GSTF Journal of General Philosophy (JPhilo)

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The Impacts of Jean Paul Sartre on Simone De Beauvoir

  • Ceylan CoşkunerAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Konya N.E. UniversityGazi UniversityDepartment of Philosophy, Ataturk University


It has been commonly argued that there are traces of Jean Paul Sartre on the philosophical system of his partner, Simone de Beauvoir. Some claim that Beauvoir was not original enough when constructing her system and developing her thoughts; according to some others, she even was not a philosopher. From the perspective of Beauvoir, she didn’t even consider herself as a philosopher but as an author. For her, to call somebody a philosopher, they should be like Spinoza, Hegel, or Sartre who constructs a comprehensive philosophical system, loves philosophy, teaches philosophy, understands philosophy, and uses philosophy in their works. Given these criteria, Sartre was a philosopher for her and she admits that Sartre’s philosophy influenced her a lot. Furthermore, she clearly expresses that there was a mutual influence indeed, which means she also influenced Sartre, but her impacts on him were in terms of literature, not philosophy. To give an example, after writing his biography books, Sartre wrote The Words where the traces of Beauvoir can be seen quite easily. This point can also be derived from Sartre’s admittance that he got the clarity and truth in his works--especially when describing a gesture, analyzing a situation, or observing an incident--by means of Beauvoir’s meticulous style and rich experiences. Sartre also indicates that Beauvoir was a perfect complement and privileged reader for him.

In this work, our primary focus will be on the details of the influence of Sartre on Beauvoir. Here, I have to point out that even though the title of this paper is determined as “The Impacts of Sartre on Beauvoir” indeed the word “benefit,” instead of “impact,” would do better for our purpose. It is because though Beauvoir was influenced from Sartre’s philosophical identity, when building her thoughts we must say she mostly “benefited” from Sartre’s philosophy. We can easily see the examples of this point in several contexts: first, in the notion of ambiguity, and second, in her analysis of the position of woman. Also, in her notion of “the other” which is a threat for the independence of an individual, she shares the same ideas with Sartre in her early writings, but later, she changed her direction and adopted a different view.

If we examine the notion of Beauvoir’s “ambiguity,” though it has various meanings, what she means is that a person is a free and unique subject on the one hand; and on the other hand that person is an object for others. Here, Beauvoir benefits from Sartre’s existential types. She agrees with Sartre on the idea that human existence contains both being-in-itself and being-for-itself; however, she thinks that having these two types of being together in their existence leads to an ambiguity for human beings. Sartre sees humans as beings that are always in a relationship with the other. And in this relationship, when being-for-itselfsubmit to the other, it becomes an object for the other’s freedom. While being-for-itself perceives the other as subject, she, herself, becomes an object. This fact expresses an ambiguity for Beauvoir.

Another issue we can associate with the notion of “ambiguity” is related to the relationship between self and the other, the relationship that relies on the confrontation of the consciousness of the self with the consciousness of the other. At this point, the “I” who identifies himself as an absolute being sees the other’s consciousness as a threat and acts like an enemy towards it. It is because the subject that was exposed to the perspective of the other becomes an object now and she loses her freedom due to the intervention of the other. The other makes her an unguarded being. Now, the subject is not an active being but the object of the other. Thus, due to these restraints of the other on the subject’s freedom, the subject must deny the hegemony of the other and get over the problem by making the other an object. Similar to Sartre, Beauvoir, too, sees the existence of the other or others as a danger for her own freedom at the beginning. She considers freedom in individualistic way and sees the others as barriers for her freedom. But later, she changes her stance, and begins to consider the other as a necessary condition for her own freedom.

The last point I am going to focus on is the philosophical source of The Second Sex. One of her masterpieces, The Second Sex, in which she gives the explanation of the oppressions women face and established the principles of modern feminism, is about the women who represent “the other gender” due to fact that women are always identified in terms of the differences of their oppressors, men. In The Second Sex, she examines the essential features that make a woman a woman and at the end she comes up with the notion of “the other.” When reaching this notion, in order to show how she applied existentialist ideas of ontology and ethics, she says that men perceive themselves as “I” or “the subject” and women perceive themselves as “the other.” Beauvoir improves the claims of Sartre in The Second Sex in a unique way, and further put forwards that women are regarded as “the other” and men are called as “the subject.” At this point, if the other becomes a threat for the subject or “I,” then, it can be said that women, too, become a similar threat for men.

Surely, there are other points that can be said about the impacts of Sartre on Beauvoir. We will also be examining those points as well as the above ones in this work.


Simone de Beauvoir Jean Paul Sartre Ambiguit Self-The Other The Second Sex