Simone de Beauvoir is a female philosopher of the 20th century, who made great contribution to the development of philosophy in aspects such as existentialism, feminism, political activism, and social theories. As a prominent French writer, Simone de Beauvoir wrote a series of literary works during her lifetime of 78 years (born 9 January 1908 and died 14 April 1986).
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Although mainstream philosophers did not recognize her literary works during her prime years of life, but they started recognizing her unique contributions to the field of modern philosophy after her death through her outstanding literature. Literary works such as She Came to Stay (1943), Pyrrhus and Cineas (1944), The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947), The Second Sex (1949), Must We Burn Sade (1955), The Mandarins (1954), The Woman Destroyed (1967), The Coming of Age (1970), and When Things of the Spirit Come First (1979) give her recognition as a philosopher (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy par. 2).
Analysis of her work has led to her recognition as a prominent philosopher of the 20th century. Therefore, to describe Simone de Beauvoir as an existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist, the research paper analyzes her literary works.
As an existentialist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir examines the existence of humanity in a bid to highlight the essence of life. While great philosophers like Socrates, Descartes, and Nietzsche elucidate the philosophical underpinnings of life, Simone de Beauvoir also provides her philosophical views.
In her second work, Pyrrhus and Cineas (1944), Simone de Beauvoir plunges into the realm of existentialism as she questions the nature of freedom that humans need to live as free beings with innate existence. According to O’Brien and Embree, the existential philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir holds that values, which form the basis of ethics, emanate from human freedom (184).
In essence, the nature of freedom that humans enjoy is dependent on existential freedom. Furthermore, Simone de Beauvoir holds that values are human constructs, which are subject to time and prevailing freedom (O’Brien and Embree 185). In this view, Simone de Beauvoir implies that humans determine their own ethics as they construct values and subscribe to these values.
Given that freedom relates to human ethics, Simone de Beauvoir describes the relationship. In her great works about ethics, The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947), Simone de Beauvoir asserts that human is an entity that oscillates between transcendence and facticity, and thus, ambiguous in existence.
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The ambiguity of humans originates from the fact that humans strive to transcend their existence, however, daily challenges limit their transcendence and make them realize their weaknesses. Essentially, for humans to resolve their ambiguity, they must achieve the internal freedom that is greater than the external freedom that the world bestows.
Simone de Beauvoir states that freedom does not make humans to perform any actions as they please, but it offers them autonomy to choose projects and achieve their goals (O’Brien and Embree 192). Thus, from the perspective of existentialism, Simone de Beauvoir holds that human ethics is ambiguous because it is subject to opposing forces of internal freedom and external freedom.
The literary works of Simone de Beauvoir depict her as a political activist for she examines pertinent issues of politics that people were grappling with during her lifetime. In Pyrrhus and Cineas (1944), Simone de Beauvoir advocates for ethical political projects, which focus on the interests of the general population rather than individuals. Simone de Beauvoir asserts that humans can achieve justice if they work for political and material ends, which promote security, health, leisure, and freedom (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy par. 13).
In this view, the nature of projects that humans select determines the state of political and material equality. When humans select appropriate projects that bring about political and material equality, they attain justice. However, when humans fail to choose appropriate projects, leaders tend to coerce them for they are subjects. Therefore, injustice occurs because of irresponsibility on the part of subjects and coercion on the part of leaders.
As a political activist, Simone de Beauvoir observes the oppression that women undergo, and thus, advocates for their political liberation. In The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir associates the enslavement of women to the domination of men in politics. Simons argues that the liberation of women, which Simone de Beauvoir supports, centers on their involvement in productive labor that gives them the opportunity to influence their political course (288).
The dominance of male in political circles has relegated women to play inferior roles in governments. Simone de Beauvoir reiterates her role as a political activist in Must We Burn Sade (1955), as he notes that patriarchal political machinery contributes to the politics of rebellion and unethical acts. Simons argues that Simon de Beauvoir identifies political justice as a way of promoting human dignity and freedom (99). Hence, political liberation promotes gender equality and justice among people.
Basing on her literary works, Simone de Beauvoir is one of the great feminists of the 20th century. The Second Sex (1949) effectively captures feministic arguments of Simone de Beauvoir. Since gender discrimination dominated the early and the mid part of the 20th century, Simone de Beauvoir joined other feminists in advocating for the rights of women.
In The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir argues that men advance sexual difference as an ideology of discriminating against women by treating them as other people in various facets of life (Bauer 12). Moreover, men have continually struggled to eliminate the aspect of gender difference by representing humans in a masculine manner. In this view, Simone de Beauvoir condemns how men construct femininity and depicts women as inferior beings.
As other feminists assert that men and women are equal despite their gender difference, Simone de Beauvoir holds that the apparent difference and equality that exist should not form the basis of discriminating against women. Essentially, Simone de Beauvoir asserts that recognition of gender difference and gender equality has led to discrimination of women in the society.
Simone de Beauvoir argues that patriarchal dominance has made women inferior humans, who have no power to exercise their rights as men do. Bauer states that masculine construction of gender has elevated men and degraded women in a society with patriarchal structure (42). Evidently, Simone de Beauvoir is a prominent feminist of the 20th century because of her insights in The Second Sex (1949).
Literary works depicts Simone de Beauvoir as a social theorist because she uses a fictional story in describing the relationships between Sartre and her. The fictional story, She Came to Stay (1943), depicts the nature of social relationship that exists between Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre and highlights issues that affect relationships.
Sollars and Jennings argue that Simone de Beauvoir was a social theorist because she perfectly applies sociological theories in elucidating behaviors of her colleagues (66). The fictional story describes her relationship with Sartre in a family set up, although she did not get married to him. Hence, her ability to describe a situation using behavioral and social theories makes Simone de Beauvoir a social theorist.
In examining forms of discrimination that exist in the society, Simone de Beauvoir describes the occurrence of gender discrimination. In The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir holds that discrimination against women occurs because social constructs depict women as other beings (Sollars and Jennings 68).
The discrimination of the adults as other beings is evident in The Coming of Age (1970). In advocating for the equality in the society, Simone de Beauvoir asserts that no one should use gender and ages in discriminating against others and preventing them from pursuing and achieving their projects (Sollars and Jennings 72). Thus, Simone de Beauvoir applies social theories in elucidating how discrimination emanates from social constructs.
Simone de Beauvoir was a female philosopher of the 21st century, who examined contemporary issues such as existentialism, feminism, political activism, and social behaviors. Although other philosophers did not recognize as a philosopher, analysis of her literary works indicates that she actually made marked contributions to philosophy.
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She Came to Stay (1943), Pyrrhus and Cineas (1944), The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947), The Second Sex (1949), Must We Burn Sade (1955), and The Coming of Age (1970) are some of her literary works that contributed to the development of philosophy in the 21st century. Therefore, the research paper affirms that Simone de Beauvoir is an existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist, as depicted by the analysis of her literary works.
Bauer, Nancy. Simone de Beauvoir, philosophy, and feminism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. Print.
O’Brien, Wendy, and Lester Embree. The Existential phenomenology of Simone de Beauvoir. New York: Springer Science & Business Media, 2001. Print.
Simons, Margaret. The philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir: Critical Essays. Bloomington: Indiana University, 2006. Print.
Sollars, Michael, and Arbolina Jennings. The Facts on File Companion to the World Novel: 1900 to the Present. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008. Print.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2014). Simone de Beauvoir. 2014.