The Existentialist Maverick: A Life of Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre is one of the most influential philosophers and writers of the 20th century. He was an existentialist thinker who believed that individuals are free to make their own lives, but must also take responsibility for their actions. He was an intellectual maverick who challenged conventional thinking and defied societal norms throughout his life.

Early Life and Education:

Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris in 1905 to a bourgeois family. His father died when he was only two years old, and he was raised by his mother and grandfather. His grandfather was a highly educated man who taught him philosophy at a young age. This early exposure to philosophy would deeply influence Sartre’s thinking and writing later in life.

Sartre went to school at the Lycée Henri-IV in Paris, where he excelled academically. He then went on to study philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure, a prestigious French university. It was there that he met Simone de Beauvoir, a fellow philosopher who would become his life-long partner and collaborator.

Existentialism and Philosophy:

Sartre is best known for his contributions to existentialism, a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual freedom and choice in the face of the absurdity and meaninglessness of life. He believed that human beings are thrown into the world without a pre-determined purpose, and must create their own meaning through their actions and choices.

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One of Sartre’s most famous works is his 1943 book “Being and Nothingness,” which outlines his philosophical views on existentialism. In the book, he argues that existence precedes essence – that is, that individuals are born into the world without a pre-determined essence or nature. Instead, they must make their own meaning through their choices and actions.

Sartre also believed in the importance of personal responsibility. He argued that individuals must take responsibility for their own choices, and must not relinquish control over their lives to societal norms or external forces.

Literary Career:

In addition to his philosophical works, Sartre was also a prolific writer of literature. He wrote numerous plays, novels, and essays throughout his life, many of which explored existentialist themes.

His most famous play, “No Exit,” is a dark and biting commentary on the human condition. The play is set in a hellish afterlife where three characters are trapped in a room together for eternity. The play explores the themes of personal responsibility and the consequences of one’s actions.

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Sartre’s other literary works include the novel “Nausea,” which explores the existential crisis of its protagonist, and the essay “Existentialism is a Humanism,” which seeks to explain and defend the tenets of existentialism.

Political Views:

Sartre was also deeply involved in political activism throughout his life. He was a staunch leftist who supported numerous political causes and movements, including communism and anti-colonialism.

He became involved in the French Resistance during World War II, and used his platform as a writer and philosopher to support the cause. He also became a vocal critic of capitalism and imperialism, and called for radical changes to the economic and political systems.

Later Life and Legacy:

Sartre continued to write and publish throughout his life, and remained active in political activism until his death in 1980. He received numerous awards and honors for his contributions to philosophy and literature, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964.

Today, Sartre is remembered as one of the most influential philosophers and writers of the 20th century. His contributions to existentialism and his commitment to personal responsibility and political activism continue to inspire and challenge people around the world.

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