The Ethics of Ambiguity

by

Simone De Beauvoir

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Hegel Character Analysis

A groundbreaking early 19th-century German philosopher who, through a notoriously complicated philosophical system, essentially argued that all binaries—such as those between the self and the other or the mind and the world—would eventually become integrated and develop towards a single, unified Absolute. He was the central influence on Marx’s philosophy of class struggle and social change. For de Beauvoir, Hegel’s system takes a unique stance on ambiguity precisely because he tries to unify binaries rather than giving primacy to one or the other (like philosophers who argue that only one’s intentions or the outcomes of one’s actions truly matter, that people should ignore the world’s restrictions on their will or absolutely succumb to them). However, she believes he still falsely tries to resolve ambiguity, when in reality it never can be resolved and individuals must instead learn to confront the tension between their will and the world, their selves and their desires, their competing desires for static being and dynamic existence. For de Beauvoir, Hegel’s system denies the importance of the here and now by claiming that individual lives are valuable only because they can incorporate themselves into some sort of totality in the future. In lieu of Hegel’s universal vision of ethics, de Beauvoir proposes that individuals’ lives are valuable because of their own projects, which they pursue constantly at every time, rather than merely because they can contribute to some future utopia.

Hegel Quotes in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The The Ethics of Ambiguity quotes below are all either spoken by Hegel or refer to Hegel. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Citadel edition of The Ethics of Ambiguity published in 1948.
Part 1 Quotes

My contemplation is an excruciation only because it is also a joy. I can not appropriate the snow field where I slide. It remains foreign, forbidden, but I take delight in this very effort toward an impossible possession. I experience it as a triumph, not as a defeat. This means that man, in his vain attempt to be God, makes himself exist as man, and if he is satisfied with this existence, he coincides exactly with himself. It is not granted him to exist without tending toward this being which he will never be. But it is possible for him to want this tension even with the failure which it involves.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), Sartre, Hegel
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

For existentialism, it is not impersonal universal man who is the source of values, but the plurality of concrete, particular men projecting themselves toward their ends on the basis of situations whose particularity is as radical and as irreducible as subjectivity itself. How could men, originally separated, get together?

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), Hegel, Kant
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Section 4 Quotes

Society exists only by means of the existence of particular individuals; likewise, human adventures stand out against the background of time, each finite to each, though they are all open to the infinity of the future and their individual forms thereby imply each other without destroying each other. A conception of this kind does not contradict that of a historical unintelligibility; for it is not true that the mind has to choose between the contingent absurdity of the discontinuous and the rationalistic necessity of the continuous; on the contrary, it is part of its function to make a multiplicity of coherent ensembles stand out against the unique background of the world and, inversely, to comprehend these ensembles in the perspective of an ideal unity of the world.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), Sartre, Hegel
Page Number: 131-132
Explanation and Analysis:
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Hegel Character Timeline in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The timeline below shows where the character Hegel appears in The Ethics of Ambiguity. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Ambiguity and Freedom
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
...enlightenment. Their ethical thought tries to turn people into “pure inwardness or pure externality,” although Hegel tried to supersede this binary. All of this only makes “the paradox of [the human]... (full context)
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
...unto themselves. Indeed, existentialism continues the tradition of major Western philosophers (like “Kant, Fichte, and Hegel”) as well as “all humanism” by arguing that moral laws and individual consciousness are inextricably... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 2: Freedom and Liberation
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...incorporates it (innovation, art), and one that rejects it (revolution). In his optimism, she argues, Hegel failed to properly distinguish these and did not see that, in reality, “revolt is not... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 3: The Antinomies of Action
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
This is “self-contesting,” however, which de Beauvoir explains with reference to Hegel’s philosophy. For Hegel, individuals subordinate themselves to an idea of the universal by recognizing their... (full context)
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Hegel even realizes that change and struggle are inevitable, which means his vision of the future... (full context)
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
Like “nihilistic pessimism,” the “rationalistic optimism” of thinking like Hegel’s ends up undermining itself. There is no point in sacrificing oneself to heal the world,... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 4: The Present and the Future
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
Even Hegel and Marx were skeptical of letting themselves conceive the future as static, and de Beauvoir... (full context)
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...scales and denying “the concrete thickness of the here and now,” one therefore “misses with Hegel the truth of the world.” (full context)
Conclusion
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...the universal, thus, of the infinite.” But in real life, such universal ethical systems (like Hegel’s) are useless. (full context)