The Ethics of Ambiguity

by

Simone De Beauvoir

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Subjectivity Term Analysis

A term with two related but distinct uses. First, subjectivity is the state of having an individual, particular perspective on the world and acting from that perspective. For de Beauvoir, this is characteristic of all human life and one of the reasons people are fundamentally free. Secondly, subjectivity is used to contrast with objectivity: something that is subjective varies depending on the observer, whereas something that is objective should be the same regardless of the observer. For de Beauvoir, morality is subjective in the first sense—it relies on people’s individual perspective and role in the world. While existentialists are often accused of making morality subjective in the second sense—the implication of their philosophy allegedly being that there is no “true” morality because people could choose their own version—de Beauvoir responds by arguing that freedom is an objective fact (as is subjectivity in the first sense), on the basis of which existentialists can develop an ethical system.

Subjectivity Quotes in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The The Ethics of Ambiguity quotes below are all either spoken by Subjectivity or refer to Subjectivity. 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 1 Quotes

“The continuous work of our life,” says Montaigne, “is to build death.” He quotes the Latin poets: Prima, quae vitam dedit, hora corpsit. And again: Nascentes morimur. Man knows and thinks this tragic ambivalence which the animal and the plant merely undergo.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker)
Page Number: 5-6
Explanation and Analysis:

For existentialism, it is not impersonal universal man who is the source of values, but the plurality of concrete, particular men projecting themselves toward their ends on the basis of situations whose particularity is as radical and as irreducible as subjectivity itself. How could men, originally separated, get together?

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), Hegel, Kant
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

We think that the meaning of the situation does not impose itself on the consciousness of a passive subject, that it surges up only by the disclosure which a free subject effects in his project.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), Marx
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
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:

The thing that matters to the serious man is not so much the nature of the object which he prefers to himself, but rather the fact of being able to lose himself in it. it. So much so, that the movement toward the object is, in fact, through his arbitrary act the most radical assertion of subjectivity: to believe for belief’s sake, to will for will’s sake is, detaching transcendence from its end, to realize one’s freedom in its empty and absurd form of freedom of indifference.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), The Serious Man
Page Number: 50-51
Explanation and Analysis:
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Subjectivity Term Timeline in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The timeline below shows where the term Subjectivity 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
Many people accuse existentialism of making morality meaningless and subjective—but it is a universal, objective truth that everyone is a subject unto themselves. Indeed, existentialism... (full context)
Freedom Theme Icon
Having looked at freedom’s “subjective and formal aspect,” de Beauvoir now wonders whether there is any way to “will oneself... (full context)
Part 2: Personal Freedom and Others
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...usually, people begin to question the world as they grow up, learning about their own subjectivity and the faults of adults. In adolescence, they realize that they are joining this adult... (full context)
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
The opposite of the adventurer is the passionate man. The adventurer achieves subjective freedom, but without directing himself to the right content, while the passionate man has the... (full context)
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...universal truth, even though no critic can ever find such objective truth removed from their subjective experience and position in the world. While for the most part “the artist and the... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 3: The Antinomies of Action
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...kind of subject the ultimate goal of all this sacrifice—“the absolute mind”—will be, precisely because subjectivity implies separation from an object (and so cannot be absolute, and indeed suggests that those... (full context)
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...their dissent still shows “that there is a place in this world for error and subjectivity.” So the regime must violently repress thought in order to ensure that the people it... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 4: The Present and the Future
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
Even Marxists accept that “it is subjectively possible for them to be mistaken.” Yet, because they believe they are working in the... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 5: Ambiguity
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
...ambiguity, man’s attempt “to save his existence.” While this always fails, failure is relative and subjective; it is actually the means through which art and science can succeed, which provides an... (full context)