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An Eye for an Eye (Kindle Single) [Kindle Edition]

Simone de Beauvoir , Lisa Lieberman , Lisa Lieberman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $1.99

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Book Description

Where does vengeance end and justice begin? The question is no easier to resolve today than when Simone de Beauvoir wrote this compelling essay in the aftermath of World War II.

The immediate occasion for “An Eye for an Eye” was the execution by firing squad of French collaborator Robert Brasillach, a prominent right-wing author who had edited a fascist newspaper during the Occupation. Beauvoir had been in the courtroom for Brasillach’s trial and admits that she was moved by the man’s dignity on the stand. Nevertheless she and Jean-Paul Sartre refused to sign the petition circulated by leading cultural figures of the day calling for his pardon.

In this essay, originally published in 1946, now translated from the French with an introduction by Lisa Lieberman. she explains why.


Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986), studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and taught for a number of years before leaving academic life to write. She became a leading French public intellectual, political activist, feminist theorist, and social theorist, her most influential book being The Second Sex, a classic study of what it means to be a woman. Beauvoir did not consider herself a philosopher, but her significant contributions to existentialism have solidified her legacy in that field. She also wrote novels, essays, biographies, an autobiography in several volumes, and monographs on philosophy, politics, and social issues.


Lisa Lieberman's writings on French postwar film and literature have appeared in a variety of media. She is the author of Leaving You: The Cultural Meaning of Suicide, which addresses the suicides of notable Holocaust survivors including Primo Levi, Bruno Bettelheim, and Jean Améry. Trained as a modern European cultural and intellectual historian, she studied at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University and has taught at Dickinson College. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1751 KB
  • Print Length: 33 pages
  • Publisher: Now and Then Reader (April 26, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007Z3REO0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #487,544 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
I've never understood the usefulness of revenge. This essay analyzes and puts into perspective my own confusions, but more importantly what our appropriate response to evil--both as an individual and as a society-- is and should be.

Although the essay refers directly to a specific trial after WWII in France, the reader cannot help but drag history along, weight by added weight, to consider the events of our recent history. Yes, the Hague tries war criminals. The ceremony of civilization gives us the illusion of addressing horrors after the fact. We read and see examples of genocide in every decade since WWII. We argue (really?) whether water boarding is torture. According to de Beauvoir any action by the powerful to demean and lose empathy for another human being is criminal behavior.

In pondering the reasons we might want to 'see justice done' Simone de Beauvoir (in a finely wrought, tight, readable translation by Lieberman) explores the human condition. When should we retaliate? When is there a danger of becoming the evil we are trying to punish? Are people judged in their sum total or their temporary madness? When are they the victims of their own pasts or circumstances? Can real justice happen only when the criminal truly understands what they did or do we humor ourselves when we believe justice has been served?

The essay contains arguments within arguments, and, like any worthy exploration of crime and punishment, the ability to see various points of view while maintaining a strong sense of why the author believes what she does. It is both provocative and clear. It is also a timely essay. Sad to say, if past is prologue, it will always be a timely essay.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye for an Eye compared to The Ethics of Ambiguity December 3, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Any one approaching de Beauvaoir's writing should take into consideration that her standing as a philosopher or ethicist is secondary to her work (and fame) as a feminist (The Second Sex,1949The Second Sex) and novelist (She Came to Stay,1943She Came to Stay; and The Mandarins,1954), essayist and short story writer. She wrote The Ethics of Ambiguity in 1947 as an introduction to Jean-Paul Sartre's existential philosophy, two years after Sartre (her life partner and intellectual mentor) had given his own simplification of his abstract thought (in his monumental Being and Nothingness,1943) in an impromptu lecture to a lay audience in a Parisean restaurant in 1945. That talk was entitled " Existentialism is a Humanism" in which he reiterated his conviction that man did not have a given human nature,but was absolutely free to make of himself whatever he wished. de Bearvoir's aim is to further explain his ideas: for example, yes,man is free --she explains--in an abstract sense, in a Cartesian subjectivity; however,man is limited in his freedom because he is also an object in the consciousness of others. She contrasts man's freedom and radical subjectivity with his limitations and objectivity ("thingness"). Her purpose is to clarify or modify Sartre's harshness toward others (He had made the statement that "Hell is other people.") with her own description of man's altruistic freedom that takes into account the freedom of others;and --her interpretation--that existential freedom is limited by the freedom of others and must conform to social mores and expectations. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dilemma May 3, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Simone de Beauvoir was a French existentialist philosopher, intellectual, political activist, feminist theorist and social theorist. She did not consider herself a philosopher but she made contributions to the philosophies of existentialism and feminist existentialism. In 1944 Beauvoir wrote her first philosophical essay, "Pyrrhus et Cinéas", a discussion of a existentialist ethics. She continued her exploration of existentialism through her second essay, "The Ethics of Ambiguity" in 1947, a very clear exposition of existentialism. In 1946 she wrote this relatively short, but very clear analysis, of her refusal to oppose the execution of Robert Brasillach, a pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic author and publisher who flourished during World War II.

An excellent short summary of de Beauvoir's essay written by Lisa Lieberman is included, which in many ways is quite repetitive of de Beauvoir's own essay. I fear my own review will suffer the same fate -- de Beauvoir is so clear in her analysis that it is difficult to write a short synopsis. I urge anyone interested in these issues to read Beauvoir for themselves.

Lieberman does provide an excellent, factual introduction to the history of retribution, both private and public, following France's liberation from Nazi and Vichy rule. Vigilante justice led to the death of 10,000 collaborators; official courts sentenced another 6,763 to death, although most of these sentences were commuted to life imprisonment and of those almost all were later changed to pardons under amnesties supported by de Gaulle. It was, of course, difficult to punish French leaders because so many of them had loyally served the Vichy government.
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