What kind of a Marxist was Jean-Paul Sartre?

In his introduction to the Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960) Sartre first claimed that his own existentialist philosophy was merely an addendum to Marxism as an historical process. But when he went on to explain what he meant, he said that the success of Marxist liberation for the oppressed would be necessary for the freedom he had described to be accessible to everyone. In other words, he saw the goal of Marxism as the realization of the very freedom he had described.

In one sense, this contradicted his description of freedom as a universal human condition. But in another sense, Sartre believed that the oppressed have the power, based on their individual freedom, to unite and cooperate for collective liberation. So, although he embraced Marxism, he did not embrace its premise of determinism that the individual's consciousness is the result of the political and economic factors forming his or her social class.

Who was Simone de Beauvoir?

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) is now most famous as the philosopher who began the "Second Wave" of feminism in the West. She began writing when she was eight years old and was a novelist and political writer who helped Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), her main lifelong companion, found Le Monde. De Beauvoir's major works include the novels She Came to Stay (1943), The Blood of Others (1945), and The Mandarins (1954), and her philosophical texts The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947), The Second Sex (1949), and Old Age (1970). She also wrote evocative autobiographical works, such as Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958). De Beauvoir ruthlessly described Sartre's great decline toward the end of his life in Adieu: A Farewell to Sartre (1981).

Beauvoir also quarreled fiercely with Arlette Elkaim, the young Jewish Algerian student who had contacted Sartre when she was 18. Sartre enjoyed discussing his philosophy with Elkaim, and he preferred to write in her apartment, instead of following his lifetime habit of writing in cafés. Then he adopted her and bought her a house in the south of France, which became their summer vacation home.

Beauvoir had an adopted daughter of her own, Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, with whom she had had an erotic relationship, although Sylvie later described it as "platonic." Sylvie wrote Téte-á-Téte (2005) about de Beauvoir and Sartre.

In 2005, Sylvie and Sartre's daughter were not on speaking terms. Each in her sixties, they continued to bitterly contest their respective rights to Sartre and de Beauvoir's literary properties. Since Sartre and de Beauvoir are inextricably linked through letters in which they discussed each other, the complexity of the dispute between their literary heiresses can only be imagined. By 2005, Sylvie was a retired philosophy teacher and Arlette was described as "extremely reclusive." Geographically, these women had lived close to each other in the same Parisian arrondisement, for some years.

Beauvoir had a high tolerance for alcohol all her life (she liked its "taste") but drank more heavily in her later years. She was also hooked on amphetamines. When she died in 1986, she was buried in Sartre's grave, thereby sealing their link for posterity.

What did Simone de Beauvoir mean by an ethics of ambiguity?

Beauvoir expressed a disappointment with politics after World War II, and she addressed the importance of mass action and relations between political party leaders and their followers and colleagues. She applied Jean-Paul Sartre's (1905-1980) existential philosophy to politics, criticizing "the spirit of seriousness" that characterized those who did not take responsibility for their political actions as free individuals. Although Sartre had never written on ethics, she thought that ethical positions and decisions would arise from compelling passions and circumstances. The best interpretation of Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947) is not that ethics is itself ambiguous but that ethics is somewhat arbitrary from an existentialist perspective.

Simone de Beauvoir is credited with beginning the Second Wave of feminism (AP).

Simone de Beauvoir is credited with beginning the Second Wave of feminism (AP).

How was Simone de Beauvoir influential as a feminist?

Writing at a time when women did not have a recognized voice in public life—they had only received the right to vote in 1944 in France—or opportunities to pursue professions, Beauvoir offered a comprehensive account and analysis of the position of women in Western society with a focus on their life stages. For women, unlike men, "biology is destiny," she said. She was not particularly sympathetic to the subordinate condition of women, generally, because she thought that they too easily accepted their secondary passive roles in comparison to the leading, active roles allowed and expected of men.

Beauvoir did not clearly indicate ways in which women could realize their human freedoms and transcend their object-like status, or immanence, as human beings who were not only objectified by men, but who seemed too content to objectify themselves. However, she began a trend in social and political activism, as well as intellectual life, which recognized and addressed the ways in which women were "the second sex."

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