The Ethics of Ambiguity


Simone De Beauvoir

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Themes and Colors
Existentialism and Ethics Theme Icon
Ambiguity, Being, and Existence Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Politics, Ethics, and Liberation Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Ethics of Ambiguity, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Existentialism and Ethics

In The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simone de Beauvoir attempts to do something that, in a lecture she delivered just before beginning to write the book, she claimed would be impossible: to create an ethical system based on the tenets of the existentialist school of philosophy that she developed along with her lifelong philosophical and romantic partner, Jean-Paul Sartre (whose major work, Being and Nothingness, opened but did not resolve the question of an…

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Ambiguity, Being, and Existence

Simone de Beauvoir chose the title The Ethics of Ambiguity because she sees ambiguity as a central structuring feature in people’s lives: people are at once subjects and objects, in control of their own lives and helpless against the world’s forces. People have absolute freedom over their own limited power, and no matter how much they strive, they will never be what they strive to be precisely because their power is limited. De Beauvoir explains…

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Because existentialists believe that individuals are, initially, nothing in particular—and therefore are in charge of freely defining and finding meaning in their own existences—freedom itself becomes their central value. For de Beauvoir, this freedom is not only the necessary starting point of any serious philosophy, but also the precise reason that existentialism must refrain from absolutely defining morality for people who are ultimately free to make their own decisions, as well as the…

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Politics, Ethics, and Liberation

Unlike many philosophers who see individual action and decision-making as separate issues to be judged by separate criteria, for de Beauvoir the political and the ethical are continuous: it is impossible to act ethically without taking into account the interests of other people, or to make political decisions that are not also ethical ones. Accordingly, de Beauvoir spends the last portion of her book exploring existentialism’s implications for politics, especially in terms of how…

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