Jean-Paul Sartre Biography

Jean-Paul Sartre was a great existentialist philosopher of the 20th century. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, family life, achievements and other facts related to his life.

Jean-Paul Sartre
Quick Facts

Birthday: June 21, 1905

Nationality: French

Famous: Quotes By Jean-Paul Sartre Atheists

Died At Age: 74

Sun Sign: Gemini

Born in: Paris

Famous as: Philosopher

Family:

father: Jean-Baptiste Sartre

mother: Anne-Marie Schweitzer

children: Arlette el Kaim-Sartre

Died on: April 15, 1980

place of death: Paris

Personality: INTJ

City: Paris

More Facts

education: Lycée Louis-le-Grand, École Normale Supérieure

awards: 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature

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Jean-Paul Sartre was a renowned French playwright, philosopher, as well as political activist, who also influenced disciplines such as sociology and literary studies. Being an important figure both in the philosophies of existentialism and phenomenology, he is regarded as an important figure of 20th century French philosophy. Though he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964, Sartre declined it, saying that according to him, a writer should never become an institution. The philosophy he promoted was based on his position that there is no creator and humans are “condemned to be free.” A lack of a creator, according to him, meant that there is no essence to human existence either. Being a Marxist, he was also an admirer of the Soviet Union. Though he had great enthusiasm for French political movements, he did not join the communist party. His hopes for communism were destroyed, however, when Soviet tanks entered Budapest. He not only did he condemn the act, but also criticized the French Communist Party for being like a puppet to the dictates of Moscow. Though he still believed that Marxism was the best philosophy for the present era, he said that it needed few changes, like learning to respect and value individual freedom of a human being.

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Jean-Paul Sartre
Childhood & Early Life
  • Jean-Paul Sartre was born on 21 June 1905 in Paris. His father was Jean-Baptiste Sartre, a French Naval officer, and his mother was Anne-Marie Schweitzer. His mother was also a cousin to the famous medical missionary, Albert Schweitzer.
  • His father passed away when Jean-Paul was only two, and his mother raised him on her own with her father’s help. It was Sartre’s grandfather who introduced him to literature at a very young age.
  • It was after he read the famous essay of Henri Bergson, ‘Time and Free Will’ that he became interested in philosophy. He learned various subjects such as history of philosophy, general philosophy, sociology, and ethics, before he finally earned his doctorate in Philosophy in Paris at ‘Ecole Normale Superieure.’
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Career
  • In 1939, Jean-Paul Sartre was drafted into the French army during the World War II. The next year, he was captured by German troops and had to stay as a prisoner of war for nine months.
  • During this period of imprisonment, he read ‘Being and Time’ by Martin Heidegger, which influenced him to a great extent. This influence was reflected later in his essay on phenomenological ontology.
  • After his release in April 1941, he resumed as a teacher at Lycee Pasteur, situated near Paris. Then along with other renowned writers such as Dominique Desanti and Simone de Beauvoir, he also took part in the formation of a group named ‘Socialism and Liberty.’ However, later he felt discouraged and decided to focus on writing instead of active resistance. Shortly after, he wrote and published ‘Being and Nothingness’, ‘The Flies’, and ‘No Exit’, all of which became quite popular and made Sartre famous.
  • After the liberation of Paris, he wrote the book ‘Anti-Semite and Jew’ where he discussed and analyzed anti-Semitic hate, as well as its origins. During this time, he also contributed to a newspaper named ‘Combat’, which was created by Albert Camus, a philosopher with beliefs much similar to his.
  • After the end of the World War II, Jean-Paul Sartre fully embraced Marxism, and shortly after, he went to Cuba, where he met with Fidel Castro and Che Guevera. He opposed the Vietnam War and along with many famous intellectuals such as Bertrand Russell, he also took part in a tribunal that aimed to expose war crimes of the US. It later became known as the Russell Tribunal.
  • He had a great admiration for Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, and declared him not only to be a great intellectual but also the most perfect man of the era, as he lived his words, and spoke his own actions. However, he vehemently opposed the persecution of homosexuals during the regime of Fidel Castro, and compared it to Nazi persecution of Jews.
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Major Works
  • ’The Age of Reason’ which was published in 1945, can be considered one of Jean-Paul Sartre’s most important works. The novel, which is the first part of a trilogy ‘The Roads to Freedom’, is about three days in a philosophy teacher’s life, who is short of money for an abortion for his mistress. This novel explores Sartre’s concept of freedom, which according to him, is the ultimate aim of human existence.
  • ’The Respectful Prostitute’ is one of the important plays by Jean-Paul Sartre. Released in 1946, the story which takes place during a racially tense period of American history, is about an incident on a train concerning a prostitute who becomes the victim of a crime. A black man is falsely implicated and made a scapegoat, though it was a white man who actually committed the crime. Sartre was accused of anti-Americanism when the play was released in the United States. It was later adapted into the 1952 French film, ‘La Putain respectueuse.’
  • ’The Transcendence of the Ego’ was an essay by Jean-Paul Sartre, which was written in 1934 and published in 1936. This philosophical essay explains in detail how different people can contemplate the same thing, yet one cannot contemplate the intuitive apprehension of another. Thus, it explores how we are responsible for our own doings and how one consciousness cannot reflect how another consciousness is conscious of the same thing.
  • ’Anti-Semite and Jew’ was one of his most famous essays. It was published in 1946. He explains why ‘Anti-Semitism’ is not just an idea, but also a point of view based upon rational thought, empowered with deep passion. He also talks of people of Jewish origin whom he knew had suffered because of ‘Anti-Semitism’ and discusses how this harms society as a whole.
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Awards & Achievements
  • Jean-Paul Sartre was quite famous during his time not just for his philosophical and literary works, but also because of his active interest in politics, even taking part in revolutions. However, he was not the least interested in awards and honors, which is why he declined the ‘Legion d’honneur’, which he was awarded in 1945 and also the Nobel Prize for Literature which he was awarded in 1964.
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Personal Life & Legacy
  • Jean-Paul Sartre shared a great friendship with philosopher and feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir. Though it turned into a romantic relationship later on, neither of them were monogamous.
  • He also had an Algerian mistress known as Arlette Elkaim, whom he later adopted as a daughter in 1965.
  • Sartre passed away on 15 April 1980 due to severe lung problems.
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Trivia
  • Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature on October 22, 1964, but he denied accepting the same. Thus, he became the first Nobel Laureate to willingly decline the award. Interestingly, Sartre had written a letter to the Nobel Institute dating October 14, 1964, requesting the deletion of his name from the list of nominees, and also that he would not accept the same if awarded but the letter remained unread.
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- Jean-Paul Sartre Biography
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Last Updated
- January 16, 2017

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