The Ethics of Ambiguity

by

Simone De Beauvoir

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When they reach adolescence and learn that the serious values of the adult world are actually flimsy and subjective, some people take this realization in stride and begin to form their own value system, while others turn into nihilists who believe that, because nothing in particular is absolutely valuable for everyone, nothing matters at all. Giving up on existence, they try to destroy it by creating “disorder and anarchy” or even committing suicide.

The Nihilist Quotes in The Ethics of Ambiguity

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

The fundamental fault of the nihilist is that, challenging all given values, he does not find, beyond their ruin, the importance of that universal, absolute end which freedom itself is.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), The Nihilist
Related Symbols: Suicide
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Nihilist Character Timeline in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The timeline below shows where the character The Nihilist 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
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...“wills himself to be a god” despite knowing that he cannot be, often turning into a nihilist when forced to confront the limits of his power and the arbitrariness of his goals. (full context)
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...older people who fail to become the being they wanted to be. Unlike the sub-man, nihilists initially embrace their existence before giving up on it. Some are demoniacal men, who maintain... (full context)
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
Some nihilists commit suicide, and others give up and turn to different attitudes, which de Beauvoir illustrates... (full context)
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...nihilist, de Beauvoir insists, is correct to see “the ambiguity of the human condition.” But nihilism does not see that people are responsible for defining themselves and building their own lives;... (full context)
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...about conquest and “action for its own sake” than actually achieving any particular end. Like the nihilist , he scorns the serious world, yet he sees nothingness and ambiguity as a positive... (full context)
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
But the characteristic adventurer simply ignores his impact on other people, who (like the nihilist ) he sees as instruments for his own power. To get power, he ends up... (full context)
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...a separate creative or critical world cut off from people. While seriousness often turns to nihilism, critical thought inevitably turns from the negative rejection of other thought to the positive elevation... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 3: The Antinomies of Action
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
Like “nihilistic pessimism,” the “rationalistic optimism” of thinking like Hegel’s ends up undermining itself. There is no... (full context)