Theological language and the nature of man in Jean-Paul Sartre's philosophy

Jasper Hopkins
University of Minnesota
There is no more prominent atheist today than Jean-Paul Sartre. Yet serious students of Sartre’s philosophy are struck by his unabashed use of theological idiom. This use is so extensive that Professor Hazel Barnes in her translator’s introduction to Being and Nothingness comments: Many people who consider themselves religious could quite comfortably accept Sartre’s philosophy if he did not embarrass them by making his pronouncement, “ There is no God,” quite so specific.1 The present chapter will explore the theological idiom of Sartre’s philosophy of man and pose the question whether—once the “embarrassing atheistic pronouncement” is removed—Sartre’s philosophical anthropology has any systematic value for the theologian. The chapter proceeds along six lines: (1) to investigate Sartre’s conception of human nature; (2-4) to illustrate his employment of theological language in describing man as desiring to be God, guilty of original sin, and incarnate in love; (5) to appraise his arguments for atheism; and (6) to assess particular aspects of his description of human reality.
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