Playboy: In exploring these relations, you have written that you were influenced, during
World War II, by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger.
Jean-Paul Sartre: True. I was a prisoner of war and some priests in prison with me
asked me to talk to them about philosophy. Heidegger was the only author the Germans
allowed us. He argues that, in the last analysis, objects are utensils. In my first novel,
Nausea, I looked at trees and tried to define just what they are by means of words, so as to
get down to essences; in other words, I embarked on a perpetual questioning of things, of
trying to ascertain what they are. What are objects? Why are we here and what are we up
to? As Heidegger sees it, a tree is something that's cut down for firewood or for building; a
tree is what it's used for -- like a man. But a man is free to realize himself, to choose for
himself and others. I can't examine the structure of a man's life without glimpsing, beneath
it, all the other structures that bring us back to human needs -- to work, to tools. Even when
I make a cup of coffee I change the world. In Existentialism and Humanism, I explained that
a man's every decision, in the smallest as well as the largest sense, makes him a legislator
deciding for the whole of mankind. There must be a complete and profound responsibility.