Whatever your personal estimation of his ideas, it is nevertheless true that Jean-Paul Sartre ushered in one of those rare moments in human history when a school of contemporary philosophy was highly integrated into the zeitgeist. And while I personally find Sartre’s contributions to literature (i.e. his plays, short stories, and novels) to be so exceptional as to far outweigh his contributions to philosophy, I do find value in both.
The work by him which is most likely to have been encountered by any student of philosophy, however, is not one of his literary works; instead, it is his early speech-turned-essay “Existentialism is a Humanism.” This is an essay I generally like. After all, I like existentialism; I would not reject the label of existentialist for aspects of my own philosophical convictions. But, that said, I feel that after starting strong Sartre ventures somewhat off-base in “Existentialism is a Humanism” when he nears what is ostensibly his thesis. His initial responses to myopic detractors are useful and well-composed, but his goal (and the intention stated by his title) of showing that existentialism provides a morality of maximising freedom seems misguided.
Freedom is Not a Humanism: