Selected Books on Beauvoir in English 1. Her father, George, whose family had some aristocratic pretensions, had once desired to become an actor but studied law and worked as a civil servant, contenting himself instead with the profession of legal secretary.
Despite his love of the theater and literature, as well as his atheism , he remained a staunchly conservative man whose aristocratic proclivities drew him to the extreme right. Her religious, bourgeois orientation became a source of serious conflict between her and her oldest daughter, Simone. In addition to her own independent initiative, Beauvoir's intellectual zeal was also nourished by her father who provided her with carefully edited selections from the great works of literature and who encouraged her to read and write from an early age.
His interest in her intellectual development carried through until her adolescence when her future professional carrier, necessitated by the loss of her dowry, came to symbolize his own failure.
Aware that he was unable to provide a dowry for his daughters, Georges' relationship with his intellectually astute eldest became conflicted by both pride and disappointment at her prospects. Beauvoir, on the contrary, always wanted to be a writer and a teacher, rather than a mother and a wife and pursued her studies with vigor.
It was here that she met Elizabeth Mabille Zaza , with whom she shared an intimate and profound friendship until Zaza's untimely death in Although the doctor's blamed Zaza's death on meningitis, Beauvoir believed that her beloved friend had died from a broken heart in the midst of a struggle with her family over an arranged marriage.
Zaza's friendship and death haunted Beauvoir for the rest of her life and she often spoke of the intense impact they had on her life and her critique of the rigidity of bourgeois attitudes towards women.
Beauvoir had been a deeply religious child as a result of her education and her mother's training; however, at the age of 14, she had a crisis of faith and decided definitively that there was no God. She remained an atheist until her death. Her rejection of religion was followed by her decision to pursue and teach philosophy. Only once had she considered marriage to her cousin, Jacques Champigneulle.
She never again entertained the possibility of marriage, instead preferring to live the life of an intellectual. She then studied mathematics at the Institut Catholique and literature and languages at the Institut Sainte-Marie, passing exams in for Certificates of Higher Studies in French literature and Latin, before beginning her study of philosophy in For the first time, she found in Sartre an intellect worthy and, as she asserted, in some ways superior to her own-a characterization that has lead to many ungrounded assumptions concerning Beauvoir's lack of philosophical originality.
For the rest of their lives, they were to remain "essential" lovers, while allowing for "contingent" love affairs whenever each desired. Although never marrying despite Sartre's proposal in , having children together, or even living in the same home, Sartre and Beauvoir remained intellectual and romantic partners until Sartre's death in The liberal intimate arrangement between her and Sartre was extremely progressive for the time and often unfairly tarnished Beauvoir's reputation as a woman intellectual equal to her male counterparts.
Adding to her unique situation with Sartre, Beauvoir had intimate liaisons with both women and men. Some of her more famous relationships included the journalist Jacques Bost, the American author Nelson Algren, and Claude Lanzmann, the maker of the Holocaust documentary, Shoah. In Rouen she was officially reprimanded for her overt criticisms of woman's situation and her pacifism. In , the Nazis occupied Paris and in , Beauvoir was dismissed from her teaching post by the Nazi government.
As a result of the effects of World War II on Europe, Beauvoir began exploring the problem of the intellectual's social and political engagement with his or her time. Following a parental complaint made against her for corrupting one of her female students, she was dismissed from teaching again in She was never to return to teaching. Although she loved the classroom environment, Beauvoir had always wanted to be an author from her earliest childhood.
Her collection of short stories on women, Quand prime le spirituel When Things of the Spirit Come First was rejected for publication and not published until many years later This novel, written from to and read by Sartre in manuscript form as he began writing Being and Nothingness successfully gained her public recognition. The Occupation inaugurated what Beauvoir has called the "moral period" of her literary life.
From to she wrote her novel, Le Sang des Autres The Blood of Others , which was heralded as one of the most important existential novels of the French Resistance. Although only cursorily involved in the Resistance, Beauvoir's political commitments underwent a progressive development in the 's and 's.
Together with Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Pont y, Raymond Aron and other intellectuals, she helped found the politically non-affiliated, leftist journal, Les Temps Modernes in , for which she both edited and contributed articles, including in , "Moral Idealism and Political Realism," "Existentialism and Popular Wisdom," and in , "Eye for an Eye. The journal itself and the question of the intellectual's political commitments would become a major theme of her novel, The Mandarins Although she was never fully satisfied with this work, it remains one of the best examples of an existentialist ethics.
In , she published, "Must We Burn Sade? Although previous to writing this work she had never considered herself to be a "feminist," The Second Sex solidified her as a feminist figure for the remainder of her life. By far her most controversial work, this book was embraced by feminists and intellectuals, as well as mercilessly attacked by both the right and the left. The 70's, famous for being a time of feminist movements, was embraced by Beauvoir who participated in demonstrations, continued to write and lecture on the situation of women, and signed petitions advocating various rights for women.
In , Beauvoir helped launch the French Women's Liberation Movement in signing the Manifesto of the for abortion rights and in , she instituted a feminist section in Les Temps Modernes. Following the numerous literary successes and the high profile of her and Sartre's lives, her career was marked by a fame rarely experienced by philosophers during their lifetimes.
This fame resulted both from her own work as well as from her relationship to and association with Sartre. For the rest of her life, she lived under the close scrutiny of the public eye. She was often unfairly considered to be a mere disciple of Sartrean philosophy in part, due to her own proclamations despite the fact that many of her ideas were original and went in directions radically different than Sartre's works.
The former was written following her lecture tour of the United States in , and the latter following her visit with Sartre to communist China in Her later work included the writing of more works of fiction, philosophical essays and interviews.
It was notably marked not only by her political action in feminist issues, but also by the publication of her autobiography in four volumes and her political engagement directly attacking the French war in Algeria and the tortures of Algerians by French officers.
In , she published an impressive study of the oppression of aged members of society, La Vieillesse The Coming of Age. This work mirrors the same approach she had taken in The Second Sex only with a different object of investigation.
A Farewell to Sartre. Following the death of Sartre, Beauvoir officially adopted her companion, Sylvie le Bon, who became her literary executor. Beauvoir died of a pulmonary edema on April 14, Pyrrhus et Cineas For most of her life, Beauvoir was concerned with the ethical responsibility that the individual has to him or herself, other individuals and to oppressed groups.
This essay was well-received as it spoke to a war-torn France that was struggling to find a way out of the darkness of War World II. It begins as a conversation between Pyrrhus, the ancient king of Epirus, and his chief advisor, Cineas, on the question of action. Each time Pyrrhus makes an assertion as to what land he will conquer, Cineas asks him what will he do afterwards?
Finally, Pyrrhus exclaims that he will rest following the achievement of all of his plans, to which Cineas retorts, "Why not rest right away"? The essay is thus framed as an investigation into the motives of action and the existential concern with why we should act at all.
This work was written by a young Beauvoir in close dialogue with the Sartre of Being and Nothingness Differing from Sartre, Beauvoir's analysis of the free subject immediately implies an ethical consideration of other free subjects in the world.
The external world can often manifest itself as a crushing, objective reality whereas the other can reveal to us our fundamental freedom.
Lacking a God to guarantee morality, it is up to the individual existent to create a bond with others through ethical action. This bond requires a fundamentally active orientation to the world through projects that express our own freedom as well as encourage the freedom of our fellow human beings.
Because to be human is essentially to rupture the given world through our spontaneous transcendence, to be passive is to live, in Sartrean terminology, in bad faith. Although emphasizing key Sartrean motifs of transcendence, freedom and the situation in this early work, Beauvoir takes her enquiry in a different direction.
Like Sartre, she believes that that human subjectivity is essentially a nothingness which ruptures being through spontaneous projects.
This movement of rupturing the given through the introduction of spontaneous activity is called transcendence. Beauvoir, like Sartre, believes that the human being is constantly engaged in projects which transcend the factical situation cultural, historical, personal, etc.
In addition, rather than seeing the other who in his or her gaze turns me into an object as a threat to my freedom as Sartre would have it, Beauvoir sees the other as the necessary axis of my freedom-without whom, in other words, I could not be free.
With the goal of elucidating an existentialist ethics then, Beauvoir is concerned with questions of oppression that are largely absent in Sartre's early work.
However, Beauvoir is as critical of these philosophers as she is admiring. For example, she criticizes Hegel for his unethical faith in progress which sublates the individual in the relentless pursuit of the Absolute. She criticizes Heidegger for his emphasis on being-towards-death as undermining the necessity of setting up projects, which are themselves ends and are not necessarily projections towards death. Beauvoir emphasizes that one's transcendence is realized through the human project which sets up its own end as valuable, rather than relying on external validation or meaning.
The end, therefore, is not something cut off from activity, standing as a static and absolute value outside of the existent who chooses it. Rather, the goal of action is established as an end through the very freedom which posits it as a worthwhile enterprise.
Beauvoir maintains the existentialist belief in absolute freedom of choice and the consequent responsibility that such freedom entails, by emphasizing that one's projects must spring from individual spontaneity and not from an external institution, authority, or person. As such, she is sharply critical of the Hegelian absolute, the Christian conception of God and abstract entities such as Humanity, Country and Science which demand the individual's renunciation of freedom into a static Cause.
All world-views which demand the sacrifice and repudiation of freedom diminish the reality, thickness, and existential importance of the individual existent. This is not to say that we should abandon all projects of unification and scientific advancement in favor of a disinterested solipsism, only that such endeavors must necessarily honor the individual existents of which they are composed.
Additionally, instead of being forced into causes of various kinds, existents must actively and self-consciously choose to participate in them. Because Beauvoir is so concerned in this essay with freedom and the necessity to self-consciously choose who one is at every moment, she takes up relationships of slavery, mastery, tyranny, and devotion which remain choices despite the inequalities that often result from these connections with others.
Despite the inequity of power in such relationships, she maintains that we can never do anything for or against others, i. However, we are still morally obligated to keep from harming others. Echoing a common theme in existentialist philosophy, even to be silent or to refuse to engage in helping the other, is still making a choice.
Freedom, in other words, cannot be escaped. Yet, she also develops the idea that in abstaining from encouraging the freedom of others, we are acting against the ethical call of the other. Without others, our actions are destined to fall back upon themselves as useless and absurd. However, with others who are also free, our actions are taken up and carried beyond themselves into the future-transcending the limits of the present and of our finite selves. Our very actions are calls to other freedoms who may choose to respond to or ignore us.
Because we are finite and limited and there are no absolutes to which our actions can or should conform, we must carry out our projects in risk and uncertainty. But it is just this fragility that Beauvoir believes opens us up to a genuine possibility for ethics. Beauvoir continues to believe in the contingency of existence in that there is no necessity that we exist and thus there is no predetermined human essence or standard of value.
Of particular importance, Beauvoir expounds upon the idea that human freedom requires the freedom of others for it to be actualized. Although Beauvoir was never fully satisfied with The Ethics of Ambiguity, it remains a testament to her long-standing concern with freedom, oppression, and responsibility, as well as to the depth of her philosophical understanding of the history of philosophy and of her own unique contributions to it. She begins this work by asserting the tragic condition of the human situation which experiences its freedom as a spontaneous internal drive that is crushed by the external weight of the world.
Human existence, she argues, is always an ambiguous admixture of the internal freedom to transcend the given conditions of the world and the weight of the world which imposes itself on us in a manner outside of our control and not of our own choosing.