Pour Une Morale de l'Ambiguite

Pour Une Morale de l'Ambiguite, by S. de Beauvoir (Paris: Gallimard, 1947), translated as The Ethics of Ambiguity by B. Frechtmann (New York: Philosophical Library, 1948)

p. 12/24-27
[Or they denied life, considering it like a veil of illusion under which is hidden the truth of Nirvāna.] : Mahāyāna.


p. 16/13-22
[Hegel tells us in the last part of the phenomenology of the mind that moral consciousness may persist only insofar as there is disagreement between nature and morality. It would disappear if the law of morality became the law of nature. Thus, by a paradoxical 'shifting', if moral action is the absolute aim, the absolute aim is also that moral action be not present.] last sentence noted: Correct.


p. 17/17-20
[His passion is not inflicted on him from the outside. He chooses it. It is its very being and as such no longer implies the idea of unhappiness.] : 'The being of human reality is suffering.... Human reality therefore is by nature an unhappy consciousness with no possibility of surpassing its unhappy state.' L'Être et le Néant, p. 134. Can't you read, my good woman?


p. 18/11-17
[And in fact, Sartre tells us that man makes himself lack being in order that there is being; the term 'in order to' clearly indicates intentionality....] : If there is malheur (p. 17) how can there be intentionality?


p. 22/24-26
[Declaring from outside that existence is unjustified is not to condemn it.] : If not, then why try to justify it? The point is that the word 'unjustified' would never be used at all if my existence were not essentially suffering. But Simone de Beauvoir denies this (on p. 17) in direct contradiction to Sartre. Sartre is right (though for the wrong reason), and S. de B., in rejecting this, is wrong for the right reason. But if she rejects it, this book is pointless.


p. 24/14-16
[So in the earthly field a life which does not try to found itself will be mere contingency.] : It will be in any case. See p. 34.


p. 34/15- 35/-15
[But also, man wants to be an unveiling of being; and, if he coincides with this will, he wins because the fact is that with his presence to the world the world becomes present. But the unveiling implicates a constant tension to maintain being at a distance. To tear oneself away from the world and affirm oneself as liberty: to want the unveiling of the world, to want to be free; these are one and the same movement. Liberty is the source from which spring all significations and all values. It is the original condition of all existential justifications. The man who seeks to justify his life must want before all and absolutely the realization of liberty itself; at the same time as it requires concrete ends and singular projects it requires itself universally. It is not a wholly constituted value which would offer itself from the outside to my abstract adhesion, but it appears (not on the level of facticity but on the moral plane) as cause of self. It is necessarily called by the values that it poses as and through it reposes. It cannot found a refusal of itself because by refusing itself it would refuse the possibility of any foundation. To want to be moral, to want to be free, is one and the same decision.] : This is no more than making the best of a bad job. It cannot justify my existence, which is contingent (p. 22), unless it abolishes the contingency either by making my existence necessary or by bringing it to an end; and it does neither.


p. 41/9-10
[However, there are few virtues that are sadder than resignation.] : This is simply prejudice, not a philosophical objection. If I have a taste for resignation there is nothing more to be said—except that it becomes my duty to wish it for everybody.


p. 43/27- 44/ -9
[However, such a salvation is only possible if, in spite of obstacles and failures, a man retains the disposition of his future, if the situation still opens possibilities to him. If his transcendence is cut off from his aims, if he does not have any more hold of the objects which could give him a content of value, his spontaneity disperses without founding anything. It is then forbidden for him to positively justify his existence, and he feels the contingency of this with a desolate disgust.] : Can one not live authentically in prison? This arbitrary assumption is necessary in order to justify the doctrine of (political) action that follows.


p. 44/26-29
[Freedom can only be willed as indefinite movement; it must absolutely refuse the limits which stop its movement towards itself.] : What exactly does this mean? It seems that the freedom that I have (or am) is not, after all, the freedom that I have to will (p. 35 seq.): the former is absolute and totally unaffected by any constraint, whereas the latter can be opposed and frustrated. The passage from the one to the other is carried out by abusing the former as 'abstract' and praising the latter as 'concrete' (p. 37). But the former freedom is concrete in that I am always found with a concrete choice, and willing this consists in recognizing at every moment that I am totally responsible for whatever I choose, that my choice is perpetually revocable. But this is not enough for S. de B., who carries a gun. She interprets her freedom to choose as freedom to choose freely, i.e. without outside inference, and then wills this instead. At once it becomes a duty to fight opposition to our projects and, by extension, to everybody else's projects as well. This is tub-thumping, not philosophy.


p. 115/14-18
[Even his death is not a bad thing, since he is a man only as a mortal: he must assume it as the natural end of his life, like the implicated risk for all living processes.] : To say that death is simply a risk is just mauvaise foi.


p. 120/29- 121/-9
[What has to be done is to furnish to the ignorant slave the possibility to transcend his situation through revolt, and to dispel his ignorance. We know that the problem of the socialists in the XIXth century has been precisely to develop class-consciousness in the proletariat. One sees in the life of Flora Tristan, for example, how such work was unappreciated. What she wanted for the workers she had first to want without them.] : Oui, en effet il est peu de vertu plus triste que le socialisme. (Yes indeed, there are few virtues that are sadder than socialism.)


p. 121/26-27
[for every abstention is complicity] u/l: What are the dialectics of this assertion? Are not the grapes sour because S. de B. ne sait demeurer en repos dana une chambre (cannot stay quietly in a room)?


p. 190/2-5
[If we don't love life for ourselves and through others, it is futile to try to justify it in any way.] : This seems to imply that one cannot live authentically unless one is fond of life. S. de Beauvoir seems herself to be just a little sérieuse. If life is to be justified at all (which can only be done by abolishing its contingency) the first step, certainly, is to become authentic; but the second step is to refuse what is thus revealed, not to accept it.


p. 196/12-14
['Franchise for women is very well in principle; but if you give franchise to women, they will vote red.'] : This delicious bit of candour has got Miss Pankhurst de Beauvoir hopping mad.


p. 221/3-11
[It is possible that a man refuses to love anything on earth. He will test this refusal and he will demostrate it by committing suicide. If he lives it is because, whatever he says, there remains in him some attachement to existence. His life will be shaped according to this attachement. It will justify itself in so far as it will authentically justify the world.] : Much too simple! One does not have to be in love with Life to pause before embracing Death.


p. 223/
 : This book has too much rhetoric and too little philosophy.