Next Meetup

Existentialism – Jean-Paul Sartre
Existentialism – Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) From the 1940s through the 1950s, existentialism was the most widely discussed philosophy in Europe and America. Its progenitors were the 19th century philosophers Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, followed most notably in the 20th century by Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre’s career as a thinker and writer evolved significantly over the years. He began with an early interest in phenomenology and questions of identity and ego; in 1943 he published his magnum opus, Being and Nothingness, a work in phenomenology that builds on the insights of Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger. But his experiences during the Second World War led him to a preoccupation with ethics and leftist political engagement. He was often in the public eye, and with Bertrand Russell he was one of the most respected public intellectuals and activists of his time, protesting colonialism and the persecution of minorities. His prodigious literary output included novels, short stories, plays, essays, a critical study of Baudelaire, and autobiography. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Prize, which he rejected on the grounds that writers should align themselves with social movements rather than with institutions; he also felt that by offering him the prize the establishment was attempting to blunt his radical political activity. At our meeting we will discuss two works by Sartre, (1) the lecture/essay “Existentialism is a Humanism” and (2) the novel Nausea. “Existentialism Is a Humanism” was read by Sartre as a lecture in October 1945; in it he discussed the major tenets of existentialism and contrasted it with other systems of thought. A free public domain copy of the lecture can be accessed here ( The Yale University Press edition contains an introduction by Sartre scholar Annie Cohen-Solal, the lecture (including a transcript of the post-lecture discussion), and Sartre’s commentary on Albert Camus’ novella The Stranger. The Yale edition is available from ($6.55 new and from $2.99 used). Nausea is a novel published in 1938. It is the story in diary form of Antoine Roquentin, a French writer who is horrified at his own existence. He catalogues his every feeling and sensation, culminating in a pervasive, overpowering nausea that “spreads at the bottom of the viscous puddle, at the bottom of our time – the time of purple suspenders and broken chair seats; it is made of wide, soft instants, spreading at the edge, like an oil stain.” The book is widely available in public libraries and bookstores and can be purchased on ($7.99 new and from $5.99 used). Through our discussion of the two works we’ll examine Sartre’s key concepts, which include: ● existence versus essence ● bad faith ● absurdity ● anxiety ● facticity ● nothingness/negation ● authenticity ● freedom and responsibility The following resources include analysis, bibliographies, lecture notes, and videos: Wikipedia: "Jean-Paul Sartre" ( ), "Existentialism" ( ), "Absurdism" ( ), "Existence Precedes Essence" ( ), "Bad Faith" ( ), "Facticity" ( ), "Being and Nothingness" ( ) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Jean-Paul Sartre" ( ), "Existentialism" ( ) Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Sartre's Existentialism" ( ), "Sartre's Political Philosophy" ( ), "Existentialism" ( ) Santos Kumar Pal, “A Critical Analysis of Sartre’s Existential Humanism” ( ) Indian Philosophical Quarterly 30 no. 3 (October 2003): 576-586. Wesley Morriston, “Freedom, Determinism, and Chance in the Early Philosophy of Sartre” ( ) The Personalist 58 (1977): 236-248. Stuart Z Charmé, "The Different Voices of Sartre's Ethics" ( ) in Sartre and Existentialism. Ed. William L. McBride. Garland, 1997, pp. 70-86. T. Storm Heter, "No, We Are Not All Murderers: Sartrean Ethics and Collective Responsibility" (paper delivered at the North American Sartre Society, October 2006; author is Professor in Dept. of Philosophy, East Stroudsburg University) Debbie Evans, “1945-2005: Existentialism and Humanism 60 years On” ( ) Sens Public: International Web Journal 1 (2007) Lecture Notes: “Outline of Sartre’s 'Existentialism Is a Humanism' ( )" by Professor R. C. Pinto, Dept. Of Philosophy, University of Windsor “Notes: Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Existentialism Is a Humanism’ (1946)” ( ) by Professor Timothy Quigley, Dept. Of Philosophy, The New School Videos: "Existentialism: Jean-Paul Sartre, 'Existentialism Is a Humanism" ( ) and "Jean-Paul Sartre: Existence Precedes Essence" ( ) by Professor Gregory B. Sadler, Professor of Philosophy, Fayettville State University "Sartre and Existence Precedes Essence" ( and "Existentialist Philosophy: Authentic Humanism: Part 1" (; "Part 2" (; "Part 3" ( by Professor Stephen Hicks, Dept. of Philosophy at Rockford College "Sartre and 'The Others'" ( ) by Professor Corey Anton, Dept. of Communication Studies, Grand Valley State University From The School of Life: An introduction to Sartre (, Sartre on “bad faith:” ( “Human All Too Human,” a 48-minute BBC documentary on Sartre, featuring interviews with various philosophers and friends of Sartre:

West End Neighborhood Library

2301 L Street NW · Washington, DC


What we're about

Public Group

Did you take a philosophy class in high school or college and wish you had taken more? Do you read philosophy texts independently but have no one to discuss them with? Then this group is for you.

Somewhat of a hybrid, it is a combination study group and book club. The backgrounds of our members vary: some have never taken a philosophy course and are essentially self-taught; others have doctorates in the field. We read authors considered "canonical." Although the majority of writers have been European and American, we have read and are open to texts from other cultures. Representative philosophers have included Plato, Averroes, Confucius, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Sartre, Arendt, Rawls, Foucault, and Butler. Most of the time we read a single book by a single author, but if their output has been substantial we will consider an anthology. We started the group in 2010 with the classical period and finished in 2013 with twentieth century writers. In 2014 we returned to the classical period and are repeating the chronology, adding new writers who were missed the first time around (to see the past reading schedule, from 2000 forward, click here ( We are currently reading 20th century philosophers and expect do continue doing so into 2019. For the updated 2018 schedule, please click here (

Meetings are currently held at the West End Library in DC, located 2301 L St NW, Washington, DC 20037,
on the third Saturday of each month, from 1:00-3:00 PM. The Foggy Bottom-GWU metro station is nearby.

Tips in Preparing for Meetings

After you have finished the reading, ask yourself: (1) What are the philosopher’s principal ideas? (2) What arguments are used to support them, and are they strong or weak? (3) Who were the author’s major influences, and whom in turn did he/she influence? (4) What was the historical context in which the author wrote, and did this affect what was said? (5) Are the author’s works still relevant today and, if so, how?

To help in answering these questions, attendees are encouraged to consult the secondary resources posted in each announcement. Wikipedia, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy are especially useful.

Rules of Conduct at Meetings

Avoid monopolizing the conversation. If you've been speaking for several minutes, and sense others want to get in, relinquish the floor.

Stay on topic.

Challenging arguments and disputing facts are fine; personal attacks are not.

If you have not read at least 50% of the recommended selections, consider skipping the meeting to allow other interested people to attend.

Those who violate the rules of conduct repeatedly will be dropped from the group at the discretion of the organizer.


To remain viable, groups depend on regular attendance. Toward this end, we ask that you only RSVP "Yes" if you know that you are likely to attend. If it turns out that you cannot make it to the meeting, we ask that you cancel your RSVP as soon as possible so that others on the waiting list can take your place.

Although everyone is welcome to use our resources, our targeted audience, and membership, is now restricted to people who live in the Maryland, DC, and Virginia area. Those who joined before November 2016 have been grandfathered in.

Members (390)

Photos (12)