The Ethics of Ambiguity

by

Simone De Beauvoir

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For de Beauvoir, revolt is a unique form of action because it is one of the only ways to embrace freedom through negativity: rather than building freedom through the pursuit of certain positive goals, in revolt oppressed people pursue the freedom they have been denied, purely by rejecting the forces that deny it. Revolt is people’s struggle to claim a right to envision their own futures, instead of letting oppressors define their futures for them. This is far from the model of what free action usually entails, and revolt alone cannot lead people to genuinely free lives, which require that people fulfill their freedom by pursuing positive goals. Yet revolt also shows how concrete circumstances are the most important factors determining what course of action people must take for the sake of their freedom. Precisely because revolt is a solution of last resort, de Beauvoir also sees it as dangerous: people can become so attached to revolt and criticism that they are unable to pursue positive values and transcend their being once they have enough freedom to act without being oppressed. Lacking something to revolt against or criticize, they sometimes become nihilists or serious men.

Revolt Quotes in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The The Ethics of Ambiguity quotes below are all either spoken by Revolt or refer to Revolt. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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 3, Section 5 Quotes

Indeed, on the one hand, it would be absurd to oppose a liberating action with the pretext that it implies crime and tyranny; for without crime and tyranny there could be no liberation of man; one can not escape that dialectic which goes from freedom to freedom through dictatorship and oppression. But, on the other hand, he would be guilty of allowing the liberating movement to harden into a moment which is acceptable only if it passes into its opposite; tyranny and crime must be kept from triumphantly establishing themselves in the world; the conquest of freedom is their only justification, and the assertion of freedom against them must therefore be kept alive.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), The Tyrant
Page Number: 167-168
Explanation and Analysis:
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Revolt Term Timeline in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The timeline below shows where the term Revolt appears in The Ethics of Ambiguity. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Ambiguity and Freedom
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...and freedom naturally rejects all such constraints on it, whether by resolving them (like illness), revolting against them (like a prison or unjust social system), or committing suicide, when there is... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 2: Freedom and Liberation
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...to support the collectivity.” The only solution to oppression is to seize one’s freedom through revolt, substituting one’s own vision of a future for the oppressor’s. (full context)
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...she argues, Hegel failed to properly distinguish these and did not see that, in reality, “revolt is not integrated into the harmonious development of the world,” but rather develops the world... (full context)
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
The solution is, of course, to give the oppressed and enslaved a means to revolt and understand their condition. This is distinct from charity, which involves deciding what is best... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 3: The Antinomies of Action
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...(like when anti-fascists during the Second World War found themselves forced to hope that anticolonial revolts failed). Further, violence can require people to sacrifice “those who are fighting on our side,... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 5: Ambiguity
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...some in relation to their ends. It is easy to get so caught up in revolt’s purity that, without something to revolt against, people end up “seek[ing] refuge in the values... (full context)