EthicsofAmbiguitynotes - Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of...

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Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity The major concern of this text is to try to find a means for ethical action in a confusing world. The sources of that confusion are numerous, but chief amongst them is the residue of childhood, “the unfortunate choices which most men make can only be explained by the fact that they have taken place on the basis of childhood. The child’s situation is characterized by his finding himself cast into a universe which he has not helped to establish, which has been fashioned without him, and which appears to him as an absolute to which he can only submit. In his eyes, human inventions, words, customs, and values are given facts, as inevitable as the sky and the trees.” Childhood, indeed, primes us to be-for-others, “The real world is that of adults where he is allowed only to respect and obey. The naive victim of the mirage of the for-others, he believes in the being of his parents and teachers,” and quick leads us to adopt standardized roles to govern our behavior, “He feels himself like those models whose images are sketched out in his books in broad, unequivocal strokes: explorer, brigand, sister of charity. This game of being serious can take on such an importance in the child’s life that he himself actually becomes serious. We know such children who are caricatures of adults. Even when the joy of existing is strongest, when the child abandons himself to it, he feels himself protected against the risk of existence by the ceiling which human generations have built over his head.” This sets an early precedent for escaping from freedom. Freedom, indeed, remains impossible for those stuck in this pattern, “There are beings whose life slips by in an infantile world because, having been kept in a state of servitude and ignorance, they have no means of breaking the ceiling which is stretched over their heads. Like the child, they can exercise their freedom, but only within this universe which has been set up before them, without them.” This is disproportionately the lot of the oppressed. And as such, it represents an inauthenticity, as she claims of women, “in many cases this thoughtlessness, this gaiety, these charming inventions imply a deep complicity with the world of men which they seem so graciously to be contesting, and it is a mistake to be astonished, once the structure which shelters them seems to be in danger, to see sensitive, ingenuous, and lightminded women show themselves harder, more bitter, and even more furious or cruel than their masters.” Or, of the oppressed in general, “Their behavior is defined and can be judged only within this given situation, and it is possible that in this situation, limited like every human situation, they realize a perfect assertion of their freedom. But once there appears a possibility of liberation, it is resignation of freedom not to exploit the possibility, a resignation which implies dishonesty and
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This note was uploaded on 12/20/2010 for the course POLI SCI 365 taught by Professor Buzby during the Spring '10 term at Rutgers.

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EthicsofAmbiguitynotes - Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of...

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