Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir

Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir is a classic introduction to existentialist thought. In the book, de Beauvoir outlines a series of “ways of being” (the adventurer, the passionate person, the lover, the artist, and the intellectual). Each of these overcomes the former’s deficiencies. Therefore, in does so, we can live up to the responsibilities of freedom.

a radical argument
for ethical responsibility
and freedom

French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity simultaneously pays homage to and grapples with her French contemporaries, philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. She does this by arguing that the freedoms in existentialism carry with them certain ethical responsibilities.

Life in itself is neither good nor evil.
It is the place of good and evil,
according to what you make it.

–Montaigne

Ultimately, de Beauvoir argues that in order to achieve true freedom, one must battle against the choices and activities of those who suppress it. 

From the beginning, writes de Beauvoir, we must recognize that existentialism defined itself as a philosophy of ambiguity.

Life is ‘ambiguous’ in the being the person we are not meant to be–in not having a well-defined meaning.

And, with ‘existentialism’, we have the philosophy of the absurd and of despair, of empty subjectivity or identity.

Where passion exists in this ambiguous existential way of being, it is useless if there is no internal, ethical value. This is an intentionality from within.

Thus, on the earthly plane, a life which does not seek to ground itself will be a pure contingency. But, it is permitted to wish to give itself a meaning and a truth, and it then meets rigorous demands within its own heart.

Ethics of Ambiguity

And The Ethics of Ambiguity is the book that launched Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist and existential philosophy. It remains a concise yet thorough examination of existence and what it means to be human.

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