Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com
French Thought


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Bonds of Freedom: Simone de Beauvoir's Existential Ethics by Kristana Arp (Open Court) is the first full-scale analysis of Beauvoir's existentialist ethics, as laid out in her important work, The Ethics of Ambiguity, written in 1946. Kristana Arp traces the central themes of Beauvoir's ethics back to her earlier philosophical essays and to literary works such as The Blood of Others and All Men Are Mortal. Drawing from the thought of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau‑Ponty Beauvoir developed her own distinctive version of existentialism throughout these works.

Beauvoir's ethics is sometimes mistakenly equated with Sartre's. Arp argues that we do not have enough material to reliably reconstruct Sartre's ethics, but that Beauvoir's position does differ in a number of ways from ethical theories often attributed to Sartre. Beauvoir, unlike Sartre, has a concept of moral freedom. Moral freedom, unlike the freedom that Sartre maintains all humans share, can serve as an ethical ideal for existentialism. It can be attained only through interaction with others who are striving to realize their moral freedom as well. So, Beauvoir contends, we have an obligation to enable others to achieve this higher level of freedom: "To will oneself free is also to will others free."

By postulating a higher, more authentic level of freedom, Beauvoir is able to conceive ethics as involving a quest for freedom while still endorsing existentialism's fundamental claim that humans are always free.


Beauvoir's existentialist ethics is particularly appealing because it adds a concern with others to this ideal of personal honesty. Kant says that we have duties to ourselves, as well as to others. And some demands of morality do seem to concern only ourselves‑the injunction to be honest with ourselves, for instance. However, the general consensus is that how we treat others is even more important, morally speaking. We feel that it is wrong to do certain things to other people, as well as wrong not to do certain things for them. But what determines what these things are?

Beauvoir's ethics tells us that we should be concerned about other people's freedom. This answer sounds promising. When deciding how to treat others it seems important to take into account how they want to be treated. It is not just that we should let them alone. We feel that we should help them, if we can, to do what they want to do, to engage in the activities and relationships that they value, so long as it does not infiinge on others in turn.

But to say that we should be concerned with others' freedom seems rather empty. What does it mean to be free? The work that this book centers on, The Ethics of Ambiguity, has an important contribution to make to existentialism and to philosophy generally because it attempts to answer this question. I have named three different conceptions of freedom that I find in Beauvoir's text. First, there is ontological freedom, which Sartre claims, and Beauvoir accepts, all human beings always possess. This type of freedom is similar to what philosophers call freedom of the will. Since this freedom cannot be taken away from one, it is not something we have to worry about depriving others of. It is a morally significant feature of human beings, nonetheless, because it distinguishes them from other categories of being that we treat differently.

The second sort of freedom, which Beauvoir calls power, is a more concrete sort of freedom‑the freedom to do and have things. It initially does seem important to questions of how we should treat others. To those steeped in the liberal democratic tradition it seems evident that we should constrain others' concrete freedom as little as possible. But it turns out to matter greatly what these other people do with their concrete freedom. Power can be used for ill or for good. So the goal we should aim for in our treatment of others cannot be merely to increase their concrete freedom.

Here is where the type of freedom I call moral freedom enters into the picture. Moral freedom, like concrete freedom, is the freedom to engage oneself in the world. But, unlike concrete freedom, it is a freedom that engages in the world with others in certain particular ways. What particular ways? It is somewhat difficult to pin down. Let me use a rather simplistic example.

When I turn on my television, I have the freedom to choose among more than sixty channels to watch. This is the freedom to do something that has no long‑term significance to me. My being able to make this choice has no impact on anyone's future. If I were deprived of this choice, I might not be pleased, but my life would not be robbed of value or meaning. This is an example of a certain power I have, a power bestowed on me by the technological advances made by my culture.

I also had the freedom to apply to and try to graduate from graduate school in philosophy. At one point in history, more recently than you might think, women did not have this freedom. My freedom to attend graduate school did prove to be of long‑term significance to me. It had a decisive impact on my future. Educational opportunities like this present someone with the opportunity to develop moral freedom in Beauvoir's conception of it. They do not insure that someone will develop moral freedom. Moral freedom creates more opportunities for action for oneself and others, instead of closing them off or remaining neutral to them. In deciding how to treat others we should be concerned with how they can come to have this sort of freedom, according to Beauvoir.

We should also be concerned with whether we ourselves can achieve this type of freedom, both for moral and self interested reasons. Happily, it turns out that our desire to realize moral freedom ourselves and our desire that others be able to realize it can be satisfied by the same means. As Beauvoir says; "To will oneself free is also to will others free". I need others to be free so that I can be free myself.

This conception of a specifically moral level of freedom is not a new one in the history of philosophy. Kant and Rousseau both develop a conception of moral freedom. Beauvoir was undoubtedly influenced by Kant in her treatment of freedom in The Ethics of Ambiguity. But her conception of moral freedom is worlds away from both Rousseau and Kant. Besides, her innovation was to introduce this idea of freedom into existentialism.

Beauvoir's innovative conception of moral freedom has been overlooked by writers both on her work and on existentialist ethics, which is why I have stressed it here. I think that it alone has the potential to put existentialist ethics on a sound philosophical footing. For it alone clears up a number of philosophical puzzles that arise from the original existentialist conception of freedom. In my judg­ment that represents quite an accomplishment for a woman who was "not a philosopher."

Simone De Beauvoir's Philosophy of Lived Experience: Literature and Metaphysics by Eleanore Holveck (Rowman & Littlefield) author outline: Current scholarship leads us to question these somewhat simplistic dichotomies in Beauvoir's autobiography: philosophy and literature; Sartre and Beauvoir; great philosopher and great writer. In their ground‑breaking study, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean‑Paul Sartre: The Remaking o f a Twentieth‑Century Legend, Kate and Edward Fullbrook outline how Beauvoir herself created the myth of Sartre, the great philosopher, in her autobiography; they argue, also, that Beauvoir actually originated the major philosophical categories of Being and Nothingness in her first published novel, L'invitee. Margaret A. Simons, whose work on Beauvoir's early diaries, with the generous and indispensable editing of Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, has transformed Beauvoir scholarship, argues that the young Beauvoir had a major interest in philosophy and was doing serious work on major philosophical issues long before she met Sartre.

In this book I hope to contribute to this discussion with a detailed investigation of Simone de Beauvoir's analysis of the relationship between philosophy and literature. In the next chapter I begin my project by discussing Beauvoir's characterization of philosophy and literature in several of her major essays; I then trace aspects of her theory back to the philosophers Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, through interpretations of Maurice Merleau‑Ponty and Jean Baruai. I place Beauvoir's theory of the metaphysical novel within the French literary philosophical tradition; in particular I place her early fiction alongside works by her contemporaries who wrote philosophical fiction, namely, Paul Nizan and Jean‑Paul Sartre. I also mention colleagues who appreciated Beauvoir's philosophical fiction, e.g., Gabriel Marcel.

Thus Chapter Two begins to establish the major point of my book. In her early career Simone de Beauvoir did philosophy in fiction. The equal passion that Beauvoir had for both literature and philosophy in her adolescence led her to incarnate much of her philosophical thinking predominantly in the female characters whose stories she related. At first, her fiction comments on the philosophical positions of others, mainly the philosophers she studied, read, and discussed as a university student. However, even in her early short stories and novels, an analysis of the texts shows Beauvoir's own original philosophical point of view, one quite distinct from contemporaries like Nizan and Sartre.

I devote Chapters Three, Four, and Five to extended analyses of Beauvoir's criticisms of major figures in the history of philosophy and the development of her own unique point of view in When Things of the Spirit Come First, L'invitee, and The Blood of Others. I show how Beauvoir first developed many important philosophical themes in these early works of fiction. She rejected all forms of philosophical idealism as she initiated her brand of phenomenological epoche in her early short stories, When Things of the Spirit Come First; she formulated her critique of Hegel and of Breton's surrealism in L'invitee; in The Blood of Others she developed more explicitly her notion of existential conversion, which reveals one's own freedom and the freedom of others at the same time. I argue that the important philosophical positions that Beauvoir developed in these works of fiction contributed to her philosophical position in The Second Sex, her most important philosophical work. Although The Second Sex is not my major focus in this book, I devote Chapter Six to Beauvoir's great contribution to twentieth‑century philosophy in order to show how my interpretation of her position on literature and philosophy might add to its critical appraisal.

Finally, in Chapter Seven, I argue that after The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir developed a somewhat new approach to literature in her important novel, The Mandarins. Returning more directly to early influences like Emile Zola, Charles Peguy, and Paul Nizan, with the addition of her own serious analyses of the female condition, Beauvoir developed her own conception of literature engagee, what Ursula Tidd characterizes as self‑creation in a testimonial project.

My major focus is to reveal the philosophical positions that Simone de Beauvoir developed in some of her fiction. In regard to the issue of whether

Beauvoir or Sartre had any philosophical tenet first, my approach emphasizes the following. (1) I treat Sartre as one colleague among others. At times I argue that Beauvoir is closer to other colleagues and friends, e.g., Maurice Merleau‑Ponty and Paul Nizan. (2) I sometimes contrast works of fiction and essays that Beauvoir and Sartre were writing at about the same time. My analyses tend to show two philosophers who are discussing similar issues in similar predecessors, with different emphases and different conclusions. (3) I take up the specific problem of the relation between She Came to Stay and Being and Nothingness in Chapter Four. I argue there that Beauvoir's philosophical position in her novel is actually a criticism of Sartre's abstract categories in Being and Nothingness, which she traces to Kant, Hegel, Breton, and Husserl. Beauvoir's scene where Xaviere concretely embodies her freedom is unique in regard to all these abstract philosophers.

Simone de Beauvoir, Philosophy, and Feminism by Nancy Bauer (Gender and Culture: Columbia University Press) "A man never begins by establishing himself as an individual of a certain sex: his being a man poses no problem," Simone de Beauvoir famously wrote in The Second Sex. Nancy Bauer begins her book by asking: "Then what kind of a problem does being a woman pose?" Bauer's aim is to show that in answering this question The Second Sex dramatizes the extent to which being a woman poses a philosophical problem. This beautifully written book is a call for philosophers to turn to The Second Sex as a work that is important and relevant to their enterprise - and for feminists to return to the book as well. Bauer argues that the extraordinary effect The Second Sex has had on women's lives, then and now, can be traced to Beauvoir's discovery of a new way to philosophize - a way grounded in her identity as a woman. Bauer points out that Beauvoir's originality goes far beyond extending the ideas of her life-long partner, Jean-Paul Sartre. In exploring what it might mean to philosophize as a woman, Beauvoir produced a book that not only sparked the contemporary feminist movement but also, Bauer argues, made an important but still profoundly undervalued contribution to the philosophical tradition. In offering a new interpretation of The Second Sex, Bauer shows how philosophy can be politically productive for women while remaining genuinely philosophical.

The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir (Everyman's Library, 137: Knopf) This massive, classic tome is still a delight to read. Simone de Beauvoir is intelligent, scholarly, lucid, and witty; her thesis is simple: early western philosophers established the female sex as "the other" to rationalize and promote the development and growth of fledgling patriarchy. "'The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities,' said Aristotle; 'we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness.'" Referring to the earlier research of noted anthropologist Levi-Strauss on the development of the category of "other" - "as primordial as consciousness itself" in all known human cultures - Simone de Beauvoir analyses the depth, breadth, purpose, and result of the western notion of woman as not-man. The book is sub-divided into two sections, "Facts and Myths" and "Woman's Life Today," in which she examines and documents such subjects as "The Data of Biology," "History," "Myths," "The Formative Years," "Situation," "Justification," and, finally "Towards Liberation." Simone de Beauvoir - literary artist, philosopher, and founding mother of twentieth-century feminism - wrote The Second Sex "less by a wish to demand our rights than by an effort towards clarity and understanding." Forty-five years after the book's publication, it remains true to its intent.

Beauvoir and the Second Sex: Feminism, Race, and the Origins of Existentialism by Margaret A. Simons (Rowman and Littlefield) A major twentieth-century philosopher and founder of radical feminism, Simone de Beauvoir was for years dismissed by the mainstream as a mere novelist or as "Sartre's girlfriend." In this compelling chronicle, Margaret A. Simons describes the pathbreaking discoveries she made in Beauvoirs handwritten diary from 1927. Her careful readings of this newly discovered 1927 diary introduce us to the young Beauvoir taking up the project of becoming a philosopher and show us the roots of Beauvoir's distinct philosophical positions.

Headline 3

insert content here