Notebooks for an Ethics

Front Cover
University of Chicago Press, 1992 - Philosophy - 583 pages
A major event in the history of twentieth-century thought, Notebooks for a Ethics is Jean-Paul Sartre's attempt to develop an ethics consistent with the profound individualism of his existential philosophy.

In the famous conclusion to Being and Nothingness, Sartre announced that he would devote his next philosophical work to moral problems. Although he worked on this project in the late 1940s, Sartre never completed it to his satisfaction, and it remained unpublished until after his death in 1980. Presented here for the first time in English, the Notebooks reveal Sartre at his most productive, crafting a masterpiece of philosophical reflection that can easily stand alongside his other great works.

Sartre grapples anew here with such central issues as "authenticity" and the relation of alienation and freedom to moral values. Exploring fundamental modes of relating to the Other—among them violence, entreaty, demand, appeal, refusal, and revolt—he articulates the necessary transition from individualism to historical consciousness. This work thus forms an important bridge between the early existentialist Sartre and the later Marxist social thinker of the Critique of Dialectical Reason. The Notebooks themselves are complemented here by two additional essays, one on "the good and subjectivity," the other on the oppression of blacks in the United States.

With publication of David Pellauer's lucid translation, English-speaking readers will be able to appreciate this important contribution to moral philosophy and the history of ethics.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1906-1980) was offered, but declined, the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964. His many works of fiction, drama, and philosophy include the monumental study of Flaubert, The Family Idiot, and The Freud Scenario, both published in translation by the University of Chicago Press.
 

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Philosopher, playwright, novelist, and correspondent, Sartre produced much during his working life that relied upon an ethical stance. During 1947 and 1948, he began to address the issue of formal ... Read full review

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About the author (1992)

Sartre is the dominant figure in post-war French intellectual life. A graduate of the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure with an agregation in philosophy, Sartre has been a major figure on the literary and philosophical scenes since the late 1930s. Widely known as an atheistic proponent of existentialism, he emphasized the priority of existence over preconceived essences and the importance of human freedom. In his first and best novel, Nausea (1938), Sartre contrasted the fluidity of human consciousness with the apparent solidity of external reality and satirized the hypocrisies and pretensions of bourgeois idealism. Sartre's theater is also highly ideological, emphasizing the importance of personal freedom and the commitment of the individual to social and political goals. His first play, The Flies (1943), was produced during the German occupation, despite its underlying message of defiance. One of his most popular plays is the one-act No Exit (1944), in which the traditional theological concept of hell is redefined in existentialist terms. In Red Gloves (Les Mains Sales) (1948), Sartre examines the pragmatic implications of the individual involved in political action through the mechanism of the Communist party and a changing historical situation. His highly readable autobiography, The Words (1964), tells of his childhood in an idealistic bourgeois Protestant family and of his subsequent rejection of his upbringing. Sartre has also made significant contributions to literary criticism in his 10-volume Situations (1947--72) and in works on Baudelaire, Genet, and Flaubert. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and refused it, saying that he always declined official honors.

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