Does Sartre have a coherent ethical position? At the end of Being and Nothingness he raises questions about the ethical implications of his ontology but refers them to a promised future work. For the student of existentialism it is an interesting question whether any of Sartre's later works offer this anticipated and definitive statement. Yet in the controversy over whether Saint-Genet or the Critique of Dialectical Reason fills the gap in Sartre's thought, the one concise presentation of his ethics in Existentialism Is a Humanism has been generally neglected. This neglect has not been groundless, for the essay, originally delivered as a popular lecture, is clearly fragmentary and at least apparently inconsistent. Nevertheless, the essay is an outline of Sartrian ethics, although it is in need of some qualifications. The need for these qualifications arises primarily from the fact that Sartre neglects to incorporate his own earlier analysis of choice and deliberation in the lecture; yet when this effect is repaired in the Critique of Dialectical Reason some unexpected limitations of Sartre's position are revealed. The former point leads to an alteration of the form of ethical choice and the latter to a restriction of the apparently universal content of the ethical ideal.

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Copyright © 1974 Springer. This article first appeared in Man and World 7, no. 1 (February 1974): 20-36. doi:10.1007/bf01247028.

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