Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-01-09 - 1986-04-14) was a French author and existentialist philosopher. She is now best known for her 1949 treatise The Second Sex [Le Deuxième Sexe], a detailed analysis of women's oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism, and her long personal relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre.
- I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.
- The Blood of Others [Le sang des autres] (1946)
- The Communists, following Hegel, speak of humanity and its future as of some monolithic individuality. I was attacking this illusion.
- On her work All Men are Mortal in Force of Circumstances (1963), p. 73
- It was said that I refused to grant any value to the maternal instinct and to love. This was not so. I simply asked that women should experience them truthfully and freely, whereas they often use them as excuses and take refuge in them, only to find themselves imprisoned in that refuge when those emotions have dried up in their hearts. I was accused of preaching sexual promiscuity; but at no point did I ever advise anyone to sleep with just anyone at just any time; my opinion on this subject is that all choices, agreements and refusals should be made independently of institutions, conventions and motives of self-aggrandizement; if the reasons for it are not of the same order as the act itself, then the only result can be lies, distortions and mutilations.
- Force of Circumstances Vol. III (1963) as translated by Richard Howard (1968) - Excerpt online
- Self-knowledge is no guarantee of happiness, but it is on the side of happiness and can supply the courage to fight for it. Psychiatrists have told me that they give The Second Sex to their women patients to read, and not merely to intellectual women but to lower-middle-class women, to office workers and women working in factories. 'Your book was a great help to me. Your book saved me,' are the words I have read in letters from women of all ages and all walks of life.
If my book has helped women, it is because it expressed them, and they in their turn gave it its truth. Thanks to them, it is no longer a matter for scandal and concern. During these last ten years the myths that men created have crumbled, and many women writers have gone beyond me and have been far more daring than I. Too many of them for my taste take sexuality as their only theme; but at least when they write about it they now present themselves as the eye-that-looks, as subject, consciousness, freedom.
- Force of Circumstances Vol. III (1963) as translated by Richard Howard (1968)
- It's frightening to think that you mark your children merely by being yourself... It seems unfair. You can't assume the responsibility for everything you do — or don't do.
- Les Belles Images (1966), Ch. 3
- What is an adult? A child blown up by age.
- A Woman Destroyed [Une femme rompue] (1967)
- I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for truth — and truth rewarded me.
- All Said and Done (1972), p. 16 ISBN 1569249814
- One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.
- As quoted in Successful Aging : A Conference Report (1974) by Eric Pfeiffer, p. 142
- When Sartre and I met not only did our backgrounds fuse, but also our solidity, our individual conviction that we were what we were made to be. In that framework we could not become rivals. Then, as the relationship between Sartre and me grew, I became convinced that I was irreplaceable in his life, and he in mine. In other words, we were totally secure in the knowledge that our relationship was also totally solid, again preordained, though, of course, we would have laughed at that word then. When you have such security it's easy not to be jealous. But had I thought that another woman played the same role as I did in Sartre's life, of course, I would have been jealous.
- In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.
- As quoted in Bisexual Characters in Film: From Anaïs to Zee (1997) by Wayne M. Bryant, p. 143
- Change your life today. Don't gamble on the future, act now, without delay.
- As quoted in The Book of Positive Quotations (2007) by John Cook, p. 548
All Men are Mortal (1946)
- Tous les hommes sont mortels (1946); quotes are primarily from the translation by Leonard M. Friedman (1955) ISBN 0393308456
- Insects were scurrying about in the shade cast by the grass, and the lawn was a huge monotonous forest of thousands of little green blades, all equal, all alike, hiding the world from each other. Anguished, she thought, "I don't want to be just another blade of grass."
- She was beautiful, with a beauty so severe and so solitary that at first it was startling. "Ah! If only there were two of me," she thought, "one doing the talking and one listening, one living and one watching, how I would love myself. I'd envy no one."
- p. 5
- Time is beginning to flow again.
- Raimon (Raymond) to Regina, p. 17
- If I had amnesia, I'd be almost like other men. Perhaps I'd even be able to love you.
- Raimon to Regina. p. 17
- You made me come to Paris. You pestered me to start living again. Well, now it's up to you to make my life livable. You mustn't let three whole days go by without coming to see me. ... You wanted me to take notice of you. Now nothing else matters to me. I know you're alive and I feel emptiness inside me when you're away.
- Raimon to Regina. p. 20
- I'm never afraid. But in my case it's nothing to be proud of.
- Raimon to Regina. p. 23
- He walks in the street, a picture of modesty in his felt hat and his gabardine suit, and all the while he's thinking, "I'm immortal." The world is his, time is his, and I'm nothing but an insect.
- Regina to herself, p. 28
- One day I'll be old, dead, forgotten. And at this very moment, while I'm sitting here thinking these things, a man in a dingy hotel room is thinking, "I will always be here."
- Regina to herself, p. 28
- He had not applauded, he had remained seated, but he had looked at her steadily. From the depths of eternity he had looked at her and Rosalind became immortal. If I could believe him, she thought, if only I could believe him!
- P. 30
- Dare to believe me. Dare!
- Raimon to Regina. p. 31
- They were walking side by side, but each was alone.
- Raimon to Reginap. 53
- You're unique like all other women.
- Raimon to Regina, p. 55
- I was born in Italy on the 17th May 1279 in a castle in the city of Carmona.
- Even the children of Carmona were divided into two camps, and below the ramparts, among the brushwood and rocks, we battled with stones shouting "Long live the duke!" and others, "Down with the tyrant!" We fought viciously, but I was never satisfied with this game — the fallen enemy rose again, the dead came back to life. The day after a battle, victors and vanquished both found themselves unharmed.
- p. 72
- For the first time in my life, I took part in a real battle between men. The dead did not come to life again, the vanquished fled in disorder; every thrust of my lance helped save Carmona. That day, I would have died with a smile on my lips, certain of having contributed to a triumphant future for my city.
- p. 73
- It was as though some stubborn god spent their time in an immutable and absurd balancing act between life and death, prosperity and poverty.
- p. 81
- There is only one good. And that is to act according to your conscience.
- p. 181
- What did today's sacrifices matter: the Universe lay ahead in the future. What did burnings at the stake and massacres matter? The Universe was somewhere else, always somewhere else! And it isn't anywhere: there are only men, men eternally divided.
- p. 201
- What has value in their eyes is never what is done for them; it's what they do for themselves.
- p. 315
- It is impossible to do anything for anyone.
- p. 317
- Were we really more advanced than the alchemists of Carmona? We had brought to light certain facts that they were not aware of, we had organised them into the right order; but had we advanced even a step nearer to the mysterious heart of the universe?
- That's what I consider true generosity. You give your all, and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.
- If you live long enough, you'll see that every victory turns into a defeat.
- After wars peace, after peace, another war. Every day men are born and others die.
- Try to stay a man amongst men ... There's no other hope for you.
- Marianne to Raimon
- In horror, in terror, she accepted the metamorphosis — gnat, foam, ant, until death. And it's only the beginning, she thought. She stood motionless, as if it were possible to play tricks with time, possible to stop it from following its course. But her hands stiffened against her quivering lips.
When the bells began to sound the hour she let out the first scream.
- Last lines
The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947)
- Pour une morale de l'ambiguïté as translated by Full text online
- At the present time there still exist many doctrines which choose to leave in the shadow certain troubling aspects of a too complex situation. But their attempt to lie to us is in vain. Cowardice doesn’t pay. Those reasonable metaphysics, those consoling ethics with which they would like to entice us only accentuate the disorder from which we suffer.
- Men of today seem to feel more acutely than ever the paradox of their condition. They know themselves to be the supreme end to which all action should be subordinated, but the exigencies of action force them to treat one another as instruments or obstacles, as means. The more widespread their mastery of the world, the more they find themselves crushed by uncontrollable forces.
- Part I : Ambiguity and Freedom
- In spite of so many stubborn lies, at every moment, at every opportunity, the truth comes to light, the truth of life and death, of my solitude and my bond with the world, of my freedom and my servitude, of the insignificance and the sovereign importance of each man and all men. There was Stalingrad and there was Buchenwald, and neither of the two wipes out the other. Since we do not succeed in fleeing it, let us therefore try to look the truth in the face. Let us try to assume our fundamental ambiguity. It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our life that we must draw our strength to live and our reason for acting.
- Part I : Ambiguity and Freedom
- From the very beginning, existentialism defined itself as a philosophy of ambiguity. It was by affirming the irreducible character of ambiguity that Kierkegaard opposed himself to Hegel, and it is by ambiguity that, in our own generation, Sartre, in Being and Nothingness, fundamentally defined man, that being whose being is not to be, that subjectivity which realizes itself only as a presence in the world, that engaged freedom, that surging of the for-oneself which is immediately given for others. But it is also claimed that existentialism is a philosophy of the absurd and of despair. It encloses man in a sterile anguish, in an empty subjectivity. It is incapable of furnishing him with any principle for making choices. Let him do as he pleases. In any case, the game is lost. Does not Sartre declare, in effect, that man is a “useless passion,” that he tries in vain to realize the synthesis of the for-oneself and the in-oneself, to make himself God? It is true. But it is also true that the most optimistic ethics have all begun by emphasizing the element of failure involved in the condition of man; without failure, no ethics; for a being who, from the very start, would be an exact co-incidence with himself, in a perfect plenitude, the notion of having-to-be would have no meaning. One does not offer an ethics to a God. It is impossible to propose any to man if one defines him as nature, as something given. The so-called psychological or empirical ethics manage to establish themselves only by introducing surreptitiously some flaw within the manthing which they have first defined.
- Part I : Ambiguity and Freedom
- The failure described in Being and Nothingness is definitive, but it is also ambiguous. Man, Sartre tells us, is “a being who makes himself a lack of being in order that there might be being.” That means, first of all, that his passion is not inflicted upon him from without. He chooses it. It is his very being and, as such, does not imply the idea of unhappiness. If this choice is considered as useless, it is because there exists no absolute value before the passion of man, outside of it, in relation to which one might distinguish the useless from the useful. The word “useful” has not yet received a meaning on the level of description where Being and Nothingness is situated. It can be defined only in the human world established by man’s projects and the ends he sets up. In the original helplessness from which man surges up, nothing is useful, nothing is useless. It must therefore be understood that the passion to which man has acquiesced finds no external justification. No outside appeal, no objective necessity permits of its being called useful. It has no reason to will itself. But this does not mean that it can not justify itself, that it can not give itself reasons for being that it does not have. And indeed Sartre tells us that man makes himself this lack of being in order that there might be being. The term in order that clearly indicates an intentionality. It is not in vain that man nullifies being. Thanks to him, being is disclosed and he desires this disclosure. There is an original type of attachment to being which is not the relationship “wanting to be” but rather “wanting to disclose being.” Now, here there is not failure, but rather success.
- Part I : Ambiguity and Freedom
- We must not confuse the present with the past. With regard to the past, no further action is possible. There have been war, plague, scandal, and treason, and there is no way of our preventing their having taken place; the executioner became an executioner and the victim underwent his fate as a victim without us; all that we can do is to reveal it, to integrate it into the human heritage, to raise it to the dignity of the aesthetic existence which bears within itself its finality; but first this history had to occur: it occurred as scandal, revolt, crime, or sacrifice, and we were able to try to save it only because it first offered us a form. Today must also exist before being confirmed in its existence: its destination in such a way that everything about it already seemed justified and that there was no more of it to reject, then there would also be nothing to say about it, for no form would take shape in it; it is revealed only through rejection, desire, hate and love. In order for the artist to have a world to express he must first be situated in this world, oppressed or oppressing, resigned or rebellious, a man among men. But at the heart of his existence he finds the exigency which is common to all men; he must first will freedom within himself and universally; he must try to conquer it: in the light of this project situations are graded and reasons for acting are made manifest.
- Pt. III : The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Ch. 1 : The Aesthetic Attitude
- To will freedom and to will to disclose being are one and the same choice; hence, freedom takes a positive and constructive step which causes being to pass to existence in a movement which is constantly surpassed.
- Pt. III : The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Ch. 3 : Freedom and Liberation]
- Science condemns itself to failure when, yielding to the infatuation of the serious, it aspires to attain being, to contain it, and to possess it; but it finds its truth if it considers itself as a free engagement of thought in the given, aiming, at each discovery, not at fusion with the thing, but at the possibility of new discoveries; what the mind then projects is the concrete accomplishment of its freedom.
- Pt. III : The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Ch. 3 : Freedom and Liberation
- Is this kind of ethics individualistic or not? Yes, if one means by that that it accords to the individual an absolute value and that it recognizes in him alone the power of laying the foundations of his own existence. It is individualism in the sense in which the wisdom of the ancients, the Christian ethics of salvation, and the Kantian ideal of virtue also merit this name; it is opposed to the totalitarian doctrines which raise up beyond man the mirage of Mankind. But it is not solipsistic, since the individual is defined only by his relationship to the world and to other individuals; he exists only by transcending himself, and his freedom can be achieved only through the freedom of others. He justifies his existence by a movement which, like freedom, springs from his heart but which leads outside of him.
This individualism does not lead to the anarchy of personal whim. Man is free; but he finds his law in his very freedom. First, he must assume his freedom and not flee it by a constructive movement: one does not exist without doing something; and also by a negative movement which rejects oppression for oneself and others.
- A conquest of this kind is never finished; the contingency remains, and, so that he may assert his will, man is even obliged to stir up in the world the outrage he does not want. But this element of failure is a very condition of his life; one can never dream of eliminating it without immediately dreaming of death. This does not mean that one should consent to failure, but rather one must consent to struggle against it without respite.
- In Plato, art is mystification because there is the heaven of Ideas; but in the earthly domain all glorification of the earth is true as soon as it is realized. Let men attach value to words, forms, colors, mathematical theorems, physical laws, and athletic prowess; let them accord value to one another in love and friendship, and the objects, the events, and the men immediately have this value; they have it absolutely. It is possible that a man may refuse to love anything on earth; he will prove this refusal and he will carry it out by suicide. If he lives, the reason is that, whatever he may say, there still remains in him some attachment to existence; his life will be commensurate with this attachment; it will justify itself to the extent that it genuinely justifies the world.
This justification, though open upon the entire universe through time and space, will always be finite. Whatever one may do, one never realizes anything but a limited work, like existence itself which tries to establish itself through that work and which death also limits. It is the assertion of our finiteness which doubtless gives the doctrine which we have just evoked its austerity and, in some eyes, its sadness. As soon as one considers a system abstractly and theoretically, one puts himself, in effect, on the plane of the universal, thus, of the infinite. ... existentialism does not offer to the reader the consolations of an abstract evasion: existentialism proposes no evasion. On the contrary, its ethics is experienced in the truth of life, and it then appears as the only proposition of salvation which one can address to men. Taking on its own account Descartes’ revolt against the evil genius, the pride of the thinking reed in the face of the universe which crushes him, it asserts that, despite his limits, through them, it is up to each one to fulfill his existence as an absolute. 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. There is a very old saying which goes: “Do what you must, come what may.” That amounts to saying in a different way that the result is not external to the good will which fulfills itself in aiming at it. If it came to be that each man did what he must, existence would be saved in each one without there being any need of dreaming of a paradise where all would be reconciled in death.
The Second Sex (1949)
- All agree in recognising the fact that females exist in the human species; today as always they make up about one half of humanity. And yet we are told that femininity is in danger; we are exhorted to be women, remain women, become women. It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity.
- When an individual (or a group of individuals) is kept in a situation of inferiority, the fact is that he is inferior. But the significance of the verb to be must be rightly understood here; it is in bad faith to give it a static value when it really has the dynamic Hegelian sense of "to have become." Yes, women on the whole are today inferior to men; that is, their situation affords them fewer possibilities. The question is: should that state of affairs continue?
Many men hope that it will continue; not all have given up the battle.
- Introduction : Woman as Other
- One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius; and the feminine situation has up to the present rendered this becoming practically impossible.
- Bk. I, Pt. 2, Ch. 8: Since the French Revolution: the Job and the Vote, p. 133
- On ne naît pas femme: on le devient.
- One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.
- Bk. 2, Pt.. 4, Ch. 1: Childhood, p. 267
- Sex pleasure in woman, as I have said, is a kind of magic spell; it demands complete abandon; if words or movements oppose the magic of caresses, the spell is broken.
- Bk. 2, Pt.. 4, Ch. 3: Sexual Initiation. p. 396
- To "catch" a husband is an art; to "hold" him is a job.
- Bk. 2, part 5, Ch. 1: The Married Woman, p. 468
- The curse which lies upon marriage is that too often the individuals are joined in their weakness rather than in their strength, each asking from the other instead of finding pleasure in giving. It is even more deceptive to dream of gaining through the child a plenitude, a warmth, a value, which one is unable to create for oneself; the child brings joy only to the woman who is capable of disinterestedly desiring the happiness of another, to one who without being wrapped up in self seeks to transcend her own existence.
- Bk. 2, Pt.. 5, Ch. 2: The Mother, p. 522
- All oppression creates a state of war. And this is no exception. The existent who is regarded as inessential cannot fail to demand the re-establishment of her sovereignty.
Today the combat takes a different shape; instead of wishing to put man in a prison, woman endeavours to escape from one; she no longer seeks to drag him into the realms of immanence but to emerge, herself, into the light of transcendence.
- Conclusion, p. 717
- It is vain to apportion praise and blame. The truth is that if the vicious circle is so hard to break, it is because the two sexes are each the victim at once of the other and of itself. Between two adversaries confronting each other in their pure liberty, an agreement could be easily reached: the more so as the war profits neither. But the complexity of the whole affair derives from the fact that each camp is giving aid and comfort to the enemy; woman is pursuing a dream of submission, man a dream of identification. Want of authenticity does not pay: each blames the other for the unhappiness he or she has incurred in yielding to the temptations of the easy way; what man and woman loathe in each other is the shattering frustration of each one's own bad faith and baseness.
- It is nonsense to assert that revelry, vice, ecstasy, passion, would become impossible if man and woman were equal in concrete matters; the contradictions that put the flesh in opposition to the spirit, the instant to time, the swoon of immanence to the challenge of transcendence, the absolute of pleasure to the nothingness of forgetting, will never be resolved; in sexuality will always be materialised the tension, the anguish, the joy, the frustration, and the triumph of existence. To emancipate woman is to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, not to deny them to her; let her have her independent existence and she will continue none the less to exist for him also: mutually recognising each other as subject, each will yet remain for the other an other. The reciprocity of their relations will not do away with the miracles — desire, possession, love, dream, adventure — worked by the division of human beings into two separate categories; and the words that move us — giving, conquering, uniting — will not lose their meaning. On the contrary, when we abolish the slavery of half of humanity, together with the whole system of hypocrisy that it implies, then the 'division' of humanity will reveal its genuine significance and the human couple will find its true form.
- It is for man to establish the reign of liberty in the midst of the world of the given. To gain the supreme victory, it is necessary, for one thing, that by and through their natural differentiation men and women unequivocally affirm their brotherhood.
The Coming of Age (1970)
- Work almost always has a double aspect: it is a bondage, a wearisome drudgery; but it is also a source of interest, a steadying element, a factor that helps to integrate the worker with society. Retirement may be looked upon either as a prolonged holiday or as a rejection, a being thrown on to the scrap-heap.
- Pt I, Ch. 4: Old age in present-day society, p. 263
- Since it is the Other within us who is old, it is natural that the revelation of our age should come to us from outside — from others. We do not accept it willingly.
- Pt. 2, Ch. 1: The discovery and assumption of old age: the body's experience, p. 288
- I am incapable of conceiving infinity, and yet I do not accept finity. I want this adventure that is the context of my life to go on without end.
- Pt. 2, Ch. 2: Time, activity, history, p. 412
- It is old age, rather than death, that is to be contrasted with life. Old age is life's parody, whereas death transforms life into a destiny: in a way it preserves it by giving it the absolute dimension. Death does away with time.
- Conclusion, p. 539
- What should a society be, so that in his last years a man might still be a man?
The answer is simple: he would always have to have been treated as a man. By the fate that it allots to its members who can no longer work, society gives itself away — it has always looked upon them as so much material. Society confesses that as far as it is concerned, profit is the only thing that counts, and that its "humanism" is mere window-dressing. In the nineteenth century the ruling classes explicitly equated the proletariat with barbarism. The struggles of the workers succeeded in making the proletariat part of mankind once more. But only in so far as it is productive. Society turns away from the aged worker as though he belonged to another species. That is why the whole question is buried in a conspiracy of silence.
- Conclusion, p. 542
- Society cares about the individual only in so far as he is profitable. The young know this. Their anxiety as they enter in upon social life matches the anguish of the old as they are excluded from it.
- Conclusion, p. 543
- Defending the truth is not something one does out of a sense of duty or to allay guilt complexes, but is a reward in itself.
- This is also attributed to "Peter Bechmann" (no article at Wikipedia)
- Each of us is responsible for everything and to every human being.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov; this was used as an epigraph in The Blood of Others, and is sometimes attributed to de Beauvoir
- Profile at Kirjasto (Pegasos)
- "Simone de Beauvoir" by Shannon Mussett at The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- "Simone de Beauvoir" by Debra Bergoffen at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Profile at Guardian Books
- "Stand By Your Man: The strange liaison of Sartre and Beauvoir" by Louis Menand, in The New Yorker
- Simone de Beauvoir Archive at Marxists.org