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Jean-Paul Sartre was a French philosopher and writer who explored existentialism, making his famous claim that “existence precedes essence”. He further developed his ideas by analyzing human consciousness and differentiating between the two kinds of being. He also utilized the relationship between a subject and an object, and how they both play a role in our perception of ourselves in the world of other people. Through his explorations of consciousness and the people around us, he expressed his disinterest in the influence of others on our own personal lives, because of the fear we have of the unavoidable judgment from other people. I will be arguing that Sartre’s claim that “hell is other people” is not necessarily valid, because of his usage of the word “hell”. I will prove this by pointing out ways that his claim can be rephrased to represent the same general idea of the negativity caused by the presence of others, without referencing other people to be the absolute worst thing in the world.

Sartre’s studies of existentialism have shed light on the individual, and the role each person plays in the world. He introduced the concept of radical freedom, which states that everyone always has a choice in what we do. Our freedom has an impact on merely how we act as humans, and this freedom influences our choices more than our desires do. The term “free” can be subjective, but Sartre believes everyone must view themselves as radically free even if they are not (Finlay). In becoming aware of this freedom, people may feel anguish in realizing the responsibility and control each individual has in their own life. Sartre would reject anyone claiming to have had “no choice” but to do something, as there is always a choice to be made (Finlay). Human beings are completely able to choose exactly how their lives will go through every single choice made on a day-to-day basis.

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Sartre also points out the two forms of being in the world: being in itself and being for itself. Being-in-itself refers to one’s physical or objective existence in the world while being unaware of one’s conscious existence beyond what appears. On the other hand, being for itself is more subjective, as it involves the awareness of oneself in the world. He also introduces a different form of being, being-for-others, which involves one’s existence in the consciousness of other people. Sarte uses the term “the Look” to describe the awareness that everyone exists beyond the consciousness of their own mind and self, and the way that everyone is inevitably being watched and analyzed by one another. In his book Being and Nothingness, Sartre states, “By there mere appearance of the Other, I am put in the position of passing judgment on myself as on an object, for it is as an object that I appear to the Other.’ One of Sartre’s most famous claims is “hell is other people”. This references how the presence of others inevitably causes us to feel the fear of judgment from those around us. Ultimately, the opinions of other people affect the way we live our lives.

Personally, I disagree with aspects of Sartre’s claim, “hell is other people”. By using the word “hell”, I feel as though Sartre is falsely labeling the judgment of other people as being the worst possible thing in the world. I do believe that his claim accurately describes how humans constantly struggle for the approval of others, which eventually deprives us of our freedom until we do the same back to others. With that being said, I think Sartre could have made a claim similar to this by simply stating that other people can be negative or bad for themselves. If someone else were to claim that “heaven is other people”, I still believe it could be justified. For example, a person can perform a selfless act that can change someone’s life for the better, with only good intentions. I do believe that there is a possibility for a positive relationship with others, so mentioning others to be “hell” seems to be too strong of a statement to be fully acceptable. I do agree that humans seek the approval of others to the point where we forget about our own free self as a subject and we become an object. This definitely paints other people in a negative light, but not be the worst thing known to man.

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