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The 111th birthday of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre

It’s three digits of a kind for today’s birthday honoree. On what would have been the 111th birthday of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Philosophical Library is taking a look back on the life and work of this noted playwright, novelist, activist, critic and biographer. Born June 21, 1905 in Paris, France, Sartre was born to a navy officer and a mother whose cousin was none other than fellow philosopher and Nobel Prize laureate Albert Schweitzer. After his father’s death, he was moved to his grandparent’s house at the age of two with his mother. It was in his new home that he was introduced to mathematics and classical literature thanks to his grandfather, a teacher.

“Like all dreamers, I mistook disenchantment for truth.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

By the 1920s, an adolescent Sartre attended a private school in Paris where he studied psychology, philosophy, logic, ethics and sociology and physics. He went on to earn a diploma from Ecole Normale Superieure, a prestigious school of higher education known for producing many well-respected intellectuals and thinkers. It was at this institution that he met Simone de Beauvoir, a philosopher with whom he would share a life-long friendship and non-monogamous relationship. Sartre was first in his class, with Beauvoir coming in second; however, he would take a break from his academics once drafted into the French Army.

“When the rich wage war it’s the poor who die.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

After serving his time in the armed forces, Sartre began teaching and continued to study philosophy. However, he would serve in the military during WWII and become a prisoner of war. While held captive, he wrote his first play titled Bariona. Once released from his duties and returning to civilian status, Sartre reclaimed his teaching position and co-founded a group called Socialism and Liberty with other writers such as Simone de Beauvoir. He would later leave his teaching career to focus on his writing and political activism. He would eventually embrace Marxism and would become the first French journalist to expose labor camps. Being passionate about exposing war crimes he fought to shed light on such injustices and, alongside Bertrand Russell, helped create a tribunal to do just that. Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964, but declined the prize, wishing to never be nominated as to not disrupt the balance of eastern and western culture by accepting a noted western cultural award.

”Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre contributed many works to the literary world during his lifetime. Some of his writing has been compiled into one book, such as The Philosophy of Existentialism. Here, a collection of essays covering a broad range of topics can be read. Sartre examines what it is to be human, applying his own experiences to explore the problems with faith, human emotions, aesthetics and even writing while making connections to his philosophy of existentialism. Continuing with the subject of writing, Sartre’s Literature and Existentialism discusses existentialism in terms of the writer and asks why one writes and for whom does one write. He maintains that the works of each writer exists by themselves and abstains from comparing one piece of writing to the next. The author also probes into the politics of Marxism as well as the laborious task of the writer.

“Do you think that I count the days? There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

Another title from Sartre includes The Emotions: Outline of a Theory where the philosopher delves into the role of human emotions on the psyche. Within these pages, Sartre examines fear, lust, anguish and melancholy and writes that these emotions develop at an early age which helps them to be identified and understood later in life. For anyone interested in the philosophies of Jean-Paul Sartre or the theory of existentialism and how it can be applied to literature, philosophy and human emotions, please click here.

 

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