Sartre as Champion of Ethical Responsibility
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It is taken for granted that in a pluralistic social structure normative ethics loses its basic authority. As a witness to this moral degradation J.-P. Sartre formulated the concept of general moral responsibility. A quarter of a century after Max Weber who had defined an ethics of responsibility restricted, however, to politically or economically leading persons only, Sartre widened the scope of responsibility to include everyone. Each person, he believed, was responsible for her whole life and the world around her. Today this sounds like a classic modern conception, when compared with the ethics of Hans Jonas and Emmanuel Lévinas. In fact, it is difficult to see a direct contact between the latter two and Sartre's philosophy. But in his interview granted to Benny Lévy 'L'Espoir maintenant' Sartre came close to the position that after the demise of the belief in progress the only hope remaining must centre on ethics. Subsequently he came to believe that he had failed in constructing a credible general ethics. But it is altogether uncertain that in fact he failed. More probably before his death he tended to neglect what he defended in 'L'Etre et le Néant' where he already arrived at a position of ethical responsibility that surpasses all other ethical proposals of the past decades.
- H.-M. Schoenherr-Mann, Geschwister-Scholl-Institut fuer Politische Wissenschaft der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen, Oettingen Str. 67, 80538 Muenchen Zi 172, Bundesrepublik Deutschland
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