Continental Philosophy

Jean-Paul Sartre

Who was Jean-Paul Sartre?

Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (1905–1980) was the icon of twentieth century existentialism. Popular versions of his ideas gave existentialism its dark glamour of atheistic, nihilistic, cigarette-smoking, absinth-drinking, café-frequenting, French intellectuals, arguing about ideas, and practicing “free love.” Sartre himself smoked a pipe, was short, stocky, near-sighted, and wall-eyed. He was well known by his contemporaries for his work in the French resistance against the Nazis, and later on, for his Marxism and opposition to the Vietnam conflict. Sartre refused to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964 on the grounds of his political objections to the bourgeois militaristic culture that made such a prize possible.

Sartre’s main existentialist works consisted of numerous plays and essays; the novel Nausea (1938); and the philosophical works The Imagination (1936), The Transcendence of the Ego (1937), and Being and Nothingness (1943). His Marxism was developed in the uncompleted, three-volume work The Critique of Dialectical Reason (1958–1959).


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