Jean-Paul Sartre is considered one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. His work on existentialism has had a profound impact on modern philosophy and psychology.

However, there is a debate among scholars about whether Sartre himself believed in existentialism. In this article, we will explore Sartre’s views and attempt to answer this question.

What is Existentialism?

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual freedom and choice. It asserts that individuals create their own meaning in life and are responsible for their own actions. Existentialists reject the notion that there is any intrinsic meaning or purpose to life, instead arguing that each person must create their own purpose.

Sartre’s Views on Existentialism

Sartre was one of the leading figures of the existentialist movement, along with philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Friedrich Nietzsche. In his 1946 essay “Existentialism Is a Humanism,” Sartre famously declared that “existence precedes essence.” This means that individuals are not born with an inherent nature or purpose but instead must create these things for themselves through their choices and actions.

Sartre argued that human beings are fundamentally free but also burdened with responsibility for their choices. He famously stated, “Man is condemned to be free.” This means that individuals cannot avoid making choices, even if they do not feel equipped to do so.

Criticism of Sartre’s Existentialism

Despite his association with existentialism, some scholars have argued that Sartre did not truly believe in the philosophy he espoused. They point out that Sartre himself was often pessimistic about human nature and the possibility of meaningful existence.

Additionally, some critics have suggested that Sartre’s emphasis on individual freedom overlooks important social and cultural factors that shape our choices and experiences. They argue that Sartre’s existentialism is overly individualistic and fails to account for the ways in which society constrains and shapes our lives.


In conclusion, while there is some debate about whether Jean-Paul Sartre truly believed in existentialism, it is clear that his work has had a profound impact on the philosophy. His emphasis on individual freedom and responsibility continues to resonate with many people today, even as others criticize his views for being too individualistic. Whether or not Sartre himself was an existentialist, his ideas have left an indelible mark on modern philosophy and psychology.