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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: December 2014

10 - Ends and means: existential ethics


On November 1, 1946, Sartre delivered a lecture entitled “The Writer’s Responsibility” for the inaugural general conference of UNESCO at the Sorbonne. In view of the auspicious nature of this founding symposium, he concludes with a litany of recommendations that he believes should guide the writer in our day:

To create a positive theory of liberation and freedom;

To put himself in a position to condemn violence from the viewpoint of oppressed men and classes;

To establish a true relationship of ends and means;

To immediately reject, in his own name – which, of course, will not prevent it – any violent means of establishing a regime;

Finally, to devote his thoughts without respite, day in, day out, to the problem of the end and the means; or, alternatively, the problem of the relation between ethics and politics.

Underscoring the timeliness of these remarks, he adds: “That is the problem … of the present age, and it is our problem, it belongs to us writers. That is our responsibility, not eternal but contemporary.”

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Sartre, Jean-Paul and Lévy, Benny, Hope Now: The 1980 Interviews, trans. van den Hoven, Adrian (University of Chicago Press, 1996), 107
Fanon, Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth, preface by Sartre, Jean-Paul (Paris: Maspero, 1961), trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove, 1965)
Aronson, Ronald, Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel That Ended It (University of Chicago Press, 2004)
Sprintzen, David A. and van den Hoven, Adrian, Sartre and Camus: A Historic Confrontation (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2004)
Sartre, Jean-Paul, “Morals and Society” (or) “Socialist Ethics” is discussed in several essays by Elizabeth Bowman and Robert Stone, such as “Dialectical Ethics: A First Look at Sartre’s Unpublished 1964 Rome Lecture Notes,” Social Text nos. 13–14 (winter/spring 1986): 195–215
Sartre Alive, ed. Aronson, Ronald and van den Hoven, Adrian (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1991)
Bowman, and Stone, in Sartre Today: A Centenary Celebration, ed. van den Hoven, Adrian and Leak, Andrew (New York: Berghahn, 2005)
Bowman, and Stone, have discussed the Cornell Lectures in Centenary, chapter 17, and in “‘Morality and History’: Birth and Re-inventions of an Existential Moral Standard,” Sartre Studies InternationaI 10, no. 2 (2004): 1–27
Linsenbard, Gail Evelyn, An Investigation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Posthumously Published Notebooks for an Ethics (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000)
Flynn, Thomas R., “An End to Authority: Epistemology and Politics in the Later Sartre,” reprinted in Sartre and Existentialism, ed. McBride, William L., 8 vols. (New York: Garland, 1997)
Mauss, Marcel’s The Gift [New York: Orton, 1967]
Busch, ThomasThe Power of Consciousness and the Force of Circumstances in Sartre’s Philosophy [Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990]
Leland, Dorothy, “The Sartrean Cogito: A Journey between Versions,” in McBride, William L. (ed.), Sartre and Existentialism, vol. , Existentialist Ontology and Human Consciousness (New York: Garland, 1996), 167–180
Santoni, Ronald offers a careful argument in defense of “The Bad Faith of Violence – and is Sartre in Bad Faith Regarding it?,” Sartre Studies International 11, nos. 1/2 (2005): 62–77
Negative Dialectics, trans. Ashton, E. B. [New York: Continuum, 1973], 226
Sartre, Jean-Paul, Dirty Hands, trans. Abel, Lionel, in Three Plays (New York: Knopf, 1949 [1948])
The Devil and the Good Lord, trans. Black, Kitty (New York: Knopf, 1960 [1951])