If I hear the voice of an angel – Jean Paul Sartre


jean-paul%20sartre-pipeOn 28th October 1945, Jean Paul Sartre gave an important lecture titled: Existentialism is a Humanism.

He included a passage about a woman who heard a voice she interpreted as the voice of God.

If a voice speaks to me it is I who must decide.

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I think this passage pretty well sets out a key idea of what works for many of us when it comes to learning to live with voices; and illustrates what we mean when we say “take ownership of the voices”. 

For me it works like this…
I own my experience of hearing voices: 
I own how I respond; I choose what is the good thing to do; I choose what I do.

“There was once a woman suffering from hallucinations who claimed that people were phoning her and giving her orders.

The doctor asked her “But who exactly speaks to you?”

She replied “He says it is God.”

How did she actually know for certain that it was God?  If an angel appears to me, what proof do I have that it is an angel? Or if I hear voices, what proof is there that that are intended for me?  What proof is there that they come from heaven and not from hell, or from my own sub-conscious, or some pathological condition? What proof is there that they are intended for me?  What proof is ther that  I am the proper person to impose my conception of man on humanity?  I will never find any proof at all, nor any convincing sign of it.

If a voice speaks to me, it is always I who must decide whether or not if this is the voice of an angel; if I regard a certain course of action as good, it is I who will choose to say that it is good, rather than bad. “

Jean Paul Sartre,

Existentialism is a Humanism

28th October 1945

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6 Responses to If I hear the voice of an angel – Jean Paul Sartre

  1. bertabritz says:

    Yes, it is always I who decides, and I exist within a social context. I appreciate the quote from Sartre and also the interpretation from Dirk Corstens. Without my relationships and community, my choices for beliefs are depleted. My choices are mine, and I appreciate my connections.

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  2. barriewylie says:

    Excellent quite simply Excellent 🙂

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  3. Jean-Paul Sartre was a genius and a great writer, – And also he suffered from mental illness, which is a large part of what makes his writings so human, so tragic, and so great.

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    • Hi Great Writing
      Yes Sartre was indeed a great writer and thinker – but did he “suffer mental illness” ?

      I don’t remember him saying so himself and would be reluctant to say so on his behalf.

      Would Sartre – and for that matter many great philosophers from the past – choose to use those words “mental illness” were they with us today?

      I doubt he would.

      I do think Sartre would have some very interesting indeed things to say about how we categorise many forms of experience as “mental illness” and that he’d ofer us different, more meaningful ways we could choose to regard them, and deal with them.

      Ideas like those Sarte wrote about can be far more powerful than pills.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it is important to realise that in 1945 the war was just dissolved and that in France the famous Jeanne d’Arc – notorious voice hearer – is/was a national hero (she tried to conquer the British and was sentenced to death by the church but the church also revised the process and eventually rehabilitated her). She heard the voices of at least three saints – those three who were represented in the church of the village where she grew up and often stayed. In her case she HAD to stand up against the British usurpator (probably she witnessed or was victim to atrocities by British soldiers) and her quest was very convincing for the king. All the knights -rude and aggressive men – followed her and obeyed her.
    “…if I regard a certain course of action as good, it is I who will choose to say that it is good, rather than bad”. Jean Paul Sartre was talking to the French people and Jeanne d’Arc… a propagator of individualism and existentialism….

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