Jean-Paul Sartre Biography


Short Biography

Jean-Paul Sartre was born in 1905 in Paris. After a childhood marked by the untimely death of his father, the important role played by his grandfather, and a miserable experience of primary school (he will relate it in Words), Sartre attended secondary school at the prestigious Lycée Henri IV. After two years of preparatory classes, he performs the Ecole Normale Supérieure (1924 to 1929), where he met Raymond Aron, Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He was graduated at the second attempt the Aggregation (finishing second behind a certain Simone de Beauvoir) and then became professor of philosophy at a high school in Le Havre, then at the French Institute in Berlin where he discovered phenomenology. This revelation pushed him to write his first three books: The Transcendence of the Ego (1933), the Imagination (1936) and Theory of Emotions (1938).
During World War II, Sartre was enroled as a meteorologist in 1939 and was captured in 1940, he spent nine months in Germany as a prisoner of war. In 1941, he was released and became a teacher at Lycée Pasteur until the end of the war. He worked on engaged plays (Flies, Huis Clos, Les Mains Sales, …), which was played illegally, but notably published his major work, Being and Nothingness, then gave a conference to make his theory more popular to the communists. Sartre also produces abundant literary, whose Nausea, Roads to Freedom in particular.
Politically, the philosopher is close to the Communists and promoted Marxist ideas (Critique of Dialectical Reason) and opposes tirelessly to General de Gaulle, including the war in Algeria. His fame led him to receive (and refuse !) the Nobel Prize. During the student revolt of May 68, Sartre attempts to guide the movement, without much success.
He died in 1980 of pulmonary Eudemian. He is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery, next to Simone De Beauvoir.
His personal life was marked by the continued presence of Simone de Beauvoir, with whom he maintained a relationship of free love and his refusal to own anything.

Main Ideas

Sartre invented a radical conception of freedom. The man is nothing, he invents himself in front of world and and the other. Contrary to things that have a specific function, the man is useless, he sets himself the goals he wants to pursue. In Sartrean universe, God does not exist therefore.

Top Quotes

  • Man is condemned to be free
    “Man is nothing else but what he is”
    “To act is to change the face of the world”
    “Being a conscience is to break into the world”
    “So, that’s hell. I never thought … You remember: sulfur, bonfire, grill … Ah! what a joke. No need to grill: Hell Is Other People ”
    “God is the solitude of men … If God exists, man is nothing”

See this article for the full quotes.

Major works

  • Being and Nothingness
    Existentialism and Humanism
    Behind closed doors
    Dirty hands
    Critique of Dialectical Reason
Cite this article as: Tim, "Jean-Paul Sartre Biography, March 26, 2016, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, March 26, 2016,

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