Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Jean-Paul Sartre and the Meaning of Disability

Jay R. Stewart, Marianne Mazur Stewart.

Jean-Paul Sartre has been described as one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th Century (May, 1962/1981). Defining himself as an existentialist and a humanist, he was deeply interested in and wrote extensively on the human condition (Sartre, 1996). In his description of human existence, Sartre incorporated a number of concepts from other philosophers (including Hegel and Heidigger) and devised an approach that seems appropriate for understanding and working with persons who have severe disabilities. Sartre’s radical approach to the concepts of consciousness, nothingness, freedom, choice, personal responsibility, contingency, bad faith and being-for-others may provide a better foundation for understanding the world of a person with a severe disability.

Sartre had a life-long disabling condition: strabismus, with only 10% of normal vision in one eye (Hayman, 1987). Sartre rarely referred to his blindness and refused to have the correctable condition treated. His concept of “the look” and his view of how humans create, through choice, their inner world may be connected to his disability.

A brief synopsis of Sartre’s theories will be presented. Reference will be made to his literary descriptions of freedom, choice, bad faith, and disabilities. Sartre saw himself as a writer before he became a philosopher. Many of his philosophical concepts were formed through writing his early novels and his later novels helped elucidate his fully formed philosophical concepts. Interestingly, Sartre was inspired by American novelists. Sartre (1965) extolled that “after Hemmingway, how could we dream of describing. We must plunge things into action.” (p. 233).


Jay R. Stewart  (United States)
Associate Professor and Director
Division of Intervention Services
Bowling Green State University

Worked and taught in the field of Rehabilitation Counseling for over 25 years with an emphasis on mental disorders. International consultant.

Marianne Mazur Stewart  (United States)

  • Sartre
  • Disabilities
  • Existentialism
Person as Subject
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)