Unit 7: Simone de Beauvoir
A novelist, social critic, and philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986) extended Sartre's existentialism to the realm of the social and the political, developing an existentialist ethics and a feminist philosophy that would have a lasting influence on the feminist political movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Like existentialists before her, de Beauvoir emphasized the centrality of individual freedom to human existence. But unlike existentialists before her, she argued that individual freedom was possible only on the condition that others were free. In other words, equitable social relations are necessary for a meaningful freedom, according to de Beauvoir. In this unit, you will learn about de Beauvoir's existentialist ethics and her existential feminism.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 5 hours.
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:
- identify Simone de Beauvoir's place in the history of existentialism;
- describe de Beauvoir's philosophical interaction with Sartre;
- summarize de Beauvoir's existentialist ethics;
- define de Beauvoir's notions of woman and the feminine; and
- analyze de Beauvoir's applied existentialism.
7.1: de Beauvoir's Life with Sartre
Read this article. Pay special attention to how de Beauvoir influenced Sartre's philosophy and the ways in which Sartre influenced de Beauvoir's philosophy. Also consider how de Beauvoir's criticism of Sartre helped shape her own existentialist philosophy.
Listen to Lecture 2, titled "Reading Beauvoir in the 21st Century". As you watch the lecture, consider the relationship between existentialism (as discussed in the previous units and subunits of this course) and feminism.
7.2: de Beauvoir's Existentialist Ethics
7.2.1: The Importance of the Social Sphere
Read this article on de Beauvoir. As you read, pay attention to the discussion of de Beauvoir's literary fiction and the way in which it served as a vehicle for her philosophical ideas. What is the role of the Other in individual human existence? Ask yourself whether we have any responsibility toward the Other, and if so, what exactly that responsibility is. Is this a responsibility that we can ignore?
Listen to Lecture 4, titled "Living with the Other's Pain: The Problem of Empathy in Simone de Beauvoir's Le sang des autres". As you watch this lecture, pay special attention to King's characterization of "the problem of empathy" in de Beauvoir's work. Write a brief description of this problem, and note how de Beauvoir attempts to solve it.
7.2.2: The Ethics of Ambiguity
Read Chapter 1 from de Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity. As you read, pay special attention to de Beauvoir's critique of Marxism. How does de Beauvoir frame her critique? Consider the strengths and weaknesses of her argument. Jot down a brief definition of de Beauvoir's characterization of ambiguity and the way in which de Beauvoir uses it in her argument. How does ambiguity characterize human existence, according to de Beauvoir?
7.3: de Beauvoir's Feminist Existentialism
7.3.1: de Beauvoir as a Feminist Pioneer
Listen to lecture 3, titled "What Is Woman? The Second Sex and the Republic". As you watch this lecture, recall Sartre's famous insight into the idea that essence precedes existence. What role does this idea play in de Beauvoir's critique of the concept of woman?
7.3.2: The Second Sex
Read this introduction to de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. As you read, pay close attention to the historical story de Beauvoir gives about the development of woman as "the Other" of man. What is an abstract concept, according to de Beauvoir? How is woman an abstract concept? Also consider how, according to both Sartre and de Beauvoir, no one is born with a predetermined essence: You become who you are. What does de Beauvoir mean when she suggests that a person is not born a woman, but rather becomes one?
7.3.3: The "Feminine" Is a Social Construction
Listen to lecture 5, titled "'Sex' and 'Gender': Philosophical Untranslatables". As you watch the lecture, note the differences between sex and gender as they are suggested by Dr. Apter. How are these concepts "untranslatable", according to Apter?
7.3.4: de Beauvoir's Applied Existentialism
Listen to lecture 8, titled "Silencing Simone: Between Frantz Fanon and the Second Sex". Philosopher and psychiatrist Franz Fanon was a fierce critic of colonialism and the violence that came with it – including both physical and conceptual violence (the way in which language has been used to oppress, marginalize, and hurt others). As you watch this lecture, consider how Atkins characterizes the differences and similarities between Fanon and de Beauvoir. Finally, consider the following question: In what ways does existentialism (de Beauvoir's, in this case) encourage or lead to revolutionary action?
Unit 7 Assessment
- Receive a grade
Take this assessment to see how well you understood this unit.
- This assessment does not count towards your grade. It is just for practice!
- You will see the correct answers when you submit your answers. Use this to help you study for the final exam!
- You can take this assessment as many times as you want, whenever you want.