Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Philosophical Writings

Philosophical Writings

Edited by Margaret A. Simons
Marybeth Timmermann
Mary Beth Mader
Foreword by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt13x1m38
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Philosophical Writings
    Book Description:

    This volume aims at nothing less than the transformation of Simone de Beauvoir's place in the philosophical canon. Despite growing interest her philosophy, Beauvoir remains widely misunderstood and is typically portrayed as a mere philosophical follower of her companion, Jean-Paul Sartre. In Philosophical Writings, Beauvoir herself shows that nothing could be further from the truth. One factor contributing to misunderstanding has been the lack of English translations of much of Beauvoir's philosophical work, or worse--its mistranslation in heavily condensed, popular editions. Philosophical Writings addresses this source of misunderstanding by providing complete, scholarly editions of Beauvoir's philosophical texts covering the first twenty-three years of her work, including some only recently discovered. Ranging from metaphysical literature to essays on existentialist ethics, Philosophical Writings brings together diverse elements of Beauvoir's work while highlighting continuities in the development of her thought. Each of the translations features detailed notes and a scholarly introduction explaining its larger significance. Philosophical Writings is a major contribution to the renaissance of interest in her work, and to a philosophical curriculum in which women remain underrepresented.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09716-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword to the Beauvoir Series
    (pp. ix-x)
    Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir

    It is my pleasure to honor the monumental work of research and publication that the Beauvoir Series represents, which was undertaken and brought to fruition by Margaret A. Simons and her team. These volumes of Simone de Beauvoir’s writings, concerning literature as well as philosophy and feminism, stretch from 1926 to 1979 , that is to say, throughout almost her entire life. Some of them have been published before and are known, but they remain dispersed throughout time and space, in diverse editions, newspapers, or reviews. Others were read by Beauvoir during conferences or radio programs and then lost from...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-12)
    Margaret A. Simons

    Simone de Beauvoir’s death in 1986 awakened a renaissance of scholarly interest in her philosophical work,¹ a renaissance encouraged by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir’s publication in 1990 of her adoptive mother’s war diary and letters and her donation of several manuscripts, including handwritten diaries and the typescript ofThe Second Sex(1949),² to the Bibliothèque Nationale. The heightened interest has extended to the general public as well, with discussions of research on Beauvoir’s philosophy appearing in theChronicle of Higher Education(September 4, 1998),the New York Times(September 26, 1998), and theChicago Tribune(March 31,...

  6. 1. Analysis of Claude Bernard’s Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine [1924]

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 13-22)
      Margaret A. Simons and Hélène N. Peters

      In December 1924, when Simone de Beauvoir almost certainly wrote her essay analyzing Claude Bernard’sIntroduction à l’étude de la médecine expérimentale(Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine), part 1 (1865),¹ a classic text in the philosophy of science, she was a sixteen-year-old student in a senior-level philosophy class at the Institut Adeline-Désir, or Cours Désir, a private Catholic girls’ school that she had attended since the age of five. The year-long class prepared the students for the philosophy exam, the second stage of the two-year program required to pass the difficultbaccalauréatexam, which also offered a...

    • Analysis of Claude Bernard’s Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine
      (pp. 23-30)
      JUSTINE SARROT and TRICIA WALL

      The “introduction to the study of experimental medicine” is defined by Claude Bernard himself in the beginning of his work.¹ “I deem it useful,” he says, “to give a few explanations in this introduction in relation to the theoretic and philosophic side of the method which this book, after all, treats merely on its practical side.”²

      In the first part of this introduction that we are going to study, he proposes considering the difficulties of experimental reasoning,³ and for that, he tries to study the role played by observation and experiments in experimentation, and then the importance of preconceived ideas...

  7. 2. Two Unpublished Chapters from She Came to Stay [1938]

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 31-40)
      Edward Fullbrook

      The degree of formative philosophical influence that Simone de Beauvoir had on Jean-Paul Sartre and vice versa has long been a subject of scholarly inquiry and debate.¹ This open question is important in terms of the history of twentieth-century philosophy and of women’s part therein. In the 1990 s this particular inquiry became centered on the relation between two texts, Beauvoir’sShe Came to Stayand Sartre’sBeing and Nothingness.² The investigation revolves around two questions: Which book was conceived and written first? and Is Beauvoir’s novel a philosophical text in the sense that it intentionally expounds, develops, and tests...

    • Two Unpublished Chapters from She Came To Stay
      (pp. 41-76)
      REBECCA JEYES

      The house was empty; the shutters had been closed to shut out the sun and it was dark. On the first-floor landing, Françoise was standing close up against the wall, holding her breath. Earlier on, the steps of the staircase, then the old floorboards, had been creaking, and the glass panels of the bookcase had been shaking slightly; now there was not a sound to be heard. The door to my bedroom, the door to the bathroom, Grandma’s bedroom, Papa and Mama’s bedroom. It was funny to be there all alone when everyone else was in the garden; it was...

  8. 3. Pyrrhus and Cineas (1944)

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 77-88)
      Debra Bergoffen

      InThe Prime of Life,Simone de Beauvoir identifies 1943 as the beginning of what she calls the moral period of her literary career.¹ This is the year Jean Grenier asked her to contribute something to an anthology he was editing. Understanding that he was interested in essays that reflected contemporary ideological trends and that he identified her as having something to contribute as an existentialist, Beauvoir was at first reluctant. She did not think she was qualified to write an existential philosophical essay. Sartre encouraged her to accept, and upon reflection, she says, she realized that she had something...

    • Pyrrhus and Cineas
      (pp. 89-150)
      MARYBETH TIMMERMANN and STACY KELTNER

      One of the essential goals proposed by children’s education is to make the child lose the sense of his presence in the world. Ethics teaches him to renounce his subjectivity, to give up the privilege of affirming himself as “I” when faced with others. He must consider himself as a human person among others, subjected, like the others, to universal laws written in an anonymous heaven. Science enjoins him to escape out of his own consciousness, to turn away from the living and meaningful world that this consciousness disclosed to him, and for which science tries to substitute a universe...

  9. 4. A Review of The Phenomenology of Perception (1945)

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 151-158)
      Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Sara Heinämaa

      In 1945, Merleau-Ponty published an extensive study in the philosophy of experience, titledLa phénoménologie de la perception.¹ The book is a phenom enological inquiry into the living body; it studies the perceptions, emotions, and movements of the body as well as the world surrounding the body and appearing to it. In addition to traditional philosophical topics, Merleau-Ponty addresses the problem of sexuality. He argues that sexuality cannot be explained as a specific function of the body but must be understood as an expression of existence.

      Merleau-Ponty’s first publication,La structure du comportement(finished 1938, published 1942 ),² had dealt...

    • A Review of The Phenomenology of Perception
      (pp. 159-164)
      Maurice Merleau-Ponty and STACY KELTNER

      One of the essential goals proposed by children’s education is to make the child lose the sense of his presence in the world. Ethics teaches him to renounce his subjectivity, to give up the privilege of affirming himself as “I” when faced with others. He must consider himself as a human person among others, subjected, like the others, to universal laws written in an anonymous heaven. Science enjoins him to escape out of his own consciousness, to turn away from the living and meaningful world that this consciousness disclosed to him, and for which science tries to substitute a universe...

  10. 5. Moral Idealism and Political Realism (1945)

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 165-174)
      Sonia Kruks

      Simone de Beauvoir was concerned with the question of the vexed relationship between ethics and politics throughout her active life. She addresses this topic in many of her novels, her autobiography, and her travel writings, as well as in the group of early works sometimes referred to as her “ethical writings.” “Moral Idealism and Political Realism,” first published in 1945, belongs to this latter group. Published between her two book-length works on ethics,Pyrrhus et Cinéas(1944) andThe Ethics of Ambiguity(1947), it shares many of their preoccupations. Indeed, Beauvoir later repeated certain formulations from it inThe Ethics...

    • Moral Idealism and Political Realism
      (pp. 175-194)
      REBECCA JEYES

      The drama of Antigone,¹ who upholds against Creon’s human laws the divine laws engraved in her heart, appears as the ancient symbol of a conflict that continues to this day. Antigone is the prototype of those intransigent moralists who, while being contemptuous of earthly goods, proclaim the necessity of certain eternal principles and insist at any cost on keeping their conscience pure—even though they may forfeit their own lives or the lives of others. Creon incarnates the political realist concerned only with the interests of the state and determined to defend them by every possible means. All through history...

  11. 6. Existentialism and Popular Wisdom (1945)

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 195-202)
      Eleanore Holveck

      In the second volume of her autobiography,Force of Circumstance,Simone de Beauvoir describes the literary, political, and personal situations in Paris that gave rise to her essay “Existentialism and Popular Wisdom,” which was first published in the third issue ofLes temps modernes,1945 . In 1948 , it became the title essay in a collection of previously published short pieces. The year 1945 was the occasion of an “existentialist offensive.”¹ Beauvoir’s novelThe Blood of Othersand Sartre’sThe Age of ReasonandThe Reprievewere published;Les temps moderneswas launched; Sartre lectured on existentialism as a...

    • Existentialism and Popular Wisdom
      (pp. 203-220)
      SABINE CRESPO and TRICIA WALL

      Few people understand this philosophy baptized somewhat randomly as existentialism, and many attack it. Among other things, it is criticized for offering man an image of himself and his condition such as to make him despair. Existentialism (justified or not, we will keep this name for simplicity’s sake) supposedly does not acknowledge man’s greatness and chooses to paint only his misery. It is even accused of “miserablism,” according to a recent neologism. It is, they say, a doctrine that denies friendship, fraternity, and all forms of love, enclosing the individual in an egoistic solitude. It cuts him off from the...

  12. 7. Jean-Paul Sartre [1945]

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 221-228)
      Karen Vintges

      In January 1946 Simone de Beauvoir published a commissioned article, entitled “Jean-Paul Sartre, Strictly Personal,” in the fashion magazineHarper’s Bazaar.¹ A study of the recently discovered original French typescript of the article, which is published here in translation, indicates that the published title and organization of the article were dictated by the editors, who also deleted fifty-five lines from the original article, resulting in an important shift in the focus of the article, which will be discussed below.

      Sartre had just come back to New York for the second time when Beauvoir’s influential piece came out. It was extensively...

    • Jean-Paul Sartre
      (pp. 229-236)

      One of the dominant ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre’s great philosophical bookL’être et le néant[Being and Nothingness] [1943] is that there are two ways of existing: in the world, one comes across inert things that remain indefinitely equal to what they are; and on the other hand, men who are consciousnesses and freedoms live in this world.¹ Many men envy the slumber of trees and rocks and strive to resemble them. They put their consciousness to sleep, and they make no use of their freedom. On the contrary, Sartre can be defined as a man who passionately refuses to...

  13. 8. An Eye for an Eye (1946)

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 237-244)
      Kristana Arp

      This essay was first published inLes temps modernesin February 1946 and then later in a collection of Beauvoir’s essays published by Les Éditions Nagel in 1948. The immediate inspiration for it was the trial and subsequent execution of Robert Brasillach by the French government after World War II. A graduate of the elite École normale supérieure, Brasillach was a well-known author and critic who served as the editor of the fascist newspaperJe suis partoutfrom 1935 to 1943. A lifelong anti-Semite, he published a column during the German occupation that revealed the pseudonyms and whereabouts of French...

    • An Eye for an Eye
      (pp. 245-260)

      “Our executioners have passed on very bad morals to us,” Gracchus Babeuf once wrote with regret.¹ Under the Nazi oppression, faced with traitors who have made us their accomplices, we saw poisonous sentiments bloom within our hearts of which we never before had any presentiment. Before the war we lived without wishing any of our fellow humans any harm. Words like vengeance and expiation had no meaning for us. We scorned our political or ideological opponents rather than detesting them. And as for individuals like assassins and thieves, whom society denounced as dangerous, they did not seem to be our...

  14. 9. Literature and Metaphysics (1946)

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 261-268)
      Margaret A. Simons

      On December 11, 1945, when Simone de Beauvoir presented a lecture titled “Roman et métaphysique” (The Novel and Metaphysics),¹ which she revised for publication in April 1946 as “Littérature et métaphysique” (Literature and Metaphysics), she was already well known in France as a “writer and existentialist philosopher.”²L’invitée(She Came to Stay),³ her critically acclaimed metaphysical novel on the problem of solipsism and the confrontation with the other had appeared in 1943, followed in 1944 by an essay in existentialist ethics,Pyrrhus et Cinéas(Pyrrhus and Cineas),⁴ and, in the fall of 1945, by a novel, Le sang des autres...

    • Literature and Metaphysics
      (pp. 269-278)
      TRICIA WALL

      When I was eighteen, I read a great deal; I would read only as one can read at that age, naïvely and passionately. To open a novel was truly to enter a world, a concrete, temporal world, peopled with singular characters and events. A philosophical treatise would carry me beyond the terrestrial appearances into the serenity of a timeless heaven. In either case I can still remember the vertiginous astonishment that would take hold of me the moment I closed the book. After having thought out the universe through the eyes of Spinoza or Kant,¹ I would wonder: “How can...

  15. 10. Introduction to an Ethics of Ambiguity (1946)

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 279-288)
      Gail Weiss

      “Introduction to an Ethics of Ambiguity” first appeared in print in 1946, a year before the publication of Simone de Beauvoir’s longer work,The Ethics of Ambiguity, in which it was incorporated as part of the first chapter. Although there are only a few lines in her introduction that do not appear in the subsequent volume, what is notable about this short piece is that it throws into relief several important themes that preoccupied Beauvoir throughout her life, including the relationship between transcendence and immanence, the difference between the “desire to disclose being” and the “desire to be,” and the...

    • Introduction to an Ethics of Ambiguity
      (pp. 289-298)
      REBECCA JEYES

      From the moment he is born, from the instant he is conceived, a man begins to die; the very movement of life is a steady progression toward the decomposition of the tomb. This ambivalence is at the heart of every individualized organism, but the animal and the plant do nothing but submit to it; man knows it. For him, this life that makes itself by unmaking itself is not just a natural process; it itself thinks itself [elle se pense elle-même]. A new paradox is thereby introduced into man’s destiny. As a “rational animal” and a “thinking reed,”¹ he frees...

  16. 11. An Existentialist Looks at Americans (1947)

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 299-306)
      Shannon M. Mussett

      In this article, Simone de Beauvoir’s view of America and its citizens is critical, penetrating, and unashamed. Many of her works express concern for the practices of America in its treatment of women, African Americans, and labor in the mid-twentieth century. This article, written during her four month tour of America in the winter and spring of 1947, highlights both her love for and aversion to the United States. Far from merely casting a supercilious eye on another country, Beauvoir encapsulates in this article the ambiguity of an individual, existentialist perspective on a nation full of both the majesty of...

    • An Existentialist Looks at Americans
      (pp. 307-316)
      REBECCA JEYES

      A philosophy is always arrogant, and has to be. This is because itsraison d’êtreis to lay claim to something excessive: possession of truth. Existentialism is no exception. It is a doctrine which aims—like the philosophies of antiquity—at disclosing the true measure of man and of his values.¹

      As it happens, I am an Existentialist. Naturally, I see this country from an Existentialist standpoint, and bring to bear, in trying to judge it, Existentialist criteria.

      Now, according to the philosophy I hold, the history of men is the work of men themselves, and concerns no one but...

  17. 12. What Is Existentialism? (1947)

    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 317-322)
      Nancy Bauer

      What is existentialism? For Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, this question, pressed upon her repeatedly by both admirers and detractors during her first extended trip to the United States, was decidedly narrow in scope. It had nothing to do with Heidegger or Nietzsche or Kierkegaard. Indeed, the question was rarely put to her in the spirit of serious philosophical inquiry. It meant, simply, “Why all the fuss about what’s coming out of Paris these days?”

      Ironically, both Beauvoir and Sartre had at first resisted identifying their way of doing philosophy as “existentialist.” The term had been coined in the early...

    • What Is Existentialism?
      (pp. 323-326)
      TRICIA WALL

      I don’t know how many times during my trip to America someone made this request, which was also familiar to me in France: “Can you explain what existentialism is?” And my interlocutor, undoubtedly curious about any novelty yet sparing with his time and effort, would add, “in a few words” or “in five minutes.” I disappointed many amiable people and made several journalists unhappy by refusing to comply. Some doubted my intellectual capacities; others were suspicious of a doctrine that could not be summarized in one sentence. However, at the risk of disappointing once again, I must say right away...

  18. Contributors
    (pp. 327-330)
  19. Index
    (pp. 331-352)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 353-354)