It was to correct common misconceptions about his thought that Jean-Paul Sartre, the most dominent European intellectual of the post-World War II decades, accepted an invitation to speak on October 29, 1945, at the Club Maintenant in Paris. The unstated objective of his lecture (“Existentialism Is a Humanism”) was to expound his philosophy as a form of “existentialism,” a term much bandied about at the time. Sartre asserted that existentialism was essentially a doctrine for philosophers, though, ironically, he was about to make it accessible to a general audience. The published text of his lecture quickly became one of the bibles of existentialism and made Sartre an international celebrity.
The idea of freedom occupies the center of Sartre’s doctrine. Man, born into an empty, godless universe, is nothing to begin with. He creates his essence—his self, his being—through the choices he freely makes (“existence precedes essence”). Were it not for the contingency of his death, he would never end. Choosing to be this or that is to affirm the value of what we choose. In choosing, therefore, we commit not only ourselves but all of mankind.
This book presents a new English translation of Sartre’s 1945 lecture and his analysis of Camus’s The Stranger, along with a discussion of these works by acclaimed Sartre biographer Annie Cohen-Solal. This edition is a translation of the 1996 French edition, which includes Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre’s introduction and a Q&A with Sartre about his lecture.
"When [Sartre] demands that we take responsibility for our lives, for the shape of our world, for the situation of the least favored--for others as well as ourselves--he is expressing decisively important conditions for learning to live as responsible citizens in this globalized world. This is no outmoded radicalism, but the message of one of the most challenging and contemporary philosophies."--Ronald Aronson, International Herald Tribune
"Like no one else, [Sartre] sought to understand exactly what it means to be responsible."--Ronald Aronson, International Herald Tribune
"In this small book, we discover Sartre as more than the caf existentialist or the playboy. Here we see the committed philosopher working in public, with many of its evident hazards. Despite its flaws, in Existentialism is a Humanism
, we have a model for a committed philosophy--one that is sorely needed today."--Nicholas Hengen, Rain Taxi
Selected as a 2008 AAUP University Press Book for Public and Secondary School Libraries
"To understand Jean-Paul Sartre is to understand something important about the present time."--Iris Murdoch