The Ethics of Ambiguity

by

Simone De Beauvoir

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Transcendence Term Analysis

The opposite of facticity: the capacity to become something other than what one already is, as well as the process of doing so. For de Beauvoir, people are constantly transcending themselves, growing into something new by pursuing their goals. However, people must also avoid the dangerous tendency to “lose [themselves] in” their transcendence by focusing so much on what they want to be that they forget what they actually are—and the fact that no one can ever be exactly what they imagine they will be in the future.

Transcendence Quotes in The Ethics of Ambiguity

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

Man, Sartre tells us, is “a being who makes himself a lack of being in order that there might be being.”

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), Sartre (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

My contemplation is an excruciation only because it is also a joy. I can not appropriate the snow field where I slide. It remains foreign, forbidden, but I take delight in this very effort toward an impossible possession. I experience it as a triumph, not as a defeat. This means that man, in his vain attempt to be God, makes himself exist as man, and if he is satisfied with this existence, he coincides exactly with himself. It is not granted him to exist without tending toward this being which he will never be. But it is possible for him to want this tension even with the failure which it involves.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), Sartre, Hegel
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

The characteristic feature of all ethics is to consider human life as a game that can be won or lost and to teach man the means of winning. Now, we have seen that the original scheme of man is ambiguous: he wants to be, and to the extent that he coincides with this wish, he fails. All the plans in which this will to be is actualized are condemned; and the ends circumscribed by these plans remain mirages. Human transcendence is vainly engulfed in those miscarried attempts. But man also wills himself to be a disclosure of being, and if he coincides with this wish, he wins, for the fact is that the world becomes present by his presence in it. But the disclosure implies a perpetual tension to keep being at a certain distance, to tear oneself from the world, and to assert oneself as a freedom. To wish for the disclosure of the world and to assert oneself as freedom are one and the same movement. Freedom is the source from which all significations and all values spring. It is the original condition of all justification of existence.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker)
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

The goal toward which I surpass myself must appear to me as a point of departure toward a new act of surpassing. Thus, a creative freedom develops happily without ever congealing into unjustified facticity. The creator leans upon anterior creations in order to create the possibility of new creations. His present project embraces the past and places confidence in the freedom to come, a confidence which is never disappointed. It discloses being at the end of a further disclosure. At each moment freedom is confirmed through all creation.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker)
Page Number: 27-28
Explanation and Analysis:

Not only do we assert that the existentialist doctrine permits the elaboration of an ethics, but it even appears to us as the only philosophy in which an ethics has its place. For, in a metaphysics of transcendence, in the classical sense of the term, evil is reduced to error; and in humanistic philosophies it is impossible to account for it, man being defined as complete in a complete world. Existentialism alone gives—like religions—a real role to evil, and it is this, perhaps, which make its judgments so gloomy.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker)
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:
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:

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:

It is obvious that this choice is very close to a genuinely moral attitude. The adventurer does not propose to be; he deliberately makes himself a lack of being; he aims expressly at existence; though engaged in his undertaking, he is at the same time detached from the goal. Whether he succeeds or fails, he goes right ahead throwing himself into a new enterprise to which he will give himself with the same indifferent ardor. It is not from things that he expects the justification of his choices. Considering such behavior at the moment of its subjectivity, we see that it conforms to the requirements of ethics, and if existentialism were solipsistic, as is generally claimed, it would have to regard the adventurer as its perfect hero.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker), The Adventurer
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

If I were really everything there would be nothing beside me; the world would be empty. There would be nothing to possess, and I myself would be nothing.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker)
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

This truth is found in another form when we say that freedom can not will itself without aiming at an open future. The ends which it gives itself must be unable to be transcended by any reflection, but only the freedom of other men can extend them beyond our life.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker)
Page Number: 76-7
Explanation and Analysis:
Conclusion Quotes

Regardless of the staggering dimensions of the world about us, the density of our ignorance, the risks of catastrophes to come, and our individual weakness within the immense collectivity, the fact remains that we are absolutely free today if we choose to will our existence in its finiteness, a finiteness which is open on the infinite.

Related Characters: Simone de Beauvoir (speaker)
Page Number: 172-173
Explanation and Analysis:
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Transcendence Term Timeline in The Ethics of Ambiguity

The timeline below shows where the term Transcendence appears in The Ethics of Ambiguity. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Ambiguity and Freedom
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
...denying that one transcends oneself, one must “refuse to lose [one]self in” that tendency to transcendence, or continue to recognize the gap between one’s being and one’s projection of oneself. The... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 2: Freedom and Liberation
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...their freedom, in the present many “can justify their life only by a negative action,” transcending themselves but not moving themselves closer to their goals. This is because they are oppressed,... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 3: The Antinomies of Action
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...hope in such circumstances—a child’s smile, for instance, shows that “the living affirmation of human transcendence” can persist despite tyrants’ attempts to reduce people to mere facticity. In losing their “zest... (full context)
Part 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Section 4: The Present and the Future
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...conceived in scientific and political rather than religious terms, it fused the existential impulse to transcendence with the hope for an absolute, final being. This appears as a unified and/or socialist... (full context)
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
...which thrusts him toward the future,” so no static future can be possible. And people’s transcendences—the goals for which they strive in the present—are concrete and competing; each person conceives their... (full context)