The Ethics of Ambiguity

by

Simone De Beauvoir

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A famous 20th century French philosopher and Simone de Beauvoir’s lifelong partner, both intellectually and romantically. In his landmark treatise Being and Nothingness, he developed the basic philosophical framework upon which de Beauvoir builds in The Ethics of Ambiguity. In short, he argues that people are fundamentally free and have no inherent nature apart from what they make of themselves, arguments which form the basis of de Beauvoir’s argument that humans ought to act on the basis of and for the sake of their own freedom, and are completely ethically responsible for their actions.

Sartre Quotes in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The The Ethics of Ambiguity quotes below are all either spoken by Sartre or refer to Sartre. 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

Man, Sartre tells us, is “a being who makes himself a lack of being in order that there might be being.”

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), Sartre (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

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:
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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Sartre Character Timeline in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The timeline below shows where the character Sartre 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
...which gets attacked for giving people no principles on the basis of which to live. Sartre in particular declares that people inevitably try and fail to synthesize their will with the... (full context)
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
In his words, Sartre sees man as “a being who makes himself a lack of being in order that... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 4: The Present and the Future
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
Like the universe, history should not be seen as a “rational totality” but as, in Sartre’s words, a “detotalized totalit[y].” This means it should be taken as a distinct and separable... (full context)