Sartre’s morality : Choice and Responsibility

Jean-Paul Sartre

Near the post about the conference Existentialism is a humanism by Sartre, let’s look at the Sartre‘s moral existentialist, mainly expressed in three books:

Notebooks for an Ethics

Critique of Dialectical Reason

Being and Nothingness

Sartre, after the ontology built in Being and Nothingness, tried to give a practical meaning to his phenomenology, i.e. the meaning ontological freedom. Ontology is the natural path of ethics, according to  Sartre.

Sartre and Marxist materialism and morality:

Sartre wants to separate the value of historical materialism (= reinstatement of the moral subject in the positiveness of being-in-situation) and materialist metaphysics.

For Sartre, we can no longer support or that the “I created the world” or that the world has created me, because me and the contemporary world: the For-itself and the world arise concomitantly.

Thus, Sartre constructs an ethics of finitude that wants to answer the question: How to live the freedom of the For-Self, the being which is what it is and not what it is, and therefore be defined as openness to possibilities?

The For-Itself must internalize its finitude, it has to be done. This is the meditation of our finiteness which bases morality, instead to withdraw any sense.

Indeed, the finiteness implies that I’m in a world that I do not control my actions may have consequences endless. But because the fate of my actions I forget I have to choose between possible, so I am a pure freedom. The consequences of my actions are to claim the subject: “Freedom must assume that it did not claim to know it.”

How the historicity, the fact of being in a time not selected, can it be compatible with my freedom? The two are compatible because the subject is a project of freedom, a projection into the future, a transformation of its artificiality. We must act on the facticity to reclaim. Morality begins with the seizure of my contingency, by the duty-being.

Sartre: Ontology and Ethics


“The For-Itself is the being by whom values ​​exist as his freedom is the only source of value.”

Freedom is the passing moment of facts to values. Consciousness, as self-presence, is also project overrun, burst. The subject is not what he is because he still plans to be anything other than what it is. The cogito is a moral conscience as reflective consciousness (= who thinks me) reveals the same token values.

Sartre, Ethics and Intersubjectivity

The cogito I discovered the existence of others as well as my own existence. The For-Itself and leads to the For-Others. Sartre in fact refutes solipsism (only me there =) and is the first to consider others in his moral relation (the set-in Heidegger is an abstract relationship, ontological says nothing about the actual existence). Sartre’s relationship self / other place of practical philosophy and ethics.

Moral relationship to others is one that avoids the alienation (= dominance of Others), which can take 4 forms:

– Alienation from human nature: nature defines being as it should be (essentialist conception of man)

– The transfer by the right and duty: for Sartre, “the duty is the other central to my will, a slave without a master.” Sarte refuses the sacrifice of the individual to humanity. Duty is synonymous with alienation. Similarly, Sartre is anti-legal for my freedom can not be reduced by that of others.

– Alienation from the values: The idea that the values ​​are given, not created, means the spirit of seriousness in Sartre. The values ​​are not transcendent but immanent.

– Disposal by the unconscious: if the unconscious acting for me, I can not be responsible, so free, so morale. The unconscious is another in my consciousness, a force of self-alienation.

The Other is a category that suggests all forms of alienation.

Sartre also presents two kinds of transcendence: The Ego and God

– The ego is the part of self-consciousness is what other people made me. Freedom must be free of ego and I like forms of the priority of the Other.

– God, the one that absolutely dominates me, because it tells me its law and gives me an essence to which I can not escape.

Therefore, morality is based on the refusal of the disposition, whatever its form. Freedom must be creation of the world, that progressive elimination of facticity.

Ethics and individual ethics of the man

Sartre’s ethics is not an ethic of autonomy (cf. Kant and the moral law), but a moral independence, individuality to which the subject refuses any submission to an external law, considers itself as the sole source of values.

The absence of petrol, in humans, is what makes morality possible. A life free of values ​​is creative, non-alienating relation to others, tension towards universality.


More on Sartre’s Philosophy:

Sartre’s morality : Choice and Responsability

Sartre : Existentialism and Humanism

Sartre : Philosophy Summary

Cite this article as: Tim, "Sartre’s morality : Choice and Responsibility, December 5, 2011, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, December 5, 2011,

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