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Sartre, Jean-Paul (1905–1980)

French philosopher, novelist, playwright, and social and literary critic. Born in Paris on 21 June 1905, Jean-Paul Sartre studied philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure, from which he graduated in 1929, the same year he met his lifelong companion Simone de Beauvoir, who became well known as a feminist writer and philosopher. During 1929–1930 Sartre served as an officer with a French military meteorological unit, and during most of the 1930s he taught at lycées in Paris and Le Havre.

Sartre's first novel, La Nausée (Nausea), published in 1938, caused an immediate sensation. Influenced by German phenomenological philosophy, the novel laid bare the human condition by embracing the idea that human life has no inherent purpose. At the beginning of World War II, Sartre served in the army and fought in the 1940 campaign for France. Captured by the Germans, he was sent to several prisoner-of-war camps, including Stalag XIID, where he produced his play Bariona. Released in 1941, he wrote for the French Resistance during 1941–1944.

In 1945 Sartre founded with Beauvoir the journal Les Temps Modernes. A year later he published "Existentialism and Humanism," perhaps his most influential and widely read essay on existentialist philosophy. From 1945, he traveled extensively to lecture and write, becoming more politically active beginning in the 1950s. He refused to accept the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature, arguing that to do so would compromise his political autonomy.

From the mid-1950s, Sartre was continually involved with leftist political causes. His efforts dealt with issues ranging from the lack of affordable housing in France to torture in Algeria and to the American war in Vietnam. While never a member of the Communist Party (he eschewed formal political allegiances), he evolved into a neo-Marxist who saw promise particularly in Maoism. His slide toward communism ultimately led to the painful end of his friendship with fellow existentialist Albert Camus. In 1960 Sartre reconciled the tenets of existentialism with those of classical Marxism in his Critique of Dialectical Reason. In 1960 he also signed the "Declaration on the Right to Insubordination in the War in Algeria" (also known as the "Manifesto of the 121") supporting Algerian independence and in 1966 was a member of fellow philosopher Bertrand Russell's International War Crimes Tribunal.

Sartre continued to write voluminously and, increasingly, about politics. He was the editor of La Cause du Peuple (1970), Tout (1970–1974), Révolution (1971–1974), and Libération (1973–1974) and was the founder, along with Maurice Clavel, of the Liberation news service in 1971. In failing health, Sartre began to lose his eyesight in 1975 and by the end of his life was completely blind. He died in Paris on 15 April 1980.

Andrew J. Waskey


Further Reading
Flynn, Thomas R. Sartre and Marxist Existentialism: The Test Case of Collective Responsibility. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.; Greene, Norman N. Jean-Paul Sartre: The Existentialist Ethic. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1980.
 

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