Profile: Jean-Paul Sartre

Before we get started with our first philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, you need to know some of his history.

Backstory and motivation are not only important for fictional characters, but also for historical figures. I think the reader will begin to see how this philosophy appealed to the likes of Sartre because of his early life. It also appeals to society today. He really is a tragic figure, and can therefore be pitied.


Sartre was born in the year 1905 and died in 1980. He saw many things in his life, and was a very learned individual to be sure. He had a rough childhood and suffered some minor physical defects – crossed eyes for one. Tragically, Sartre’s father passed away, and apparently not much was known about his mother. In any event, he ended up at the home of his maternal grandfather whose uncle happened to be Albert Schweitzer.

Schweitzer himself had a philosophy that led to him to write a book and to search for the “historical Jesus.” His Jesus was one that was a good and wise teacher minus the mystical and supernatural. One can see that Sartre was surrounded by intelligent men and brought up to be a deep philosophical thinker.

The question that should be asked is “How did this shape Sartre’s own philosophy?” The main upshot of Sartre’s future thinking was that man is an autonomous being. Francis Schaeffer uses this term a lot and it took me studying over what he was saying about autonomous man to fully grasp his total meaning. It is easy to look up the definition, but to absorb what this word means and to see the ramifications takes some reflection.

As I said in the last article several weeks ago, this philosophy has its roots in Satan’s original lie to Eve. Remember, being autonomous means you have absolute freedom over your entire life. Every action and deed, for good or ill, is yours. However, there is one marked difference in Sartre’s thought from Satan’s when he lied to Eve. Sartre has sold it that there is no “supreme being” – there is no God that has dictated any rules or regulations for you or anyone else to follow. Your only aim, as Schaeffer explains, is to authenticate yourself – your will. Schaeffer gives the following example:

You are driving in a car and it is pouring down rain. Along the side of the road you see an individual who is walking. The choice to authenticate yourself has arrived. Do you pick the person up and take them to where they need to go? Do you simply ignore them? Or do you run them over and speed along your way? All these choices do not matter in the great scheme of things. You have “authenticated” your will no matter what you do.

Schaeffer ends his example by saying that if you do understand what this means then you should weep for modern man.”

Right or wrong, good or evil hold little sway in the philosophy of existentialism. A true practitioner of the philosophy only seeks to “authenticate their will.” Your life is made up of meaningless choices. We should indeed weep for modern man.

The End of His Life

Sartre became more and more left leaning on the political spectrum during the last part of his life. He adopted a Marxist view of history and life, though he did not agree with how the Soviets had applied it. Again, to Sartre there was no God, therefore mankind couldn’t count on the Bible as a guide. The only thing one should consider is “social responsibility.” You should treat your fellow man and woman in a scrupulous manner. When you look at existentialism, this is an absurd notion. Consider the implications. It may be a noble thought and gesture to do so, but if this existence is all there is, then it is a waste of your precious time.

Sartre is a tragic figure who fine-tuned an equally tragic philosophy. Its tragedy is not in the specifics of its content, as he is simply restating a lie told many millennia past and put his own “spin” on it. No, the tragedy is that we children of the most high God are still falling for it today.

Be of good courage in these times. God is not the author of fear. I pray you will come back as we look at two more secular philosophers, before we tackle the religious ones.

Grace & Peace,

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