Jean-Paul Sartre : biography
Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris as the only child of Jean-Baptiste Sartre, an officer of the French Navy, and Anne-Marie Schweitzer. His mother was of Alsatian origin and the first cousin of Nobel Prize laureate Albert Schweitzer. (Her father, Charles Schweitzer, was the older brother of Albert Schweitzer’s father, Louis Théophile.) When Sartre was two years old, his father died of a fever. Anne-Marie moved back to her parents’ house in Meudon, where she raised Sartre with help from her father, a teacher of German who taught Sartre mathematics and introduced him to classical literature at a very early age. When he was twelve, Sartre’s mother remarried, and the family moved to La Rochelle, where he was frequently bullied.Jean-Paul Sartre, by Andrew N. Leak, (London 2006), page 16-18
As a teenager in the 1920s, Sartre became attracted to philosophy upon reading Henri Bergson’s essay Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. He studied and earned a degree in philosophy in Paris at the École Normale Supérieure, an institution of higher education that was the alma mater for several prominent French thinkers and intellectuals. It was at ENS that Sartre began his lifelong, sometimes fractious, friendship with Raymond Aron.Memoirs: fifty years of political reflection, By Raymond Aron (1990) Sartre was influenced by many aspects of Western philosophy, adopting ideas from Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Søren Kierkegaard, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, among others. Perhaps the most decisive influence on Sartre’s philosophical development was his weekly attendance at Alexandre Kojève’s seminars, which continued for a number of years.Auffret, D. (2002), Alexandre Kojeve. La philosophie, l’Etat, la fin de l’histoire, Paris: B. Grasset
From his first years in the École Normale, Sartre was one of its fiercest pranksters;Jean-Pierre Boulé p.53Cohen-Solal, Annie (1988) pp.61–2 quote: In 1927, his antimilitarist satirical cartoon in the revue of the school, coauthored with Georges Canguilhem, particularly upset the director Gustave Lanson.John Gerassi (1989) pp.76–7 In the same year, with his comrades Nizan, Larroutis, Baillou and Herland,Godo, Emmanuel (2005) p.41 he organized a media prank following Charles Lindbergh’s successful New York-Paris flight; Sartre & Co. called newspapers and informed them that Lindbergh was going to be awarded an honorary École degree. Many newspapers, including Le Petit Parisien, announced the event on 25 May. Thousands, including journalists and curious spectators, showed up, unaware that what they were witnessing was a stunt involving a Lindbergh look-alike.Hayman, Ronald (1987) pp.69, 318 The public’s resultant outcry forced Lanson to resign. p.26
In 1929 at the École Normale, he met Simone de Beauvoir, who studied at the Sorbonne and later went on to become a noted philosopher, writer, and feminist. The two became inseparable and lifelong companions, initiating a romantic relationship, though they were not monogamous. The first time Sartre took the exam to become a college instructor, he failed. But he took it a second time and was first in his class, with Beauvoir second.Wilfred Desan, The Tragic Finale: An Essay on the Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960) xiv.
Sartre was drafted into the French Army from 1929 to 1931 and served as a meteorologist.Ann Fulton, Apostles of Sartre: Existentialism in America, 1945-1963 (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999) 7. He later argued in 1959 that each French person was responsible for the collective crimes during the Algerian War of Independence.
Together, Sartre and de Beauvoir challenged the cultural and social assumptions and expectations of their upbringings, which they considered bourgeois, in both lifestyle and thought. The conflict between oppressive, spiritually destructive conformity (mauvaise foi, literally, "bad faith") and an "authentic" way of "being" became the dominant theme of Sartre’s early work, a theme embodied in his principal philosophical work L’Être et le Néant (Being and Nothingness) (1943). Sartre’s introduction to his philosophy is his work Existentialism and Humanism (1946), originally presented as a lecture.