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The Ethics of Ambiguity: Part 2

In The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simone de Beauvoir outlines an existentialist ethics, beginning with the central existentialist premise that "existence precedes essence."

This brilliant writing needs no elaborate introduction - click the link (below) and see for yourself.  It begins with insights on childhood and develops into a fully formed ethics.    This meetup also continues our "feminist critique" series.

We will be focusing on Part 2 for this meetup:  Personal Freedom and Others 

There's no need to have read Part 1.

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  • Brian

    De Beauvoir describes what the adventurer needs in order to be genuinely free:

    Favorite sentence:
    “He [the adventurer] can become conscious of the real requirements of his own freedom, which can will itself only by destining itself into an open future, by seeking to extend itself by means of the freedom of others. Therefore, in any case, the freedom of other men must be respected and they must be helped to free themselves. Such a law imposes limits upon action and at the same time immediately gives it content. Beyond the rejected seriousness is found genuine seriousness. The man who acts in this way, whose end is the liberation of himself and others, who forces himself to respect this end through the means which he uses to attain it, no longer deserves the name of adventurer.”

    March 8, 2014

    • Chad B.

      I think it is possible to accept the archetypes as superficially true in the same sense that any personality types (including those of astrology) are superficially true. What is interesting is not whether there are people who are "adventurous" (or have the characteristics of a "Leo," etc.) but whether her theory (or the alignment of the stars) has real explanatory power. This would have been worth discussing.

      Also, hopefully in Part 3 we will have a chance to discuss how parents should treat children (and whether the privileges of childhood are natural or cultural).

      March 10, 2014

  • Rick O.

    Favorite sentence:

    "We have seen that the serious contradicts itself because not everything can be taken seriously."

    What follows - that critical thought and creative activity are both false paths - is quite lovely.

    If I read this section right, ambiguity is not a problem (hence the title). This is the heart of freedom - a freedom entwined with others.

    To seek clarity is fine for certain endeavors, but for human activity it belies. When shopkeepers work out details with their accountants, precision is a fine and noble endeavor. But for activity in the market place, a different path need be trod.

    The goal is not to avoid ambiguity but to live comfortably within it. To understand that every human engagement discloses necessarily partial truths. And that we should not flee this into 'safer' realms.

    Well, maybe not all human engagements, but the ones I find interesting, at least. Embrace the ambiguous!

    2 · March 7, 2014

    • eric

      Mariann, I realize not all absolutists are crusaders and not all relativists are Buddhas. Often we caricature people as being this way or that way, etc. to make a point even though life and people are more complex than the bolded labels we affix. The reason I like relativism or perspectivism is that is the way life appears to me. In any one day I will play the roles of child, sibling, parent etc. I will find myself in a multitude of contexts where any one value system will not fit all of them. By not adhering to any one value system I find it quite easy to make "ethical" decisions in all of them. BTW I have a soft spot in my heart for the existentialists. Camus' the Stranger spoke directly to and helped contextualize my inner world when I was a teenager.

      1 · March 9, 2014

    • mariann

      Eric, I agree with you. I'm just saying that Simone de Beauvoir- or at least my reading of her- wouldn't be so optimistic about the capacity for relativism to be a truly ethical approach. Then again, maybe this all just boils down to how we even define relativism. I think its a hazy term….

      1 · March 9, 2014

  • Brian

    Strong group with great participation. Lets do part 3

    1 · March 8, 2014

  • Jack

    Sorry, but I'm going to be unethical (or unserious?) and skip this session because of some scheduling ambiguity. At least my existence will be preceding my essence. Happy disputations!

    March 8, 2014

  • mariann

    "It is then that we discover the difference which distinguishes them from an actual child: the child’s situation is imposed upon him, whereas the woman (I mean the western woman of today) chooses it or at least consents to it." Evidently the category "children" doesn't include little girls whose gender roles are imposed upon them. Oy.

    March 6, 2014

    • Brian

      Can we distinguish between fault and blame? It is our fault if it falls within our responsibility. But blaming others is not our responsibility.

      March 7, 2014

    • Chad B.

      Re: fault and blame, Beauvoir does want to allow for "evil."

      March 7, 2014

  • mariann

    I like this essay a lot, but I'm very disappointed about what she has to say about the western woman. She claims that children (and actually, she uses the pronoun "he" almost exclusively) are thrown into a culture not of their choosing. Then she blames western women for not choosing or consenting to their own liberation. Where is her concern for the thrownness of little girls into gender roles not of their choosing? The idea that women in the west are complicit in their own oppression is off-putting to me and lacks perspective. Clearly she doesn't mean women of working class background, who haven't had the same good fortune of having a stellar education and the support of male colleagues like Sartre. Or even women of upperclass backgrounds-they're still coerced into the status of housewife and mother.

    March 6, 2014

  • Brian

    "The serious man wills himself to be a god. But he is not one and knows it"

    This tracks with my understanding of the oligarch(Aristotle/plato). They know they are pretending (and actively try to fortify that position) but dont know how they are wrong/bad faith or what they're missing. This is a thought in progress so plz help out

    March 5, 2014

    • mariann

      The serious man is A Serious Man from the film A Serious Man. Actually, we're all serious people....

      March 6, 2014

    • Brian

      I was thinking about that film too. Ha ha

      1 · March 6, 2014

  • Brian

    This is becoming one of my favorite readings. Enjoy

    March 5, 2014

  • Chad B.

    "Doubtless, every one casts himself into it on the basis of his physiological possibilities, but the body itself is not a brute fact. It expresses our relationship to the world, and that is why it is an object of sympathy or repulsion. And on the other hand, it determines no behavior." --Simone de Beauvoir

    This reminded me of one of Bacon's essays: http://www.authorama.com/essays-of-francis-bacon-44.html

    "Certainly there is a consent, between the body and the mind; and where nature erreth in the one, she ventureth in the other....But because there is, in man, an election touching the frame of his mind, and a necessity in the frame of his body, the stars of natural inclination are sometimes obscured, by the sun of discipline and virtue." --Bacon

    1 · March 4, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Ach, yet another I can't make! Regrets. Part 1 was lively and fun.

    February 12, 2014

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