Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

Paris, France

Jean-Paul Sartre's father, a naval officer, died of fever when Sartre was one year old. He and his mother went to live with her wealthy family. His grandfather was a very strict man who tried to persuade Sartre to become a teacher, instead of spending so much time writing. He felt that it wasn't possible for literature to pay the bills. This made Sartre want to write more than ever.

When Sartre was in college at the Sorbonne in Paris, he met Simone de Beauvoir, another young philosopher. This began a love affair that lasted over 50 years. They were famous for being an odd couple. They did not follow "the rules." They never married or shared property. They lived in hotels and ate in cafes, but they shared a common philosophy. They both were a part of the school of philosophy called existentialism. Existentialism focuses on the individual instead of society.

Sartre believed that "man makes himself." Sartre, who liked to write, produce, and act in plays, saw life as one gigantic stage. People are the actors condemned to a lifetime performance, but people are free to write their own "scripts" and cannot blame anyone else for a "bad" performance. Those people who allow themselves to be pushed into a role by others are denying that they are free to choose. The stars of lifeÕs stage are those who accept their freedom, make their own choices, and accept responsibility for their action, whether success or failure. In Sartre's opinion, people who lived stereotypical lives weren't really living at all.

Sartre's beliefs led him to very active in politics. He supported the collective struggle against oppression as part of his philosophy of personal freedom.

Classroom Discussion Questions:

How would Jean Paul Sartre have answered the question: "Which is more powerful, love or hate?"

How would Sartre have reacted to people who complain about their lives?

In some of his writing, Sartre borrows Descartes quote "I think therefore I am." How is Sartre's philosophy the same as Descartes and how is it different?

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