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  • At the age of 21, Simone de Beauvoir became the youngest person

  • to take the philosophy exams at France’s most esteemed university.

  • She passed with flying colors.

  • But as soon as she mastered the rules of philosophy,

  • she wanted to break them.

  • She’d been schooled on Plato’s Theory of Forms,

  • which dismissed the physical world as a flawed reflection

  • of higher truths and unchanging ideals.

  • But for de Beauvoir, earthly life was enthralling, sensual,

  • and anything but static.

  • Her desire to explore the physical world to its fullest would shape her life,

  • and eventually, inspire a radical new philosophy.

  • Endlessly debating with her romantic and intellectual partner Jean Paul Sartre,

  • de Beauvoir explored free will, desire, rights and responsibilities,

  • and the value of personal experience.

  • In the years following WWII,

  • these ideas would converge into the school of thought

  • most closely associated with their work: existentialism.

  • Where Judeo-Christian traditions taught that

  • humans are born with preordained purpose,

  • de Beauvoir and Sartre proposed a revolutionary alternative.

  • They argued that humans are born free,

  • and thrown into existence without a divine plan.

  • As de Beauvoir acknowledged, this freedom is both a blessing and a burden.

  • In "The Ethics of Ambiguity" she argued that our greatest ethical imperative

  • is to create our own life’s meaning,

  • while protecting the freedom of others to do the same.

  • As de Beauvoir wrote,

  • “A freedom which is interested only in denying freedom must be denied.”

  • This philosophy challenged its students to navigate the ambiguities and conflicts

  • our desires produce, both internally and externally.

  • And as de Beauvoir sought to find her own purpose,

  • she began to question:

  • if everyone deserves to freely pursue meaning,

  • why was she restricted by society’s ideals of womanhood?

  • Despite her prolific writing, teaching and activism,

  • de Beauvoir struggled to be taken seriously by her male peers.

  • She’d rejected her Catholic upbringing and marital expectations

  • to study at university, and write memoirs, fiction and philosophy.

  • But the risks she was taking by embracing this lifestyle

  • were lost on many of her male counterparts,

  • who took these freedoms for granted.

  • They had no intellectual interest in de Beauvoir’s work,

  • which explored women’s inner lives,

  • as well the author’s open relationship and bisexuality.

  • To convey the importance of her perspective,

  • de Beauvoir embarked on her most challenging book yet.

  • Just as she’d created the foundations of existentialism,

  • she’d now redefine the limits of gender.

  • Published in 1949, "The Second Sex" argues that, like our life’s meaning,

  • gender is not predestined.

  • As de Beauvoir famously wrote,

  • one is not born, but rather becomes, woman.”

  • And tobecome” a woman, she argued, was to become the Other.

  • De Beauvoir defined Othering as the process of labeling women

  • as less than the men who’d historically defined, and been defined as,

  • the ideal human subjects.

  • As the Other, she argued that women were considered second to men,

  • and therefore systematically restricted from pursuing freedom.

  • "The Second Sex" became an essential feminist treatise,

  • offering a detailed history of women’s oppression

  • and a wealth of anecdotal testimony.

  • "The Second Sex"’s combination of personal experience

  • and philosophical intervention

  • provided a new language to discuss feminist theory.

  • Today, those conversations are still informed by de Beauvoir’s insistence

  • that in the pursuit of equality,

  • there is no divorce between philosophy and life.”

  • Of course, like any foundational work,

  • the ideas in "The Second Sex" have been expanded upon since its publication.

  • Many modern thinkers have explored additional ways people are Othered

  • that de Beauvoir doesn’t acknowledge.

  • These include racial and economic identities,

  • as well as the broader spectrum of gender and sexual identities we understand today.

  • De Beauvoir’s legacy is further complicated

  • by accusations of sexual misconduct by two of her university students.

  • In the face of these accusations,

  • she had her teaching license revoked for abusing her position.

  • In this aspect and others, de Beauvoir’s life remains controversial

  • and her work represents a contentious moment in the emergence of early feminism.

  • She participated in those conversations or the rest of her life;

  • writing fiction, philosophy, and memoirs until her death in 1986.

  • Today, her work offers a philosophical language

  • to be reimagined, revisited and rebelled against

  • a response this revolutionary thinker might have welcomed.

At the age of 21, Simone de Beauvoir became the youngest person

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The meaning of life according to Simone de Beauvoir - Iseult Gillespie

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    812653216 posted on 2020/03/14
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