We discussed this on April 6.
Jean-Paul Sartre’s book Being and Nothingness argued for a radical, absolute human freedom. Unlike animals or rocks, humans have a distance from the world – our actions are not causally determined in any way. There is nothing that governs our choices, no constraints on what we may or may not do. Partly, this followed from his atheism. In the absence of a creator which could provide or dictate what human nature is, what standards we must live up to or what goals we must work towards, all we have left is choice. We choose everything we do, from our response to pain to our jobs. This insistence on total freedom opened him up to charges of relativism from some, because he offered no standards of good and evil. Others charged him with being a quietist, because it seemed he could offer nothing like political principles. This essay was his attempt to defend himself against such criticisms.