Jean Paul Sartre: ExistentialismThe philosophical career of Jean Paul Sartre(1905-1980) focuses, in its first phase, upon the construction of a philosophyof existence known as existentialism. Sartre's early works are characterizedby a development of classic phenomenology, but his reflection divergesfrom Husserl’s on methodology, the conception of the self, and an interest inethics. These points of divergence are the cornerstones of Sartre’sexistential phenomenology, whose purpose is to understand humanexistence rather than the world as such. Adopting and adapting themethods of phenomenology, Sartre sets out to develop an ontologicalaccount of what it is to be human. The main features of this ontology are thegroundlessness and radical freedom which characterize the humancondition. These are contrasted with the unproblematic being of the worldof things. Sartre’s substantial literary output adds dramatic expression tothe always unstable co-existence of facts and freedom in an indifferentworld.Sartre’s ontology is explained in his philosophical masterpiece, Being andNothingness, where he defines two types of reality which lie beyond ourconscious experience: the being of the object of consciousness and that ofconsciousness itself. The object of consciousness exists as "in-itself," that is,in an independent and non-relational way. However, consciousness is alwaysconsciousness “of something,” so it is defined in relation to something else,and it is not possible to grasp it within a conscious experience: it exists as"for-itself." An essential feature of consciousness is its negative power, bywhich we can experience "nothingness." This power is also at work withinthe self, where it creates an intrinsic lack of self-identity. So the unity of theself is understood as a task for the for-itself rather than as a given.In order to ground itself, the self needs projects, which can be viewed asaspects of an individual’s fundamental project and motivated by a desire for"being" lying within the individual's consciousness. The source of thisproject is a spontaneous original choice that depends on the individual'sfreedom. However, self’s choice may lead to a project of self-deception suchas bad faith, where one’s own real nature as for-itself is discarded to adoptthat of the in-itself. Our only way to escape self-deception is authenticity,that is, choosing in a way which reveals the existence of the for-itself as
both factual and transcendent. For Sartre, my proper exercise of freedomcreates values that any other human being placed in my situation couldexperience, therefore each authentic project expresses a universaldimension in the singularity of a human life.After a brief summary of Sartre’s life, this article looks at the main themescharacterizing Sartre’s early philosophical works. The ontology developedin Sartre’s main existential work, Being and Nothingness, will then beanalysed. Finally, an overview is provided of the further development ofexistentialist themes in his later works.