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Hell is Other People: A Critical Appraisal of Sartre’s Notion of the Individual’s Relation to the Other in the Light of the Notion of Ubuntu

Sunday Paul Chinazo Onwuegbuchulam


In his earlier philosophical works. Jean-Paul Sartre holds a radical ontological individualism view consistent with existentialist thoughts prevalent in his era. Sartrean existential individual is similar to the solitary Cartesian ego, and in a situation where an attempt at interpersonal relations is impossible. This existential individual is being-for-itself (to use Sartre’s own words) that is open to all possibilities as the individual finds out that he/she is free to become what he or she wills. The only obstacle to the realization of this freedom according to Sartre is the “Other.†For Sartre, “hell is other people†(No Exit); since the Other is always a threat to the individual’s freedom. In this scenario, interpersonal relations are antagonistic. The aim in this essay is to assert the contrary. It offers a critique of Sartre’s view, as contained in his earlier works, concerning the relationship that exists between the individual and other people. The motivation is to highlight what is good in interpersonal relationships especially as reflected in the African notion of Ubuntu. Ultimately, the aim is to underscore and appreciate what is good (ethically and socially) in the African view of the individual in relation to others as contrasted with the Western notion of individualism which is clearly reflected in Sartre’s notion of the existential individual. This task is relevant in contemporary African society that is dangerously moving more and more towards Western individualism.


Cartesian Ego; Existentialism; Existential Individual; Other; Person; Interpersonal Relationship; Ubuntu

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Journal on African Philosophy. ISSN: 1533-1067 (online).
Editor: Olufemi Taiwo.

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