, noncommunist intelligentsia of the West. In 1952 he joined the peace movement, attacking colonialism and racism. He expressed his support for the socialist countries, which he visited several times before 1968. Influenced by the student revolts during the General Strike of 1968 in France and other events of that year, he took the side of left-wing rebellion, expressing his point of view in the book On a raison de se révolter (1974). For his autobiographical novella about his childhood, The Words (1964; Russian translation, 1966), Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize, which he rejected, pointing out the award committee’s neglect of the contributions of 20th-century revolutionary writers.

Sartre’s idealist philosophy is a form of atheistic existentialism that concentrates on the analysis of human existence as it is experienced and understood by the individual and as it develops through a series of the individual’s arbitrary choices, which are not predetermined by any established laws of being or any known, given essence. Existence, equated by Sartre in Being and Nothingness (1943) with the individual’s self-consciousness, which finds support only in itself, continually comes into conflict with other, equally self-determined existences and with the entire historically determined condition of things as manifested in a particular situation. However, the concrete situation is subject to spiritual “repeal” in the realization of any “free project,” since the situation is presumed to be unstable—subject to revision, and therefore, in effect, to change. According to Sartre, man and the world do not constitute a unity. Rather, the thinking individual, hopelessly lost in the universe but burdened with metaphysical responsibility for its fate, is completely divorced from nature and society. This condition is manifested in the chaotic, unstructured, crumbling zone of “alienation.” In the book Critique de la raison dialectique (1960), all of Sartre’s attempts to overcome the gulf between spiritualized man and the material world yield only his own simple combination of reworked psychoanalysis, empirical group sociology, and cultural anthropology, revealing the flimsiness of Sartre’s claims to have “built onto” Marxism, which he recognized as the most fruitful philosophy of the 20th century, with his doctrine of individuality.

In his theory of engagement, Sartre argues that the writer is personally responsible for all of contemporary history, sometimes indulging in vulgarly sectarian exaggerations (the essays on aesthetics, as well as works on literary history, including What Is Literature? 1947; Baudelaire, 1947; Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr, 1952; and The Family Idiot, vols. 1–3, 1971–72).

Sartre combines a contemplative, philosophical approach with naturalistic genre sketches, myth with reportage, and subtle psychological analysis with direct polemics in his prose works, including the novel Nausea (1938), the short-story collection The Wall (1939), and the uncompleted tetralogy Paths of Freedom (1945–49), as well as in his plays (The Flies, 1943; No Exit, 1945; The Devil and the Good Lord, 1951; and The Condemned of Altona, 1960). In his works, Sartre chronicles the tribulations of the member of the intelligentsia in his search for freedom and his encounters with crossroads and dead ends that reveal the difficulties of attaining freedom, its genuine and false content, the ease with which one may slip into anarchic willfulness and its responsibility to others, and the differences between the individualistic and moral and civic interpretations of freedom.

The work of Sartre, the leader of the French existentialists, has influenced the intellectual life of France and other countries and has had repercussions in philosophy and politics, aesthetics, literature, dramaturgy, and the cinema. His work has been repeatedly criticized by Marxists.


In Russian translation:
P’esy. Moscow, 1967.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.