What Did Sartre Believe What Did Sartre Believe

What Did Sartre Believe? Unleashing His Beliefs in 4 Simple Points

Jean-Paul Sartre, a key figure in 20th-century philosophy, is well-known for his significant contributions to existentialism. His philosophical works are characterized by an exploration of human existence, the nature of self, and an interest in ethics.

But what did Sartre believe? A central pillar of his thinking was the concept that “existence precedes essence,” a radical idea that shook the traditional understanding of human nature and purpose.


1. Introduction to Jean-Paul Sartre’s Philosophy

What Did Sartre Believe
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Existentialism, as Sartre constructed it, is grounded on the principle that existence comes before essence. According to Sartre, humans first exist, then forge their essence through their actions and experiences.

This idea fundamentally challenges traditional philosophy which often posits that our essence or nature, whether divinely ordained or universally intrinsic, shapes our existence (iep.utm.edu).

Sartre’s philosophy also emphasizes the concept of “Absolute Freedom.” He argued that each individual possesses absolute freedom, insofar as we are free to define ourselves through our actions.

This freedom, he asserted, makes us wholly responsible for our actions and circumstances.

As Sartre puts it, “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself” (e-ir.info). This conception of freedom does not imply an easy life without constraints, but rather the opposite. It suggests an inherent responsibility that may often feel like a burdensome aspect of human life.

In essence, Sartre’s existential philosophy is built around the idea that we are free beings who exist before we define our essence, and this freedom is both liberating and daunting.


2. Unpacking the Concept of “Existence Precedes Essence”

Delving into the depths of Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy, we encounter a radical proposition that challenges our understanding of self and identity: “Existence precedes essence“.

This phrase, first mentioned in a public lecture by Sartre in 1945 and later published as part of his work ‘Existentialism Is a Humanism‘, serves as the philosophical core of existentialism. But what does it mean, and how does it reshape our perception of ourselves and our place in the world?

An In-depth Look at “Existence Precedes Essence”

The traditional philosophical distinction lies between essence and existence – the “whatness” of a thing versus its mere existence.

  • The Essence, according to classical thought, is the unchanging nature of a thing, its universal and constant type, form, or category.
  • Existence, contrastingly, is seen as transient, accidental, and contingent.

Sartre upends this understanding. He Rejects the idea of any pre-established or universal essence dictating human existence. He posits that there is no fixed self or soul preceding our existence.

Instead, he proposes that humans first exist, then define, decide, form, and determine themselves through their thoughts, choices, and actions while existing in the world.

A Challenge to Traditional Understanding of One’s Nature or Purpose

The notion of “existence precedes essence” poses a profound challenge to the traditional understanding of human nature and purpose. It undermines the idea of any inherent, immutable human characteristics or any predetermined path we are destined to follow. It negates the existence of a preordained blueprint for our lives.

In Sartre’s existentialist framework, there is no divine craftsman who conceived a fixed “essence” or “nature” for us before our birth. There is no God who designed us with specific purposes or traits in mind.

Instead, we find ourselves thrown into existence, and it is our responsibility to shape our essence through our actions and experiences.

Implications of Our Essence Being Shaped by Experiences and Actions

One of the most striking implications of Sartre’s assertion that “existence precedes essence” is the idea that our essence – our identity, character, and values – are not something we’re born with, but something we create.

We are not simply the passive recipients of an immutable essence; we are active agents, fashioning our essence through our existence.

This perspective imbues life with a profound sense of freedom and responsibility. Since there is no predetermined human nature or divine plan guiding our actions, we are free to define our essence through our choices and actions.

Yet, this freedom also comes with the weighty responsibility of shaping our identity and deciding our own purpose in life.

Thus, the concept of “existence precedes essence” is more than just a philosophical proposition. It’s a call to embrace the freedom and responsibility that come with being human. It’s a reminder that we are the authors of our own lives, with the liberty to define who we are and what we stand for.


3. Absolute Freedom According to Sartre

Plunging into the crux of Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy, we encounter the concept of ‘Absolute Freedom.’ For Sartre, each individual is endowed with unlimited freedom, a statement that might seem puzzling initially.

After all, we all face physical and social constraints that limit our choices. But, Sartre’s argument is rooted in the belief that freedom is not merely about the ability to act but is tied to the nature of consciousness—its spontaneity.

Sartre argued that we are all free because we have the freedom to choose. This freedom is not just about making spontaneous decisions. It has consequences that shape our essence.

To understand this better, Sartre uses the example of war. Soldiers fighting a war may appear to be doing so against their will, but Sartre argues that they too have the freedom to choose—they can stay, run away, or even commit suicide.

The fact that most soldiers choose to continue fighting suggests that they weigh the consequences of each action and make their choice freely.

Misunderstandings Surrounding the Concept of Freedom

Absolute freedom
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Now, let’s address some common misunderstandings around Sartre’s concept of absolute freedom.

Some might argue, “Is it really freedom when we are thrust into awful situations and our options are limited to things we do not want to do?”

This question challenges Sartre’s notion of freedom as having a choice, suggesting that freedom should mean being able to do what we truly desire. However, Sartre countered this by arguing that freedom is not about the absence of constraints but about the ability to choose within those constraints.

View of Freedom and Responsibility

The implication of this view of freedom is significant—it means that we are responsible for our actions and current circumstances. This responsibility comes from the choices we make in light of our absolute freedom.

If we are unhappy with our situation, we cannot blame others or external factors. Instead, we must acknowledge our role in choosing our path. This view of freedom and responsibility can be challenging to accept, but it also empowers us to take control of our lives and shape our essence through our actions.

By connecting the dots between existence, essence, and freedom, Sartre’s philosophy offers a profound understanding of human nature and our potential for growth and change.

It reminds us that we are not just passive beings subject to the whims of the universe, but active participants who shape our destiny with every choice we make.


4. The Political Implications of Sartre’s Philosophy

Jean-Paul Sartre was a man deeply entrenched in politics. He held staunchly leftist views and was active in the political scene in France and internationally for more than three decades. This political involvement was not merely incidental but was, in fact, an extension of his philosophical beliefs, particularly his understanding of human freedom.

Exploring the Political Dimension of Sartre’s Philosophy

The political implications of Sartre’s philosophy are rooted in his concept of existence preceding essence. It challenges traditional political structures that seek to impose predefined roles or identities onto individuals.

Instead, Sartre’s philosophy promotes a political structure that respects and facilitates the individual’s quest for self-definition.

This aligns with his advocacy against colonialism, antisemitism, and other forms of oppression.

Politics concept
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Reflecting on Chantal Mouffe’s Statement about the Lack of Understanding of the Political in its Ontological Dimension

  • Chantal Mouffe’s assertion about the lack of understanding of the political in its ontological dimension can be illuminated by Sartre’s philosophy.
  • His understanding of existence and essence can provide a new perspective on the ontology of politics.
  • Politics is not just about power struggles and policy-making. It is also about the recognition of our collective and individual existences and the freedom to define our essences.

This view counters the reductionist understanding of politics and opens up a richer discussion about its nature and purpose.

Discussing How Sartre’s Philosophy Can Contribute to a Better Understanding of ‘the Political’ and Its Relevance in Debates on Freedom

Sartre’s philosophy radically redefines the role of individuals in shaping their own identities, challenging traditional political structures that impose predefined roles. This leads to a more nuanced understanding of ‘the political‘.

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Sartre saw spontaneous groups that promote human freedom as positive while bureaucratic ones that engender alienation as negative. His philosophy can therefore contribute to debates on freedom by highlighting the importance of political structures that facilitate personal freedom and self-determination.


In essence, Sartre’s philosophy offers a robust framework for understanding the political in its ontological dimension. It reminds us that politics is bound up with issues of existence, essence, and freedom and that any political discourse must take these into account.

This understanding of the political, grounded in Sartre’s existentialist philosophy, continues to be relevant to contemporary political discussions and debates.



Who is Sartre?

Sartre refers to Jean-Paul Sartre, a French philosopher, playwright, and novelist who was one of the key figures in existentialism and phenomenology.

What are the main beliefs of Sartre?

Sartre believed in the concept of existentialism, which emphasizes individual freedom, responsibility, and the idea that humans create their own meaning and purpose in life. He also believed in the rejection of traditional religions and the importance of authenticity in one’s existence.

What is the significance of Sartre’s work?

Sartre’s works had a profound impact on philosophy, literature, and politics. His ideas challenged established norms and beliefs. They urge individuals to question societal structures and embrace personal freedom and responsibility.

What is Sartre’s view on the purpose of life?

According to Sartre, life has no inherent purpose or meaning; individuals are responsible for creating their own meaning and purpose through their choices and actions. He believed that each individual has the freedom to shape their own existence and discover their own unique purpose.

What is the relation between Sartre’s philosophy and political beliefs?

Sartre was politically active and engaged in socialist and communist movements. His philosophy of existentialism influenced his political beliefs, advocating for the liberation of individuals from oppressive structures and emphasizing the importance of social change and equality.


What Did Sartre Believe? Relevance of Sartre’s Philosophy Today

As we summarize the key points discussed, it becomes clear that Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy, particularly his existentialist views, offers a profound and unique understanding of human existence. Sartre posits that ‘existence precedes essence’, challenging traditional understandings about human nature and purpose.

Further, his concept of ‘absolute freedom’ emphasizes that individuals are wholly free and responsible for their actions and current circumstances.

But how do these philosophical assertions apply to our contemporary society? Despite the passage of time since Sartre formed his theories, they continue to hold relevance in today’s world. In a society where individuals are often constrained by societal norms and expectations, Sartre’s philosophy serves as a reminder of our inherent freedom.

It encourages us to question the status quo and assert our individuality. His ideas are not just theoretical musings but have practical implications, offering guidance in our attempts to navigate complex life situations and make meaningful choices.

Moreover, Sartre’s concept of ‘bad faith‘, where individuals deceive themselves into believing they have no choice, remains prevalent in today’s society.

So, as we conclude, consider how Sartre’s existentialist philosophy resonates with your personal experiences and worldview. Reflect on the power and burden of your absolute freedom.

As Sartre illustrates, the choices you make shape your essence, and thus, your existence. It’s a thought-provoking realization that could potentially influence how you perceive and interact with the world around you.