SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR
Both an existential philosopher and a central feminist figure in the 20th Century women's liberation movement. She taught through the example of her manner of living as well as through her writings.
BIO: Born in Paris Jan. 9, 1908. After World War I, her father, a wealthy French lawyer who left his job to fight for his country, lost his business and told his two daughters that he would not be able to afford a dowry for either of them, and therefore they were to become career women. Simone, who viewed the "domestication" of women (such as her mother) with detest, vowed that she would never marry for fear of falling into her role. Her father gave her books and discussed with her, but was not pleased when she denounced the subservient role of women and assumed a place in society equal to that of men. Graduated from the Sorbonne in 1929. Met Sartre and became lifelong friends with him, and for a time, his partner. Due to their many conversations & dialogues, it is impossible to entirely separate Sartre's ideas and hers. In their writings there are convergences, parallels, exchanges, an intermingling of ideas.
Ultimately she wrote twelve books. For are novels, four are biographies, three are autobiographical, and one is the collection of essays called The Second Sex, her best-known work in the United States.
The independent spirit, the right to choose one's path in the world, was central to de Beauvoir. Like Sartre, believed that our acts define us and who we are. Was influenced by Sartre's belief regarding the self's ambivalent relation to freedom, both desiring and fearing it, since freedom is sometime choosing insecurity and instability, while giving up freedom may lead to gaining security and safety in this hazardous world.
Believed that people are not naturally either good or bad. It is up to us to make ourselves good or bad depending on whether we assume our freedom or reject it. Whether one choosed to exercise or deny their liberty is itself a choice. Freedom of choice is central to her philosophy. "Human consciousness itself is nothing more than the kind of thing that can take into account alternative possibilities." (In Ethics of Ambiguity.) She added that while it is true that we are not always responsible for the things that happen to us, we are always responsible for what we choose to do about them. The coices we make, make us who we are. "My life," whe wrote, " is...an unpaved path that my walk alone will create."
Explored the existential dilemma of finding meaning in a sometimes absurd world. She wrote, "The definition of existentialism is a philosophy of ambiguity&emdash;one that emphasizes the tension between living in the present and acting with an eye to one's mortality." (in Ethics of Ambiguity.) One faces one's freedom, she maintained, when one adopts a life project, and one undertakes to define what one is to be. She did not want to be confined to any dogma or doctrine, which she saw as an obstacle to full expression of human potentialities.
Believed that nature was to be enjoyed, not just admired.
Somewhat like Kierkegaard, believed that organized religion was often a way of stifling independence and hiding the truth, even though he was a theist and she was an atheist.
Women easily become like Kierkegaard's 'automatic cultural man,' confined by culture and a slave to it, drawn by the comfortable routines of society, and are expected, more than are men, to accept a predefined place and role. But de Beauvoir, had she gone on in life, doing the socially accepted things of the time, she would have succumbed to what Kierkegaard termed "lies of character," denying her unique abilities.
Saw the female body not as an object but as a situation. Due to the oppression of her role, she may deny the transcendence of action and exploration and seek transcencence by losing herself in a man, who comes to represent the essential human being that she feels that she herself cannot be. Man has always conceived of himself as the essential self and made the woman the insignificant other, the "second sex."
The Second Sex also explores how a woman justifies her position in the world as the Other in order to bear it. She was articulate in asserting the idea that this condition is socially constructed, not biologically predetermined, an idea that is widely accepted now but that was radical in her time. This parallel's Sartre's assertion that we must go beyond the roles society assigns to us; we must look deeper into who we are. "It is not the inferiority of women that has caused their historical insignificance;" she writes in The Second Sex. it is rather their historical insignificance that has doomed them to inferiority." And also, "Children's books, mythology, stories, tales, all reflect the myths born of the pride and the desires of men; thus it is that through the eyes of men the little girl discovers the world and reads therein her destiny."
She defined her role in life as a writer rather than a wife or mother, and embraced with passion the life she chose for herself. Although she did not choose those roles for herself, she found nothing wrong with them for those who did. In her novels, a frequent theme is that of a female protagonist caught in the tension between her devotion to a man and her need to express herself creatively. She encouraged women who were feeling trapped in their roles as housewives and mothers to question their positions rather than accept them without acknowledging their choice in the matter.
"Every time transcendence falls back into immanence, there is a degradation of existence into the en-soi--the brutish life of subjection to given conditions, and of liberty into constraint and contingency. Every individual concerned to justify his existence feels that his existence involves an undefined need to transcend himself, to engage in freely chosen projects."
De Beauvoir was a strong supporter of abortion rights. "I am not against mothers. I am against the ideology which expects every woman to have children, and I'm against the circumstances under which mothers have to have their children. (This parallels Orgega y Gasset's understanding of individual choice and responsibility: "Human life as radical reality is only the life of each person, is only my life."
Along with the theme of independence went a relational quality in her writing. She articualted, in a sense, something of a moral code for living with others. "Service: One's live has value as long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, and compassion."
She noted that reflection is a recognition of events in both our internal and external worlds, which allow us to go deeper into the experience of life, living, and death. She lived part of her life during World War II and the occupation of France. Out of that experience came the insight that we are individuals in relation to the world and that who we are has much to do with circumstance."However gifted an individual is at the outset," she wrote, "if his or her talents cannot be developed because of his or her social condition, because of the surrounding circumstances, these talents will be still-born."
During the war she came to strongly believe that in many life situations there is no such thing as neutrality; we must commit ourselves consciously to something, we must choose a side.In tandem with Sartre, she maintained that not choosing allows someone else to choose for us; and not taking action against something we oppose means that in a sense we are acting against ourselves. Each person must take a stand for that which he or she truly believes.
Although conflict between human beings occurs, held de Beauvoir, we can also transcend this conflict. Love, she believed, is based on "reciprocal recognition." She wrote, "To recognize in woman a human being is not to impoverish man's experience: this would lose none of its richness, or its intensity if it were to occur between two subjectivities."
Simone de Beauvoir looked reality, including her own realities, in the face and spoke openly of them: "I have been aware of my shortcomings and my limits but I have made the best of them. When I was tormented by what was happening in the world, it was the world I wanted to change, not the place I had in it." Her being-in-the-world made possible a real being-in-the-world for millions of other women. She lived what she believed in and proclaimed to others. In this way, she touched the world by example.