Jean-Paul Sartre was born in 1905. His father, a navy captain, passed away when he was a baby – and also he flourished up very close to his mother until she remarried, lot to his regret, as soon as he to be twelve. Sartre spent most of his life in Paris, whereby he frequently went come cafes top top the Left Bank and also sat ~ above benches in the Jardin du Luxembourg. He had a strabismus, a hike eye, and also wore distinctive, hefty glasses. He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize for literature, but refused the on the grounds that the award was capitalist and bourgeois. He was really short (five feet three inches) and frequently explained himself together ugly. He wore his hair vigorously brushed back. When he died in 1980 (aged 74), 50,000 civilization accompanied his coffin with the highways of Paris.

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Sartre ended up being famous together the vital figure in the philosophical movement recognized as Existentialism. That made thinking and philosophy glamorous. He wrote a dense, hard-to-follow book called Being and Nothingness, which enhanced his reputation not so much due to the fact that people could understand his principles but since they can not quite. Sartre was the beneficiary that a desire, which ended up being widespread in the second half of the twentieth century, to revere publications for the secret they appeared to touch, quite than for the clarity of your claims.

Existentialism was built approximately a number of key insights:

One: Things are weirder 보다 we think

Sartre is acutely attentive come moments when the people reveals chin as much stranger and much more uncanny than we typically admit; moments as soon as the logic us ascribe come it day-to-day i do not care unavailable, showing things come be very contingent and even absurd and frightening.

Sartre’s an initial novel – Nausea, released in 1938 – is full of evocations of such moments. In ~ one point, the hero, Roquentin, a 30-year-old writer life in a fictional French seaside town, is on a tram. The puts his hand ~ above the seat, yet then pulls it earlier rapidly. Rather of gift the most simple and evident piece of design, scarcely precious a moment’s notice, the seat timeless strikes him as deeply strange; the word ‘seat’ comes loose from that is moorings, the thing it describes shines soon in every its primordial oddity, as if he’s never seen one before – and its material and slight swell provides him think the the repulsive bloated ship of a dead donkey. Roquentin has to force himself to remember the this thing alongside him is miscellaneous for world to sit on. Because that a terrifying moment, Roquentin has actually peered into what Sartre call the ‘absurdity of the world.’

Such a minute goes come the heart of Sartre’s philosophy. To it is in Sartrean is to be conscious of existence as it is once it has actually been stripped of any kind of of the prejudices and stabilising presumptions lent to united state by our day-to-day routines. We can shot out a Sartrean view on many aspects of our own lives. Think the what you know as ‘the evening meal through your partner’. Under together a description, it all seems relatively logical, yet a Sartrean would certainly strip away the surface normality to show the radical strangeness lurking beneath. Dinner really method that once your component of the planet has spun away from the energy of a remote hydrogen and helium explosion, girlfriend slide your knees under strips the a chopped-up tree and put part of dead animals and plants in your mouth and chew, while beside you, an additional mammal whose genitals you occasionally touch is act the same. Or think of your job through Sartrean eyes: you and many rather swathe your bodies in cloth and also congregate in a large box wherein you make agitated sound at one another; you press plenty of plastic buttons with good rapidity in exchange for piece of paper. Climate you stop and go away. The next time the skies gets light, you come back.

Two: We room free

These weird moment are certainly disorienting and rather scary, yet Sartre wants to attract our attention to them for one central reason: due to the fact that of your liberating dimensions. Life is a lot odder than we think (going come the office, having actually dinner through a friend, visiting our parental – none of this is evident or remotely normal), but it’s also as a consequence far richer in possibilities. Points don’t need to be quite the means they are. We’re freer than we permit ourselves come imagine amidst the simple press that commitments and obligations. It’s just late at night, or perhaps once we’re ill in bed or taking a long train trip somewhere unfamiliar that we provide our minds patent to daydream in much less conventional directions. These moments room at when unsettling and also freeing. We could get the end of the house, break off a relationship and never see the human we live v again. We could throw in ours jobs, relocate to one more country and reinvent ourselves together someone entirely different.

We are usually complete of reasons why none of that would be possible. But through his explanation of moment of disorientation, Sartre wants to provide us accessibility to a different means of thinking. He wants to press us away from the normal, cleared up perspective come liberate our imaginations: we could not need to keep acquisition the bus come work, saying things we don’t median to world we don’t favor or sacrificing our vitality because that false notions the security.

In the course of totally realising our freedom, we will come up versus what Sartre phone call the ‘anguish’ the existence. Everything is (terrifyingly) feasible because nothing has any kind of pre-ordained, God-given sense or purpose. Human beings are simply making the up together they walk along, and also are complimentary to actors aside the shackles at any kind of moment. There is naught in the non-human bespeak of the people called ‘marriage’ or ‘job’. This are simply labels we have put on things and are – as ideal existentialists – complimentary to take it them turn off again.

This is frightening, for this reason the hatchet ‘anguish’, however Sartre look at anguish together a note of maturity, a authorize that us are totally alive and also properly mindful of reality, with its freedom, that possibilities and also its weighty choices.

Three: us shouldn’t live in ‘bad faith’

Sartre provided a term to the phenomenon of living without taking flexibility properly on board. He referred to as it ‘bad faith.’

We room in negative faith whenever us tell ourselves that things have to be a certain means and close up door our eye to various other options. That is bad faith to firmly insist that us have to carry out a specific kind of work-related or live v a specific person or do our house in a provided place.


The most famous summary of bad faith’ comes in Being and Nothingness, as soon as Sartre notices a waiter that strikes him as overly committed to his role, together if that were first and foremost a waiter rather than a complimentary human being: ‘His activity is quick and also forward, a little too precise, a tiny too rapid. That comes in the direction of the patrons through a step that is a small too quick. He bends front a small too eagerly: his voice, his eye express an interest a tiny too solicitous because that the bespeak of the customer…’

Sartre diagnoses the as enduring from bad faith. The man (he was most likely modelled on someone in Saint-Germain’s café de Flore) has encouraged himself that he is essentially, necessarily a waiter quite than a totally free creature who might be a jazz pianist or a fisherman on a north Sea trawler. The same perspective of ingrained, option-less servitude can today be it was observed in an that manager or a parent collecting their son from school. Each of these might also feel: I need to do what ns am doing, I have no choice, i am no free, my role makes me execute what ns do.

Realising one’s flexibility in an gift sense have to not be confused with the American self-help idea that we’re all cost-free to be or perform anything without suffering pain or sacrifice. Sartre is far gloomier and an ext tragic than this. He simply wants to suggest out that us have more options 보다 we normally believe – also if in some situations the leading option (which Sartre defended vigorously) could be come commit suicide.

Four: We’re complimentary to dismantle Capitalism

The one element that many discourages human being to endure themselves as free is money. Many of united state will shut down a variety of possible options (moving abroad, trying out a new career, leaving a partner) by saying, ‘that’s if ns didn’t need to worry about money.’

This passivity in the challenge of money tease Sartre at a political level. He assumed of capitalism together a giant an equipment designed to create a feeling of requirement which no in fact exist in reality: it makes us tell ourselves we have to work a certain number of hours, buy a certain product or service, pay people a details low dues for your work. Yet in this, over there is only the denial of flexibility – and also a refuse to take together seriously together we must the possibility of life in various other ways.


It was because of these views that Sartre had a life long interest in Marxism (although he was a movie critic of the USSR and also the French Communist Party). Marxism seemed in concept to enable people to discover their freedom, by reducing the function played in their lives by product considerations, money and property.

All this remains a tantalising thought: might we readjust politics come regain call with our an essential freedoms? How might our perspectives to capital change? How many hours a week should one work? How can what’s top top TV or where human being go on vacation or the college curriculum be better? How can our toxic, propaganda-soaked media it is in changed?

Despite writing a an excellent deal (he was approximated to have actually written in ~ least five pages every job of his adult life), Sartre go not go after these lines of thoughts. He opened up possibilities, but the jobs remain ours to undertake.


Sartre is inspiring in his insistence the things do not need to be the way they are. He is hugely lively to ours unfulfilled potential, as individuals and as a species.

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He urges us to expropriate the fluidity of existence and to create brand-new institutions, habits, outlooks and also ideas. The join that life doesn’t have actually some preordained logic and also is no inherently meaningful can it is in a source of enormous relief when we feeling oppressed by the weight of tradition and also the condition quo. Sartre is especially valuable to united state in adolescence, when parental and also social expectations deserve to crush us – and in the darker moment of mid-life, as soon as we recognise there is tho a small time to do a change, yet no much longer quite so much.