1 minute read


Jean-paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) attended Husserl's lectures at the Sorbonne, and he became an enthusiast of phenomenology. He was first of all concerned with the nature of human freedom and the correlative sense of responsibility. Sartre's phenomenology is largely modeled on Heidegger's work, but in his L'être et le néant (1943; English trans. Being and Nothingness, 1956) he retreats from Heidegger's attack on the Cartesian view of consciousness, Sartre argues that consciousness (described as "being-for-itself") is such that it is an activity, not a thing or substance ("no-thing"), and it is always to be distinguished from the world it intends. Consciousness is free to choose and free to "negate" (or reject) the given features of the world. Thus, Heidegger's "being-in-the world" phenomenon gives way to a conflicted portrait of human consciousness resisting and challenging the world.

As in Husserl, consciousness is essentially intentionality, but for Sartre it is nothing but intentionality, an activity directed at the world. Consciousness is active, essentially critical, and consists not just of perception, thoughts, and ideas but as much of desires, wishes, emotions, moods, impulses, and imaginings, negating the world as it is. Sartre celebrates our remarkable freedom to imagine the world other than it is. Our perceptions of the world, he argues, are always permeated by imagination, so that we are always aware of options and alternatives. Furthermore, there is no self or ego behind consciousness, no agent behind the activity. Thus, Sartre distinguishes consciousness from the self, and self, he insists, is "in the world, like the self of another [person]." The self is an ongoing project in the world.

Sartre defines his ontology in terms of the opposition of "being-in-itself" and "being-for-itself," manifested in the tension between the fact that we always find ourselves in a particular situation defined by a body of facts that we may not have chosen—our "facticity"—and our ability to transcend that facticity, to imagine, and choose—our transcendence. He tells us that consciousness "is what it is not, and is not what it is"—a playful paradox that refers to the fact that we are always in the process of "transcending" ourselves. He also defines a third ontological category, "being-for-others," which makes our lives with other people an essential part of our existence.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Pebi- to History of Philosophy - IndifferentismPhenomenology - Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Max Scheler And Emmanuel Lévinas, Jean-paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-ponty