After reading Existentialism is a Humanism, I am struggling to understand Sartre's stance on morality. If I understand correctly, he believes that no moral rule can be derived from reason, and that only people can give life meaning. He says "value is nothing more than the meaning that we give it.”

However, he later seems to assert that freedom itself is a sort of moral virtue, and uses it as a basis to judge others. This seems like a contradiction, but I am sure I am likely misunderstanding his philosophy. Here is an example where he describes his view of morality.

"Thus, although the content of morality may vary, a certain form of that morality is universal. Kant states that freedom wills itself anti the freedom of others. Agreed. But he believes that the formal and the universal are adequate to constitute a morality. We, to the contrary, believe that principles that are too abstract fail to define action."

  • i would like to read that book as existentialism is a marxism
    – user46524
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 22:41
  • Here is Prof. Paul Vincent Spade’s Sartre page. In one of the sets of notes there, he discusses the essay you ask about. pvspade.com/Sartre/sartre.html
    – Gordon
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 6:10
  • “Existentialism as a Humanism” is also discussed in Prof Walter Kaufman’s book here: p 345. archive.org/details/isbn_9780452009301/mode/2up
    – Gordon
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 6:17
  • "he believes that no moral rule can be derived from reason" -I haven't read it recently but, as I recall, on the contrary. In EAAH Sartre simply accepts Kant's ethics, which is derived from reason. But Sartre adds, as you quoted, that Kant's ethics can guide us only in the abstract. To make concrete, particular moral decisions, we must make choices where Kant's ethics no longer guides nor helps. Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 13:48
  • This might be partly helpful philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/45206/28067. The value of freedom is special because it is the value of what we can't escape. It is sane to recognize and value it because we are not otherwise but free.
    – ttnphns
    Commented Aug 4, 2020 at 20:30

1 Answer 1


In Sartre's work entitled Existentialism Is a Humanism (1946), Sartre backed away from so radical a subjectivism by suggesting a version of Kant’s idea that moral judgments be applied universally. He does not reconcile this view with conflicting statements elsewhere in his writings, and it is doubtful whether it represents his final ethical position.

I think the book of his wife can much help to undrestand Sartre's philosophy about moral roles and reason.

In The Ethics of Ambiguity authored by Simone de Beauvoir

De Beauvoir, characterized existentialism as "austere, sad, but not evasive."

She said, existentialism does not offer to reader the consolations of an abstract evasion : existentialism proposees no evasion. On the contrary, its ethics is experienced in truth of life and it then appears as the only proposition of salvation which one can address to men.

Hare’s espousal of the view that moral judgments are prescriptions led reviewers of his first book to classify him with the emotivists as one who did not believe in the possibility of using reason to arrive at ethical conclusions. That this was a mistake became apparent with the publication of his second book, Freedom and Reason (1963). The aim of this work was to show that the moral freedom guaranteed by prescriptivism is, notwithstanding its element of choice, compatible with a substantial amount of reasoning about moral judgments. Such reasoning is possible, Hare wrote, because moral judgments must be “universalizable.” This notion owed something to the ancient Golden Rule and even more to Kant’s first formulation of the categorical imperative. In Hare’s treatment, however, these ideas were refined so as to eliminate their obvious defects. Moreover, for Hare universalizability was not a substantive moral principle but a logical feature of moral terms. This means that anyone who uses words such as right and ought is logically committed to universalizability.




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