Sartre: The Road to Freedom

Sartre: The Road to Freedom

1999, Philosophy  -   32 Comments
Ratings: 8.26/10 from 47 users.

Sartre: The Road to FreedomTo be told, you are responsible for the period of history that you are living in. You have not only the right to choose, but the duty to choose and if you are now surrounded by poverty, by war, by oppression, by cruelty - that is what you have chosen. Sartre was the leading advocate of atheistic existentialism in France but he was also interested in the novel, drama, literary criticism and politics.

He is best remembered for his philosophical works and his idea of communistic existentialism which he expressed in novels and plays such as his debut novel Nausea (1939), which depicted man adrift in a godless universe, hostage to his own freedom. He had a long term affair with the feminist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir, and together they were at the center of French intellectual life from the late 1920s onwards. His great philosophical work is Being and Nothingness (1956). Like Kierkegaard and Heidegger, Sartre emphasized the burden of individual personal freedom: that although we can’t escape the fact of our situation, we are free to change it. He drew a distinction between the unconscious and the conscious.

After the Second World War, during which he fought for the Resistance, he became increasingly interested in Marxism and his involvement with the French Communist party was part of his desire to overcome the economic and social "structures of choice" which he found restricting. His main contribution to Marxism is Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960). Sartre refused the 1964 Nobel Prize in literature on "personal grounds", but is later said to have accepted it. (Excerpt from

More great documentaries

32 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Peter M Mullen

    I think Sartre was kind of a Dick in a world of "Dicks" Richard will never be the same.

  2. Michael

    Sartre was great, except for his willingness to apologize for Stalin and his death camps. Camus should have beat him down intellectually even more then he did for that.

  3. Guest

    as a student mental health nurse, sartre's ideas are particularly challenging regarding free-will. Does a schizophrenic have free will, for example? Did they choose to be "mad"? If so, what are the implications? To reject the prevailing paradigm? But How? The paradigm is pushing down on them, surely, shaping their rejection?. I reject free will because we're never truly free- society shapes us, as much as we shape it. its very confusing...fortunately im just a foot soldier guided by deontological ethics, and shaping treatment is a few pay scales above my current situation, but being aware of sartre's ideas seems enough at the moment

  4. Sam Contos

    genetics are relative to your environment...

  5. Kate Murray

    Darwin - Is not conditioning learning and genetics completely different? Genetics for me is more about features, eye color, hereditary deceases and immunities whereas conditioning learning, especially in Sartre's case is what we pick up on as we grow - live etc.... ?

  6. SociologistVengue

    I love this one!

  7. Darwinsnipple

    Sartre assumes we have free will and choice but this is highly questionable. We are the products of our genes and experiences. The programme talks about Sartre trying to attack his own conditioned thought in order to have complete freedom but the part of his mind that he was using to do the attacking/overriding is still subject to the interplay between genes and experience is it not? Therefore we can never be completely free of ourselves or transcend our values as Nietzche would have put it. We are condemned to be limited by our genes and experiences not condemned to be free. Where would this free thinking come from exactly - some supernatural force or deeper intelligence that Krishnamurti talks about? I doubt it.

    1. Transcendental_U_o_A

      Ah yes Darwinsnipple! You have certainly illuminated what is undoubtably the not by knowing what is. Although as you said, "We are the products of our genes and experiences", I choose to confess a disagreement towards your methodology. You are not what you are, you are what you are not, i.e., when I go to work, I am a waiter, and do the things I do at work, you know, play the role of what I am: smile, outgoing, friendly, would you like dessert, etc. Well, this waiter is what I am; however, this is precisely what I am not. Lo, you may transpose the transparency of what you think "we" are, i.e., genes and experience, and thereby playing this role, you are precisely what you think "we" are not. Is this not the case? It is! Therefore, what you are doing is deceiving yourself into a mass of excuses disguised as "we", "experiences", and worst still, "genes", to flee from the freedom to be who you are—When you look into an experience you have, you cannot place your Being on a gene, allele, or any of the like, to do so would be to run from the experience in which you deceive yourself by negating what you felt, and blame it on "we" and "genes"—But what you have done, by the radical freewill you possess, is made a choice to negate your being. I hope that one day you will choose to pro-ject your Being, from your Being, to stand-in the standing-out of the Nothing, to reflect on your Being to see if you are being your true Being.

    2. steven

      what do you mean by "being your true being"? i guess i see the idea of a 'true being' as being innate, which would lead back to the 'genes' idea. who we really are, our choices, our thoughts, our ways of behaving are all confined, or shaped, i would argue, by society, environment, even climate i would say. but i think i get what you are saying about 'we' 'experiences' and 'genes' kind of being excuses, like satre talked about. (i guess what im trying to get at is that maybe we are to be conscious of society and genes and environment and once we are conscious of these things, we can make decisions about whether or not they suit us.) im not sure i like that last line in parenthesis. What about a six foot seven basketball played born in bronx new york, he was raised with basketball and developed a knack for it. he ends up spending the majority of his life playing and training and working out to be a better basketball player. does this matter, is this guy wasting his time on a way of life that was chosen for him, is he not his 'true self' or is his 'true self' embracing the truth of his self in relation to his surroundings.

    3. Nasir Shuja

      alright, everyone on this thread, to understand anything about what all these philosophers are saying you must have gone through certain life experiences, in a way that most other fields don't require either at all or very much. there are things that are either not known to be or are somewhat forced to be known. these two things cannot be taught to the student. of course, there are always physicalist arguments for everything. there have to be. to be a good doctor you must be compassionate, a not very good example. with some very basic topics, they are obviously agreeing even if they differ strongly on systems that would seem to not have such basic topics in common. see steven you are responding purely based on your fact - the basic difference is you're looking at the philosopher and trying to deconstruct what is going on in their head based on the fact they were writing at the same time as the french revolution, etc. in various types of examples. what is really going on is that the philosopher is having various subjective experiences of the nature of reality, and making various connections. these are two separate things, and mix with each other obviously. while we can't take on the mind of this or that philosopher, we can take on the mind of the philosopher. philosophy needs not be understood as a system that is linearly constructing truth value in the same way as science. philosophers find things they consider laws same as science,

      after all, we know that science divorced itself from religion violently and that has affected the course of recent history. philosophy is better articulated as a system that is closely related to psychology for some approaches, logic for others, science for others.

      the subjective is so important for so many things in philosophy. i cannot say any one of them here, there are so many. to understand what many idealists are saying and what empiricists of various types are responding to. again, just because a field is often not observable and claims to universal truths but is flawed as any knowledge of its unique nature would be. the point of this is that philosophy is not [as it is probably often presented/perceived] a serious of various systems that each spiral off into the void, never connecting with others. etc. etc.

      philosophy is not dictionary definitions. the trick is finding the balance between subjective and objective. just because a field often has no short-term immediately realizable effect. but were descartes meditations 1 hour? science just loves to label questions it can't answer in the conventional way as unscientific/not knowledge. but of course science will continue to bump into unanswerable questions and questions that make bigger questions.

      remember, philosophy is about considering the interaction between the subjective perception and the observable sensory symbolic externalities through pure logic, in concert with the empirical phenomenological and scientific observations. it is about convincing arguments, irrational thinking, and awareness.

    4. Darya Sinusoid

      I agree with you on the idea that will and choice are limited given our internal (genetics, past experiences) and external circumstances. So we are all conditioned by our past experiences...however, it can be argued that we are FREE to create out current/future experiences given the current/future circumstances. #the_limitations_of_black&white_thinking

  8. Anthony Wrifford

    Wait...he evidently seeks chaos, but rejects children?

  9. Soi Cuellar

    Is it my misconception that he was once spoiled and as an adult still thought of himself as "I live just for me- who cares about anyone else". I'm just learning about him and see him as this very selfish man. I need input to prove me wrong on this.

    1. thekingbeyondthegate

      That is quite a simplistic way of looking at it. Perhaps he was spoilt as all philosophers are spoilt: they are arise in societies in which some members of the population do not need to work for a living and live in at least a semblance of luxury. But no, since many of his theories arose from experiencing strife I do not think you can call him spoilt. His theories follow a pedigree of Western thinking (Nietzsche's nihilism ect.), it is not about "I just live for me- who cares about anyone else" it is more about "I think therefore I am". His theories are based upon an in-depth analysis of perception. The only thing a philosopher can truly discourse on is self, as that is the only thing we can truly experience. Satre took this further; his analysis of self led him to believe that through the self, anything is possible. (Again similar to Nietzsche's will to power).
      I'm not claiming to be an expert on Satre :), indeed I may be completely off-target. This is my understanding of Jean-Paul Satre after some initial research. My area of expertise is Hegel, Nietzsche and other prominent German philosophers, in particular Marxist thinking past and present. That is why I am examining Satre. I hope it helps.

    2. Wojciech G

      I've recently become quite interested in the very area of your expertise particularly Hegel. Could you suggest any resources I could beging my research?

    3. Matthew Austin Pendleton

      Read Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit.

    4. Stray Rider

      Sartre was an atheist who believed that, because there is no God, individuals must form their own value judgements. He stressed that these values must not only be beneficial to the individual, but also to humankind as a whole. Thus, while you can view his philosophy as being one of "I just live for me", it is a belief of living for "me" in a way that is good for other people.

      He also believed that we are born into the world without any inherent meaning to our lives. It is up to us to live in a way that brings meaning to our existence. Since, according to Sartre, our values and behavior should reflect what is good for humankind (as well as for ourselves), our lives become meaningful when lived in pursuit of such goals.

  10. bla blaa

    Thanks alot for this one, really gets you thinking.

  11. Jamey Weston

    The monetary system is what causes all the suffering around the world. I seriously educated myself on the horrible things going on and why the world is like this. I am now an advocate for a Resource Based Economy as an alternative to capitalism. Too many children are dying and suffering for me to do anything but demand global change. I am young and was born into this mess, and I WILL NOT leave my children to something worse. It's hard to even imagine it being worse, but that's where we're headed

    1. thekingbeyondthegate

      I too am against Capitalism, but I think that nothing so far (including Resource Based Economy) has bettered it. It is a nice idea but leads no reason for people to want to improve themselves. Personally I think the answer lies not in removing a monetary system but in replacing the governmental system. This new 'government' (for want of a better word) would make sure that instead of everybody focusing on getting more money, all the money is focused towards the intellectuals and scientists researching for better quality of life. Light bulbs when they were first created lasted 50 years, they now last 3 at the most.
      Of course, this idea is just as flawed at Resource Based Economy since both require some absolute authority to enforce them. The problem is that power leads to corruption. Anyone can start with the best of intentions but end up just as bad as the capitalists. What a sad world. (I'm not trying to attack Resource Based Economy, I'm just exploring the idea and its weaknesses as well as other alternatives and their weaknesses)

  12. Marina

    How could our children live in his freedom?

  13. john

    freedom is a word. define it for yourself and then discuss or argue it with others. i dont think anything eternally definitive will ever come of isn't a formulaic equation that can be balanced for every person. although, i do admit the search is interesting and exciting anyway haha! you always end up chasing your tail.

  14. zaib

    its my firm belief and the movie really invigorate my staunch belief that sartre still is and in the distant future will remain good wishes to topdocumentryfilms for the excellent job they r doing for the masses.

  15. Anthony

    I don't believe human beings are fundamentally free its an illusion a concept built from observations of human behaviour in modern society. We are not free we exist in our environment and we are all governed ultimately by our environment.

  16. zzzx60

    inspirational! thankyou

  17. Mziba

    I love this. Please find your perspectives. thank you

  18. Johanna


  19. Julio Riquelme

    In this period of time where we have chosen to forget liberty and choice, Sartre´s ideas are once again refreshing an important for those who did not know him. Excellent video.
    Julio Riquelme C.

  20. L Lusary

    Excelent video...Thanks

  21. Usmann Rana

    An excellent documentary on the life of one of the most revered and influential philosophers of our times.Must watch!

  22. robe33

    Being able to see Sartre with Simone de Beauvoir in their epoch is fascinating.

  23. N Budimir

    I watched both the film on Heidegger and Sartre and found them really stimulating and fruitful for historical, political and sociological thinking.