A Woman and Her Philosophy

Philosophy is a way to ask why. Why this and why that. Why does it have to be this way? Why not? Not just why, though. To philosophize is to ask a question and then to seek the answer. To me that is seeking the truth. Seeking truth can be a grueling and time consuming task. One could spend his entire life or many lifetimes just trying to answer a few questions. If one looks at the past, however, one can maybe see what truths others have found in their lifetime. One such a person to look back on is Simone de Beauvior.

Simone de Beauvior was born January 9, 1908, in Paris and died on April 14, 1986. She was the first child of George Bertrand and Francoise de Beauvior. Their second child came two and a half years later when Helene was born. Both of the children where girls, and as a result, Simone was given much of the attention that a son would have been given. She liked this attention and the feeling of superiority.

Simone was a very intelligent person and for this reason she excelled in studying and had her own ideas of philosophy. Even though she was very intelligent, she loved her sister Helene, nicknamed Poupette, very much and loved playing with her. As she grew up, she read many books, but her mother was an extremely religious woman and believed that she must hide some things from her daughter. So she would read the book before Simone got to it and take out the parts she thought she needed to. Simone could not understand why she would do such a thing. She found that it was illogical and she did not like the illogical, so, when her parents where out for the night, she would go to the library and read all the books that her mother had deemed inappropriate for her.

Simone's father was a lawyer and made a good salary, but when his law practice suffered he had to take over his father's shoe making company. He was making less money now and told his daughters that they would never have the chance to marry since they would not have a dowry. This, he said, would force them to become career women. The thought of being a career woman delighted Simone and she said outright that she never wanted to marry because she detested the domestic role of women. After secondary school she decided to begin studying philosophy at the Sorbonne. She chose philosophy because she wanted to find a certainty in her life. Simone states this very clearly in this statement:

"The thing that attracted me about philosophy was that it went straight to essentials. I perceived the general significance of things rather than their singularities, and I preferred understanding to seeing; I had always wanted to know everything; philosophy would allow me to appease this desire, for it aimed at total reality; philosophy went right to the heart of truth and revealed to me, instead of an illusory whirlwind of facts or empirical laws, an order, a reason, a necessity in everything."(1)

This is exactly the same way I feel about philosophy. It goes straight to the essentials and shows us the fundamentals of reality. This is the reason I decided to study philosophy: to seek out knowledge and learn truths.

At the age of 21, Simone joined a group of students of philosophy that included Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre would become an important part of her life. He would be her love, lover, and companion of the mind, until his death in April of 1980. It was not until the meeting of Sartre that she felt, for the first time in her life, intellectually inferior to anyone. Their relationship was one that people would think unconventional -- both had many other lovers -- both never conceived children -- and both never even lived together except briefly during World War II.

Some people have wondered why she and Sartre didn't live together much during their lives. This can be clarified by a quote from her book The Second Sex: "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."(2)

Their relationship demonstrated how they had adopted an existential lifestyle. While together, they popularized this philosophy, and lived it as well.

Simone defined existentialism as a philosophy of ambiguity, one that had emphasis on the tension of living in the present and in acting in a manner where you were conscious of your morality. She believed that existentialism was an optimistic view on the human condition. People are naturally neither good nor bad, thus an individual is nothing in the beginning. It is up to each individual to make themselves good or bad. Whether they succeed in overpowering their upbringing depends on whether they really thought about what they had learned during their childhood and whether they indulge or deny their individuality from conformity.

The entire philosophy is based on the freedom of choice. The philosophy of Existentialism according to The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy follows the following themes: One, existence precedes essence. Forms do not determine existence to be what it is. Two, an individual has no essential nature, no self-identity other than that involved in the act of choosing. Three, truth is subjectivity. Fourth, abstractions can neither grasp nor communicate the reality of individual existence. Finally, fifth, but not the last theme, the universe does not provide moral rules. Moral principles are constructed by humans in the context of being responsible for their actions and for the actions of others. There are many other themes but I find these the most interesting.

I have found that Existentialism is, for the most part, true, a valid and present philosophy. However, there are many themes or basics to the philosophy that leave one still confused and rather muddled. It is clear at this point that although there are a few ideals in Simone's philosophy that one can use for his or her own set of ideals, but there are also many ideals that make the philosophy difficult to completely adopt. Even in the light of this, one should still look at the many different philosophies and pick out the good points. To do this, one has to look at all of the points, for if one just takes a look at what seems appealing they can miss something fairly important.

One of the valid points that someone may miss in this philosophy is the emphasis on the individual, the personal, and the importance of freedom and responsibility to continue to represent an essential ingredient of philosophical thinking. This is true, for as an individual, a person is in fact a single individual. A person has a boundary called skin, this makes them a separate mass of matter, and thus that separate mass of matter must take responsibility for its actions. Let us take a look at one of the themes that I think is not true. It is the statement that truth is subjectivity. This means that truth is only what a person thinks it is. Subjectivity is making an evaluation from how a subject affects the self, while objectivity is making an evaluation without being affected by feelings, emotions, and preconceived notions. This would mean, by the statement above, that by some notion I thought it was true that cats could talk, then cats would be able talk. A third theme to look at and analyze is the statement that existence precedes essence, that forms do not determine existence to be what it is. Again, this is a near improbability. In order for this to work, it would mean that when someone is born they essentially do not have an essence and therefore no consciousness; they somehow gain an essence through some supernatural means.

Now, looking back at this essay you may say that existentialism is a crappy philosophy and that this paper was a waste of my writing skills (which are nill to say the least) and a waste of your time reading. Or you could now be saying that existentialism is the best philosophy ever and how dare I say it has falsities. Well existentialism was not the main point of this essay. Though it may have taken up the bulk of this essay it was an example of looking at a philosophy and trying to pick out the main points and then examine them.

posted by dharh 2:31 PM Aug 3rd, 2007

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