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The Ethics of Ambiguity

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  2,546 ratings  ·  85 reviews
In de Beauvoir’s second major essay, the renowned French philosopher illustrates the ethics of Existentialism by outlining a series of “ways of being”



In this classic introduction to Existentialist thought, French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity simultaneously pays homage to and grapples with her French contemporaries, philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre
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ebook, 158 pages
Published December 20th 2011 by Philosophical Library/Open Road (first published January 1st 1944)
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Steve



L’homme est une passion inutile.

- Jean-Paul Sartre, L’Etre et le Néant (1943)

Le propre de toute morale c'est de considérer la vie humaine comme une partie que l'on peut gagner ou perdre, et d'enseigner à l'homme le moyen de gagner.

- Simone de Beauvoir, Pour une morale de l'ambiguïté (1947)

(*)


Any philosophical work is an expression of a culture at a particular moment of time as well as of the individual author's personality and experience. The middle class Parisian intellectuals who produced one
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Tracy
Oh, Simone. You lend thoughtful sobriety to Sartrean and Camus-ian existential whingeing.

Frankly though, existentialist writings (in the form of philosophical treatises, NOT novels - in fact, NEVER novels) tire me. This one got a bit tedious - I dislike zigzagging from grandiosity to brutal specifics - but things picked up in the end.

Favorite lines:

(1) "My contemplation is an excruciation only because it is also a joy."

(2) "The notion of ambiguity must not be confused with that of absurdity.
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Chris
Existentialism was, for a sweet minute, the new way to think about self and the world in the 20th century; but few—so very precious few—understood anything about it. Christians were probably the primary reason it bombed among traditionalists, but its novel language, complex ideas, and deep avowal of the value of personal choice were strong determinants of its unrecognized benefits. So what is it exactly that Existentialism offers? Simone de Beauvoir does a wonderful job drawing out the practical ...more
Hortense
An experiment should be performed. Take someone living a shitty normal life somewhere. Speculate on how much normal life is like war; marginal explosions and maimings once a decade during a 99% anxiety induced sleep in the time of motivated wishes and whitewashes. Boredom, lack of ethics conundrums, specious choices as obvious as unmade beds, television for twenty years condensed into ten- take this person and see if things go any better in an artificially uncontrolled crisis environment where e ...more
Jeremy
De Beauvoir largely succeeds here in refuting the ridiculous claims that people used when trying to argue against the existentialists. Her prose is fairly straight forward (at least compared to Sartre's) and her arguments are very well crafted. You really get a sense in this work of how existential thought arose as a response to the butchery of the second world war. She puts a more human face on her ideas than Sartre. Her concept of ambiguity in the book's conclusion deftly predicts much of the ...more
Cara
Good tips on how to not accidentally become a fascist, and other stuff. I'm not at all well-read in philosophy, but this relatively short text seemed to me to be an excellent introduction to existentialism. The whole idea around "ambiguity" (as I understand it) is that life isn't going to plop down a nicely wrapped package of Meaning into your lap - you have to create meaning in every moment. This contrasts with the idea of "absurdity" (see Camus), which suggests that not only can meaning not be ...more
Olivia
I liked this book, but I am not sure I will remember it in a few weeks. I don't read a lot of philosophy, and I probably picked up this book because it was cheap at Half-Priced Books and because I like SdB and Sartre, and their separate discussion about freedom. However, I have not read Being and Nothingness, which I should read and then reread this book to know what the exact critique is. Still, I found it useful in "diagnosing" different people's types of covering up their knowledge that they ...more
Andrew
The term "existentialism" has been, like "postmodern" or "hipster," so stretched to death that it has long since stopped meaning anything at all. But Simone de Beauvoir makes a good go of trying to fit the ethics of an existentialist age-- one defined, not by meaninglessness as is so often presupposed as ambiguity-- into a more comprehensive framework for understanding the world. She finds herself, in true existentialist fashion, developing more questions than answers, and more negations and dea ...more
Zach Irvin
It surprised me that I enjoyed this book so much, because normally I can't stand studying ethics. However Simone de Beauvoir made some very strong, valid points in this piece. Having lived through both the world wars and being very involved, along with Sartre, in the French political scene she was able to gain tremendous insight into the ethical dilemmas that come around with any human action on a large scale. The section titled 'The Antimonies of Action' was particularly interesting as she diss ...more
Samir
Sep 10, 2012 Samir rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: arriana
"Existentialism does not offer to the reader the consolation of an abstract evasion; existentialism proposes no evasion." SdB

As a nascent reader of philosophy I was fatigued by the on-again-off-again lucidity of her discourse, but not enough to quit. The accessibility and meaning of her prose oscillated; for me comprehension ebbed and flowed from page to page. However, the steadfast reader endures, trusting that at some point her heady prose will make sense and then BAM! they do, the proverbial
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Craig
Nov 21, 2008 Craig rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in philosophy
Recommended to Craig by: Prof. Russon, also the best teacher in the world
This is one of my favorite books, and definitely my favorite philosophy book. It is by far one of the best books on existentialism. As you can tell from looking at the length of the book, she is very concise in her writing. This is a good thing as you don't have to put up with the fluff that some philosophers seem to enjoy so much. Don't be fooled by the length - this is not an easy read. I've read it 3 times and constantly want to go back for more because I get something new each time. For thos ...more
Dawn
This is a good companion to Sartre's ‘Being and Nothingness’ as it simplifies and abbreviates B & N while using it as a reference throughout. There is much use of philosophical terminology that can stump you if you weren't a philosophy major. Overall it sheds some light on the morals of man, the reasoning behind war / war crimes and the true definition of freedom. Although written several decades ago, the references and comparisons have eerie similarities to our current political times.
Seth
When I read dense philosophy, I usually read it twice. The first time I read it all the way through quickly, as if I were reading fiction, in order to pick up the main ideas. The second time, I read it more closely, which takes longer, but I'm able to then probe deeper and gain a more full understanding of the work. I'm on the second phase with this book.
Alexander
Not sure whether to rate this *** or ****, so going for **** out of charity. Beauvoir aims to provide atheistic existentialism with an ethics, which is not an easy task once freedom is made the main 'thing' about humanity. The weakness of the work is that Beauvoir sees that existentialists must go beyond Nietzsche, and beyond Kierkegaard too, but in order to go beyond them Beauvoir has to -- go back to Kant. Yes, Beauvoir foregrounds embodiment in a way that Kant does not, and yes, this is a shr ...more
Ralowe Ampu
sister. i was just having some connecting time with my close sibling simone de beauvoir about insurrecto-nihilsts. they have the atavistic fuckers in every age then, huh, like the mcflys. jeepers, the wheel-reinvention. i was like how did my journal get published in 1948? what are we gonna do about these corny weasels? her thought strays away from the ultimate fatalisms of existentialist absurdity but simply rests upon the vexing contingency of the nonsovereign, my buzzword of the hour. the body ...more
Draco3seven Crawdady
Aug 20, 2008 Draco3seven Crawdady rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bourgeois or peti-bourgeois readers as far as background and serious studiers of philosophy
““If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” Today’s believers use this formula for their own advantage. To re-establish man at the heart of his destiny is, they claim, to repudiate all ethics. However, far from God’s absence authorizing all license, the contrary is the case, because man is abandoned on the earth, because his acts are definitive, absolute engagements. He bears the responsibility for a world which is not the work of a strange power, but of himself, where his defeats are ins ...more
Frank Terry
This was a very thought provoking book. This is also the first book by Simone de Beauvoir I've finished. I think I started a novel of hers several years back but didn't finish it.

This is also really the first primarily philosophical text I've ever actually read all the way through, and that more or less is why I imagine this didn't move me very much.

And I mean it did move me. There was a lot here and a lot of food for thought. Obviously it gets one thinking quite a bit about freedom and the nat
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María I.
La ética de la ambigüedad es la segunda obra de no ficción importante de Simone de Beauvoir, casi el doble de largo que su primera, Pirro y Cineas. Después de dar una conferencia en 1945, se encontró a sí misma afirmando que era imposible basar una ética sobre los cimientos del ser y la nada de Sartre, y un año más tarde, asumió el reto, teniendo unos seis meses más de la tarea y la publicación del texto primero en cuotas en Les Temps modernes, a continuación, como un libro en noviembre de 1947. ...more
Maggie
Amazing Beavouir. Her language is a total indulgence (even after being translated in English). The notions in the book have well standings and can never cease to but impressively explain the lives of people in the 21 century. The second sex was great as in an elaboration of a vast amount of history facts and cultural opinions. This one is more free-flow and speaks the mind of Beavouir in a better sense. Totally fall for her wits. Such an amazing woman with great insights.
Brigitte
It is indeed a tour de force on de Beauvoir's part to succeed in turning the absurdity of the human condition into a dialectic of ambiguity which proposes that "we are absolutely free today if we choose to will our existence in its finiteness, a finiteness which is open on the infinite." This book is actually a very uplifting and liberating book which does not propose an evasion from our human condition but a way to transcend it.
loafingcactus
Definately the most readable overview of existentialism around, and a good crack at what an existential ethics would mean. She twists herself up in knots trying to cope with Stalinism, but other than that is philosophically consistent in her political approach.
Russell
How else can one begin to into a book like this then start from the first quote in the book; "prima, quae vitam dedit, ora corpsit. The continuous work of our life is to build death," from Montaigne.
Gurushakti Noriega
Simone de Beauvoir defends existentialism from it being thought of as solipsistic. She also offers a method to form a system of values and how to safeguard this system from becoming absolute and totalitarian.

She has a straightforward style, lucid and comprehensible. She also assumes her readers are familiar with existentialist ideas, since her text is colored by noun phrases found in other existentialist texts without explication.

She does well in answering the existentialist problem of persona
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Crystal Vales
I love this woman. Her particular understanding of modern femininity, the world of the second world war, existentialism, fascism, humor, and the obscurity of our common anxieties.
Lela
This is a reread. Just as good and just as difficult as the first time I read it! Review eventually.
Grace Di Cecco
Female plus existential philosophy is so refreshing. Highly recommend.
Kristin
Read this long ago in college. Just now adding it.
Daniel Cheng
de Beauvoir takes a really interesting position here between the “serious men” who create a concrete unwavering definite value and the nihilists who never create values, advocating an ambiguity where life’s “meaning is never fixed, that it must be constantly won” (135). She takes existentialism’s very individualistic nature and saves it from the pitfalls of solipsism by extending its implications on personal subjectivity to an ethics of ambiguity, where our personal existential freedom requires ...more
Paul
As the title suggests, de Beauvoir keenly delves into the murkiness of ethics, beyond the Janus of humanity’s psychological face, & into the multidimensional contours of this edifice. Admittedly, this was my first bit of philosophy in quite some time. I am by no means a philosophy major nor do I claim to be. Enigmatic at first, the loop de loops of language began to grow on me & the premise slowly began to bear its form. It begins with the natural state of man which immediately ignites t ...more
Khashayar Toodehfallah
de Beauvoir takes off where Sartre leaves off at the end of Being and Nothingness. She attempts to lay out an existential ethics and she is rather successful in her undertaking. The text reads fluidly from front to back, filled with many noteworthy paragraphs that would make any reread as delightful as the first. Having been through the war, she paints a more tangible idea of The Other, one of Sartre's main focal points, which later became the backbone of The Second Sex, an acclaimed piece of ph ...more
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5548
"Simone de Beauvoir was a French author and philosopher. She wrote novels, monographs on philosophy, politics, and social issues, essays, biographies, and an autobiography. She is now best known for her metaphysical novels, including She Came to Stay and The Mandarins, and for her 1949 treatise The Second Sex, a detailed analysis of women's oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary femin ...more
More about Simone de Beauvoir...
The Second Sex Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter The Woman Destroyed The Mandarins All Men are Mortal

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“Regardless of the staggering dimensions of the world about us, the density of our ignorance, the risks of catastrophes to come, and our individual weakness within the immense collectivity, the fact remains that we are absolutely free today if we choose to will our existence in its finiteness, a finiteness which is open on the infinite. And in fact, any man who has known real loves, real revolts, real desires, and real will knows quite well that he has no need of any outside guarantee to be sure of his goals; their certitude comes from his own drive.” 142 likes
“Today, however, we are having a hard time living because we are so bent on outwitting death.” 57 likes
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