The Ethics of Ambiguity

by

Simone De Beauvoir

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The Sub-Man Character Analysis

For de Beauvoir, the ethically worst kind of person is the “sub-man.” “Sub-men” spend their energies trying to reject their own freedom and hide from the world, often because they fear the consequences and responsibility that come with action. The sub-man strives to be an inanimate object, to have no impact on the world, but the sub-man can also easily turn into a serious man or nihilist.

The Sub-Man Quotes in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The The Ethics of Ambiguity quotes below are all either spoken by The Sub-Man or refer to The Sub-Man. 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

Ethics is the triumph of freedom over facticity, and the sub-man feels only the facticity of his existence. Instead of aggrandizing the reign of the human, he opposes his inert resistance to the projects of other men. No project has meaning in the world disclosed by such an existence. Man is defined as a wild flight. The world about him is bare and incoherent. Nothing ever happens; nothing merits desire or effort. The sub-man makes his way across a world deprived of meaning toward a death which merely confirms his long negation of himself. The only thing revealed in this experience is the absurd facticity of an existence which remains forever unjustified if it has not known how to justify itself.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), The Sub-Man
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Sub-Man Character Timeline in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The timeline below shows where the character The Sub-Man 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
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...come with their freedom, and the passion that is central to human life. Such a “sub-man” sees the world as “insignificant and dull,” unable to provoke feeling. He never truly pursues... (full context)
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
All that the sub-man’s existence discloses is the fundamental nothingness of humanity, never humans’ ability to justify their existence.... (full context)
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...serious values, he denies others’ serious values, or else turns into an indifferent and insensitive sub-man as soon as his values are no longer in question, becoming a “has-been” who cannot... (full context)
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...or 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... (full context)