Yeah, She Was One of Existentialism’s Great Thinkers, But Was She Hot?

I’d like to echo Jess’s thoughts on Times‘s thoroughly obtuse take on Simone de Beauvoir, but I don’t think I see the same contemptible double-standard she does. After all, male philosophers a renowned for their raw, animalistic sex appeal,* as you can see from the above photo of Jean-Paul Sartre. It’s just a shame that de Beauvoir was in the frame too, frumping up the whole picture.

But while we’re on the topic of de Beauvoir, I should mention that I’ve recently been reading The Ethics of Ambiguity. De Beauvoir is, of course, more well known for her feminist work, but this attempt to outline her metaethics is fascinating and deeply audacious: her state goal is to not just demonstrate how existentialism is compatible with a non-nihilistic ethical framework, but how only existentialism is compatible with an ethical framework.

The idea has some intuitive appeal to me, and I love the book, but I’m still not entirely convinced by its central argument. She goes from making the claim that “all people desire freedom”–which, in the way she defines “freedom,” I think is true–to “all people desire the freedom of all other people, whether they know it or not” without really explaining the leap. She claims to have demonstrated it in her essay Pyrrhus et Cinéas, and from the Stanford encyclopedia entry I can sort of see how she might make that argument, but I’m still not persuaded. I think I need to find a copy of that essay, at which point I’ll blog about this in further detail.

*The same applies to undergraduate Philosophy majors, ladies.


2 Responses

  1. I would put it merely in the way that Lewis Gordon puts it– “in anguish I realize that I embody value, and am thus responsible for the things I value.” Because there is no essential nature to any person absent the contingent and temporary appearance of one’s acts, the existence of the social is potentially destructive to the self-possession de Beauvoir defines as freedom. If I am with you and you project your concept of me, and I do the same to you, there is no authority to essentialize either and thus violence is done to the space that might permit both. We permit each other our freedoms not only on principle but also because the only hope for our own freedom is in the mutual refusal to know another.

    Important to note, also, that most people in fact do not desire freedom, their own least of all, and this is the essence of bad faith. The existence of other interpretations of our self is the only vehicle for falling into mauvaise foi, unless you believe in God. The dual nature of the desire to escape the agony of freedom and the drive to be free is, admittedly, a little muddled.

  2. […] means what I think it means in this case, I’m not so sure I want to be saved. Noted frumpy philosopher Simone de Beauvoir does, I think, the best job of explaining […]

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