©2001 NewFoundations

Jean Paul Sartre's Educational Theory

Analyst: Alan G. Peura


edited 8/18/11

1. Theory of Value: What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning? What are the goals of education?

Knowledge of the self as an autonomous individual as well as the skills to work through problems and conflict that come in confronting the world (facticity) and people (others). Education is to help the human being come to terms with his individual project, accept his freedom and facticity, and emerge as the unique human being that he is. [Burstow, p. 180]

To learn authenticity and learn to live authentically (see Theory of Human Nature). To prepare the student to create meaning (for self and facticity) and be able to act on and direct meaning toward a goal. [Being and Nothingness]. To help students take responsibility for their own life, their own decisions, and help them understand their role and responsibility vis-a-vis others (as a "being-for-others").

2. Theory of Knowledge: What is knowledge? How is it different from belief? What is a mistake? What is a lie?

Knowledge starts with awareness of self as an individual separate from all others, as being for-itself separate from being in-itself.

Knowledge comes from experience and reflection [Psychology and Imagination].

Mistakes are made through "self-deception", when the individual attributes reason/causality to fate or determinism rather than to individual will and the personal decision to act upon that will.

To make excuses for behavior is a mistake, by absolving self of responsibility. A lie is to assert any fact as pre-determined, beyond the pale of human existence and control.

3. Theory of Human Nature: What is a human being? How does it differ from other species? What are the limits of human potential?

Human existence precedes essence ... people first exist and confront themselves, emerge in the world, and then define themselves, their essence.

To be human is to be self-aware as a unique individual and to learn to live authentically. Authenticity is to be fully aware of, accepting of, and assuming responsibility for one's own situation [Anti-Semite and Jew]. The ability to take responsibility for one's life and consciously move toward a goal and a future is what makes human beings unique. Human beings are free because they act toward an end which is identified by that individual.

Human potential may be limited by others, who act in conflict and may limit the other individual's freedom. This may be overcome through resistance and it is through this resistance, the act of assertion and the meaning it creates, that one attains freedom.

Limits are what we choose to do/create for ourselves, we are responsible for our chosen limits.

4. Theory of Learning: What is learning? How are skills and knowledge acquired?

Learning is defining oneself as autonomous, being aware of this otherness, and defining meaning of the world and the individual life. One learns by confronting the resistance that comes from other beings, whose existence potentially limits individual freedom, and through reflection of this otherness together with facticity (experience the world as it is).

Learning is construction meaning for the world that one experiences and constructing values for one's own life.

5. Theory of Transmission: Who is to teach? By what methods? What will the curriculum be?

Teacher is one who facilitates child through their initial project, to overcome their crucial event and provide tools for their radical conversion to attain personal freedom. This is done by awakening the student to learn of the potential of human behavior.

To experience as much of the world as possible would be the ultimate curriculum.

6. Theory of Society: What is society? What institutions are involved in the educational process?

Society is the convergence of external facticity (the world as it is) and each individual confronting both their own internal facticity (their personal "world" history) as well as the desires of others. Society is where each individual learns to emerge as autonomous as a "being-for-others" together with others with goal to attain personal freedom vis-a-vis the others. [Being and Nothingness].

Society is the sum of social relations between individuals, reflected by the groups and institutions that comprise society. Society and social conditions provide a context for, they influence our personal choices.

7. Theory of Opportunity: Who is to be educated? Who is to be schooled?

All must be educated to confront the world and prepare to construct their meaning and values.

All must learn (as being-for-others) to make decisions and take actions that take responsibility for self and for relations to others in the world.

8. Theory of Consensus: Why do people disagree? How is consensus achieved? Whose opinion takes precedence?

Disagreement (conflict and resistance) is inherent in human existence and the world as the existence of others creates natural possibility that one will limit the freedom of the other. Since one can only have control over oneself (autonomy) conflict is an ongoing reality.

We reach consensus by taking responsibility to construct our individual lives and values in a way that is responsible to the reality of the existence of others, and we decide/act as we would want others to as they take responsibility for my existence.


Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, edited by Hazel E. Barnes, New York, 1956.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Critique of Dialectical Reason: a theory of practical ensembles, edited by Johnathan Red, translated by Alain Sheridan Smith, London, 1976.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Search for a Method, edited by Hazel E. Barnes, New York, 1957.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Psychology of the Imagination, translated by Bernard Frechtman, New York, 1956.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Anti-Semite and Jew, translated by Berge J. Becker, New York, 1948.