by Jean-Paul Sartre
by Elizabeth Renneisen
Jean-Paul Sartre, arguably the most famous existentialist of the 20th century, was born in Paris in 1905. He was educated in Paris in philosophy, with an early focus on Descartes and Kant; later, at the French Institute in Berlin, he read contemporary phenomenologists, such as Husserl, Scheler, and Heidegger. Heidegger would greatly influence Sartre's Being and Nothingness (1943), his major statement of his Existentialist philosophy.
Though Sartre was not politically engaged in the 1930s, he attested to be involved in spirit, saying that his heart "was on the left, like everyone's." After World War II, and possibly because of his participation in the Resistance, he was more active in social reform and was founder of the journal Les Temps Modernes with Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In addition to writing for Les Temps Modernes, Sartre also wrote novels, essays, plays, and biographies. Throughout his life, Sartre maintained a non-monogamous relationship with fellow existentialist Simone de Beauvoir, next to whom he is buried in the Cimetière de Montparnasse in Paris. He died in 1980.
Flynn, Thomas, "Jean-Paul Sartre", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
For more information about Sartre’s life, visit
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Sartre
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sartre and Existentialism
Summary of No Exit
Three characters have been brought together in hell, a hotel-style room furnished in the Second Empire style. Garcin, Estelle, and Inez, all expecting the traditional images and instruments of torture, at first deny knowing why they have been relegated to eternal damnation. One by one, while watching events from the world in which they no longer exist, they begin to confess their wrongdoings: Garcin was a misogynist and a coward; Estelle was an adulterer who aborted her lover's child, resulting in his suicide; and Inez was a conniving "bitch" who drove her cousin's wife to commit a desperate act of homicide /suicide. Under the watchful eyes of one another, they finally realize that the traditional instruments of torture have been replaced by the existence of the others in the room. Inez states to Garcin and Estelle that "each of us will act as torturer of the two others," leading Garcin to conclude that "hell is other people."
Garcin: He is a leftist revolutionary who pretends to be a hero (self-deception). He builds himself up as a macho man, a manly character who sadistically cheats on his wife in their own bed. He embodies bad faith with his self-deception: despite his aspirations, he is a coward.
Estelle: She defines herself for-others. Throughout her life she was involved in creating this object, this alienated self: her whole Being is being seen. Her reality is one of scheming: she goes behind her husband's back, pretends to love the lover, and cares only what others think of her. In life she played the young, innocent coquette who objectified herself. She had power and created a false sense of self to manipulate others. She denies the underlying truth.
Inez: Sincerity is a form of bad faith, and Inez claims to be the honest one, judging herself. She is a sadist, out to consciously inflict pain under the guise of being honest. She embodies bad faith by defining herself as a "type," implying that she had no choice in her actions.
Bad Faith: Bad faith is the fundamental term for Sartre's ethical criticism of people. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre says that bad faith is "a lie to oneself." What differentiates a lie to oneself from lying in general is that "the liar actually is in complete possession of the truth which he is hiding," a truth he is hiding from himself (89).
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology. Hazel E. Barnes, trans. New York: Washington Square.
The Look: Others take our freedom from us through our encounters with them, just as we take their freedom from them. Through the Look, one's existence is stolen by the Other; he has been reduced by the Other to the status of a mere object in that Other's world. The object, then, no longer exists as he did previously, for his awareness of being seen changes the nature of his existence.
For more information about bad faith and the Look, visit
“Jean-Paul Sartre on Bad Faith,” from Psychology Today
“Existentialism and Procrastination: Bad Faith,” from Psychology Today
“Sartre’s Being and Nothingness: The Bible of Existentialism? from Philosophy Now
For more information about existentialism, visit
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Questions on No Exit
Page numbers refer to Stuart Gilbert's Vintage International edition, 1989.
Read the quotations below and consider Inez's manipulation of Florence while she was alive. Then discuss how Sartre constructs Inez in the play in relation to the Look.
"I crept inside her skin, she saw the world through my eyes" (26).
"She'll see you through my eyes, as Florence saw that other man" (30).
Find other places in the text where Sartre's use of the Look creates conflict for the characters.
What are the literary, dramatic, and philosophical implications of the play's setting?
Think about Estelle and her false sense of self. Is it possible to be one's own mirror? one’s own Other?
Explain with textual details how each character has exhibited existential bad faith. Does Sartre seem to indicate that any one character is more reprehensible than another, or is all bad faith equal?
In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard wrote, "For it is not what happens to me that makes me great but what I do..." (56). Garcin says, "I made my choice deliberately. A man is what he wills himself to be. You are -- your life, and nothing else" (43). Relate these quotations to existentialism. Then explain how Garcin's quotation, especially in contrast to Kierkegaard's, highlights his bad faith.
Dr. Elizabeth Renneisen