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Jean Paul Sartre

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Jean Paul Sartre

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Human, All Too Human

Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre
(21 June 1905 – 15 April 1980)
was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy and existentialism, and his work continues to influence further fields such as sociology and literary studies. Sartre was also noted for his long relationship with the author and social theorist, Simone de Beauvoir. He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature but refused the honour.

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Sartre's primary idea is that people, as humans, are "condemned to be free". This theory relies upon his position that there is no creator, and is illustrated using the example of the paper cutter. Sartre says that if one considered a paper cutter, one would assume that the creator would have had a plan for it: an essence. Sartre said that human beings have no essence before their existence because there is no Creator. Thus: "existence precedes essence". This forms the basis for his assertion that since one cannot explain their own actions and behaviour by referencing any specific human nature, they are necessarily fully responsible for those actions. "We are left alone, without excuse."

Sartre maintained that the concepts of authenticity and individuality have to be earned but not learned. We need to experience "death consciousness" so as to wake up ourselves as to what is really important; the authentic in our lives which is life experience, not knowledge. Death draws the final point when we as beings cease to live for ourselves and permanently become objects that exist only for the outside world. As such, death emphasizes the burden of our free, individual existence.

As a junior lecturer at the Lycée du Havre in 1938, Sartre wrote the novel La Nausée (Nausea), which serves in some ways as a manifesto of existentialism and remains one of his most famous books. Taking a page from the German phenomenological movement, he believed that our ideas are the product of experiences of real-life situations, and that novels and plays can well describe such fundamental experiences, having equal value to discursive essays for the elaboration of philosophical theories such as existentialism. With such purpose, this novel concerns a dejected researcher (Roquentin) in a town similar to Le Havre who becomes starkly conscious of the fact that inanimate objects and situations remain absolutely indifferent to his existence. As such, they show themselves to be resistant to whatever significance human consciousness might perceive in them.

This indifference of "things in themselves" (closely linked with the later notion of "being-in-itself" in his Being and Nothingness) has the effect of highlighting all the more the freedom Roquentin has to perceive and act in the world; everywhere he looks, he finds situations imbued with meanings which bear the stamp of his existence. Hence the "nausea" referred to in the title of the book; all that he encounters in his everyday life is suffused with a pervasive, even horrible, taste—specifically, his freedom. The book takes the term from Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where it is used in the context of the often nauseating quality of existence. No matter how much Roquentin longs for something else or something different, he cannot get away from this harrowing evidence of his engagement with the world. The novel also acts as a terrifying realization of some of Kant's fundamental ideas; Sartre uses the idea of the autonomy of the will (that morality is derived from our ability to choose in reality; the ability to choose being derived from human freedom; embodied in the famous saying "Condemned to be free") as a way to show the world's indifference to the individual. The freedom that Kant exposed is here a strong burden, for the freedom to act towards objects is ultimately useless, and the practical application of Kant's ideas proves to be bitterly rejected.

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