The Ethics of Ambiguity

by

Simone De Beauvoir

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The Child Character Analysis

The first of various figures that de Beauvoir uses to illustrate people’s moral development and varying attitudes toward their freedom, the child sees the world of adult values as distant, inaccessible, and absolutely serious. Children trust adults’ assessments of good and evil, which they imagine to be real, definite things, rather than values created by people. At the same time, they also see themselves as removed from the serious world, instead able to inhabit the world of play, in which they can pursue whatever temporary ends they want without consequence in the process of exploring their freedom. This is much like a genuinely free life, except genuinely free people are also ethically responsible for their choices (unlike children, whose choices usually have no real consequences). Literal children are not the only ones who live like children ethically: many people, like oppressed people who believe themselves to be inferior rather than understanding their predicament, also gain the moral security of childhood, in which they are responsible for nothing because they are cut off from the “serious” world.

The Child Quotes in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The The Ethics of Ambiguity quotes below are all either spoken by The Child or refer to The Child. 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 2 Quotes

Every man casts himself into the world by making himself a lack of being; he thereby contributes to reinvesting it with human signification. He discloses it. And in this movement even the most outcast sometimes feel the joy of existing. They then manifest existence as a happiness and the world as a source of joy. But it is up to each one to make himself a lack of more or less various, profound, and rich aspects of being.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), The Child
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Child Character Timeline in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The timeline below shows where the character The Child appears in The Ethics of Ambiguity. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2: Personal Freedom and Others
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
To children, the world is established, and human creations appear unchangeable, “as inevitable as the sky and... (full context)
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Many people live their whole lives like children, such as slaves and women who do not understand their oppression, and so respect and... (full context)
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...into “a more and more rigorous circle.” Ultimately, people grow up to be nostalgic for childhood, when they did not understand their freedom. (full context)
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...completely free, they are also dependent on what one has been in the past. And children have no awareness that their actions will eventually have consequences by contributing to future moral... (full context)
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
In the move from childhood’s “contingent spontaneity” to adulthood’s moral freedom, people make themselves “a lack of being.” They take... (full context)
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...make him valuable. He invests himself in being, continuing to live as people do in childhood. It does not matter what values he chooses to cling to, only that he can... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 5: Ambiguity
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...freedom from suffering imposed by France. The “enlightened elites” accuse colonial subjects of being like children, but de Beauvoir points out that childhood is in fact a stage of growth, “the... (full context)