A Critique of Simone de Beauvoir’s Existential Ethics

Braddock, Matthew. “A Critique of Simone de Beauvoir's Existential Ethics,” Philosophy Today, 51(3): 303–311, 2007.


Simone de Beauvoir’s ethics is very complex. In The Ethics of Ambiguity (1948), her notions of “ambiguity,” “disclosure,” “natural freedom,” “ethical freedom”-taking their departures from Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre-intertwine to form intricate bundles of argumentation. Perhaps that is why only philosopher Kristana Arp has really attempted to draw out her ethical theory to its finer threads. Much of the secondary literature consists of articles from critical journals that affirm the value of her ethics without analyzing it rigorously and edited collections with articles that touch on a few unconnected facets other ethics. Monika Langer attributes this lack of ethics-specific criticism to the overshadowing of The Ethics of Ambiguity by Beauvoir’s more popular The Second Sex, Beauvoir’s devaluation of her own philosophical ability, and, most significantly, to the patriarchal nature of the philosophical canon. To these possible reasons we may add the common conception of Beauvoir as merely Sartre’s disciple and the gradual decline of existentialist philosophers in academia.

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