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Jean-Paul Sartre - Philosophy and EthicsJean-Paul Sartre - Philosophy and Ethics


Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80)


French philosopher (pictured right), novelist, playwright and long time partner of the feminist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir (pictured right below together).

 Jean-Paul Sartre - Philosophy and Ethics

His most famous book is...

Being and Nothingness (1943) about existentialism (see point 1).


What did he say about philosophy and ethics?


1. Existentialism

This says that you are free to decide:Jean-Paul Sartre - Philosophy and Ethics

  • how you live.
  • what you become.

You can even change the things you are born with (like your parents and appearance) by changing your attitudes towards them.

You are you, a unique human being, not the label other people give you like ‘student’ or ‘child’.


“Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself”, Sartre said.


 Jean-Paul Sartre - Philosophy and Ethics

2. Don’t deceive yourself

“Bad faith” results from deceiving yourself that you can't be free to do what you like (as mentioned in point 1)

This bad faith leads to a state of “nothingness”, a feeling that:

  • something is missing in your life. 
  • you haven’t taken advantage of your freedom to benefit from all of life’s exciting possibilities.

Sartre gives a famous example of a waiter, who deceives himself by acting as a waiter and not being his true self.

So you should:Jean-Paul Sartre - Philosophy and Ethics

  • be honest with yourself and others.
  • live only according to your needs and values.


3. Authenticity

This is the opposite of bad faith - in other words:

  • being yourself
  • taking advantage of the freedom to do whatever you want.Jean-Paul Sartre - Philosophy and Ethics

The best (or authentic) life is controlled by the choices you make without:

  • making excuses, or
  • blaming other people for your failures and disappointments.

So you must:

  • hate conformity
  • take responsibility for everything you do.

This burden of responsibility means that that “man is condemned to be free”, Sartre said.

Jean-Paul Sartre - Philosophy and Ethics 

4. No imposed ethics

It is up to you to decide what is right or wrong in every situation you face.

Nobody can tell you what you should do, not even the Church.


5. Love

Love means respecting people’s right to:Jean-Paul Sartre - Philosophy and Ethics

  • be free.
  • live their own life.

You must resist the temptation to:

  • control other people. 
  • make them do what you want.

Jean-Paul Sartre - Philosophy and Ethics 

6. Do what you say

Sartre’s motto was “commitment is an act, not a word” .

So he strongly believed in putting his principles and ideas into action (like communism), not just talking about them.


Key quotes on success

It is necessary that we make ourselves what we are.

You are nothing other than your life.

A human person is what he is not, not what he is.


Key quotes on empowerment and freedom

Man is condemned to be free, because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.

A man is what he wills himself to be.


Key quotes on love

Hell is other people.

We are what we make of what others make of us.


Key quote on stress and pain

Human life begins on the other side of despair.


Key quote on peace of mind

Life is nothing until it is lived; but it is yours to make sense of.


Key quote on influencing people

We are what we do.


Key quote on war

When the rich wage war, it's the poor who die.

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