Being and Emptiness: Sartre meets Santideva


  • Nich Krause


Jean-Paul Sartre was a mid-twentieth century French intellectual known for his radical politics and prolific (often opaque) philosophical musings on the human condition. At first blush, this Parisian existentialist might not seem to have a lot in common with a recondite eighth-century Madhyamaka monk named Santideva. My essay encourages a second or third blush. In it, I bridge the work of Sartre with the Buddhist philosopher Santideva by looking at their respective conceptions of freedom and moral responsibility. I provide a brief characterization of each thinker’s ideas while going over some basic terrain of the modern free will debate, which includes  essential definitions for terms such as “free will,” “determinism,” “libertarianism,” and “compatibilism.” I argue that Sartre and Santideva have a unique approach to freedom and moral responsibility that, on the one hand, fails to conform to the standard categories of the current academic free will debate and, on the other hand, moves the conversation forward in important ways.


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