chapter  VI
39 Pages

Jean-Paul Sartre

EVERYBODY who has heard of existentialism without knowing much about it will couple with it the name of Jean-Paul Sartre, who mainly by his novels and plays and as a centre of cult and controversy in Paris has earned notoriety for the movement, so that to many the names of both one and the other are suspect. Nobody who takes the trouble to read Sartre’s main work L’Être et le Néant carefully will be able either to take the author for a charlatan or the philosophy for a stunt. Sartre is a typical modern French intellectual. The world takes him as such, and dismisses, adores, or reviles him as such. But the adroit omniscience of this French intellectual is founded upon a philosophical keel. He borrows largely from Husserl and Heidegger and profoundly from Hegel, but he handles his themes with professorial sagacity and with a virtuosity all his own. It is no use (English) academic philosophers dismissing him as a mere littérateur. In France, philosophers can feel a national pride in this exhibition of French intelligence out-speculating the Germans. In any case, L’Être et le Néant is not a mere tour de force; for Sartre is supremely in earnest and the argument of the book is the indispensable clue to his life’s work.