1943 BeingandNothingness

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Subject Headings: Existentialism, Existence Precedes Essence, Free Will.


  • It asserts that the individual's existence as prior to the individual's essence ("existence precedes essence")
  • It contains the aphorism that "we deserve the war we get".

Cited By


  • (Wikipedia, 2016) ⇒ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Being_and_Nothingness Retrieved:2016-10-12.
    • Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (), sometimes subtitled A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, is a 1943 book by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre's main purpose is to assert the individual's existence as prior to the individual's essence ("existence precedes essence"). His overriding concern in writing the book was to demonstrate that free will exists.[1] While a prisoner of war in 1940 and 1941, Sartre read Martin Heidegger's Being and Time, an ontological investigation through the lens and method of Husserlian phenomenology (Edmund Husserl was Heidegger's teacher). Reading Being and Time initiated Sartre's own philosophical enquiry.

      Though influenced by Heidegger, Sartre was profoundly sceptical of any measure by which humanity could achieve a kind of personal state of fulfilment comparable to the hypothetical Heideggerian re-encounter with Being. In Sartre's account, man is a creature haunted by a vision of "completion", what Sartre calls the ens causa sui, literally "a being that causes itself", which many religions and philosophers identify as God. Born into the material reality of one's body, in a material universe, one finds oneself inserted into being. Consciousness has the ability to conceptualize possibilities, and to make them appear, or to annihilate them.

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Freedom and Responsibility


Although the considerations which are about to follow ....


Thus there are no accidents in a life; a community event which suddenly bursts forth and involves me in it does not come from the outside. If I am mobilized in a war, this war is my war; it is in my image and I deserve it. I deserve it first because I could always get out of it by suicide or by desertion; these ultimate possibles are those which must alsway be present for us when there is a question of envisaging a situation. For loak of getting out of it, I have chosen it. This can be due to inertia, to cowardice in the face of public opinion, or because I prefer certain other values to the value of the refusal to join in the war (the good opinion of my relatives, the honor of my family, etc.). Anyway you look at it, it is a matter of a choice. This choice will be repeated later on again and again without a break until the end of the war. Therefore we must agree with the statement by J. Romains, "In war there are no innocent victims." If therefore I have preferred war to death or to dishonor, everything takes pace as if I bore the entire responsibility for this war. ...


But in addition the war is mine because by the sole fact that it arises in a situation which I cause to be and that i can discover it there only by engaging myself ofr or against it, I can no longer distinguish at present the choice which I make of myself from the choice which I make of the war. ...


Finally, as we pointed out earlier, each person is an absolute choice of self from the standpoint of a world of knowledge and of techniques which this choice both assumes and illumines; each person is an absolute upsurge at an absolute. date and is perfectly unthinkable at another date. It is therefore a waste of time to ask what I should have been if this war had not broken out, for 1 have chosen myself as one of the possible meanings of the epoch which imperceptibly led to war. I am not distinct from this same epoch; I could not be transported to another epoch without contradiction. Thus I am this war which restricts and limits and makes comprehensible the period which preceded it. In this sense we may define more precisely the responsibility of the for-itself if to the earlier quoted statement, "There are no innocent victims," we add the words, "We have the war we deserve." Thus, totally free, undistinguishable from the period for which I have chosen to be the meaning, as profoundly responsible for the war as if I had myself declared it, unable to live without integrating it in my situation, engaging myself in it wholly and stamping it with my seal, I must be without remorse or regrets as I am without excuse; for from the instant of my upsurge into being, I carry the weight of the world by myself alone without anything or any person being able to lighten it.


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... To live this war is to choose myself through it and to choose it through my choice of myself. There can be no question of considering it as 'four years of vacation' or as a 'reprieve,' as a 'recess,' the essential part of my responsibilities being elsewhere in my married, family, or professional life. In this war which I have chosen I choose myself from day to day, and I make it mine by making myself. If it is going to be four empty years, then it is I who bear the responsibility for this. …

... [pour] vivre cette guerre. c’est me choisir par elle et la choisir par mon choix de moi-même. Il ne saurait être question de l’envisager comme «quatre ans de vacances» ou de «sursis», comme une «suspension de séance», l’essentiel de mes responsabilités étant ailleurs, dans ma vie conjugale, familiale, professionnelle. Mais dans cette guerre que j’ai choisie, je me choisis au jour le jour et je la fais mienne en me faisant. Si elle doit être quatre années vides, c’est moi qui en porte la responsabilité. ..."


 AuthorvolumeDate ValuetitletypejournaltitleUrldoinoteyear
1943 BeingandNothingnessJean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980)Being and Nothingness1943