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173 of 180 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Teaching Text for Existentialism
This is an excellent and original work of philosophy, closely related to the contemporary ideas of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, but quite unique and not reducible to their work. I find it to be one of the best books (indeed one of the few books) to use to teach existentialism in introductory classes. I recommend skipping the first chapter, because it is self-consciously...
Published on December 27, 2003 by John Russon

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not well versed enough in her philosophy. . .
I was not educated enough in the appropriate disciplines to really understand the premise(s) of this author. Also, the Kindle rendition left a lot to be desired; don't know if the disconnect was with the translation (French to English) or with the conversion to an e-book. Nevertheless, the ideas I did understand allow me to recommend this volume to someone (who had not...
Published 8 months ago by DoubleM


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173 of 180 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Teaching Text for Existentialism, December 27, 2003
By 
John Russon (Toronto ON Canada) - See all my reviews
This is an excellent and original work of philosophy, closely related to the contemporary ideas of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, but quite unique and not reducible to their work. I find it to be one of the best books (indeed one of the few books) to use to teach existentialism in introductory classes. I recommend skipping the first chapter, because it is self-consciously "literary," (in an obscure way), and contributes nothing essential to the book. Chapter 2 is the core of the book, and it is an incredible and compelling piece of writing that brilliantly discusses the distinctive nature of childhood experience, and then develops a dialectic of "bad faith" that offers a sort of system for understanding personality types--ways, that is, of embracing (imperfectly) our freedom. The third chapter studies politics in a very thoughtful way, (though I find it is often lost on my intro students because they just don't have enough experience of political realities to appreciate the significance of what she is saying). This text is often wrongly belittled by commentators (and, indeed, de Beauvoir herself wrongly said disparaging things about it), but I think it is one of the classic texts of existential phenomenology and deserves to be widely read.
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67 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the Realm of Existentialism, November 12, 2006
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"There is no more obnoxious way to punish a man than to force him to perform acts which make no sense to him, as when one empties and fills the same ditch indefinitely, when one makes soldiers who are being punished march up and down, when one forces a schoolboy to copy lines."

What will the modern man do when slapped in the face with the absurdity of his own existence? Become an adventurer, passionate, serious, intellectual? Where will his values come from when there are no values -- how will he create them out of nothing? Is it easier to adopt a game full of illusions created by someone else? de Beauvoir forces the reader to come face to face with the absolute absurdity of the human condition, and then, proceeds to develop a dialectic of ambiguity that will enable the reader not to master the chaos, but to create with it. This book will probably alter many well-rooted philosophical perceptions -- so, reader beware! I could have done without the dramatic image of how the Nazi's conditioned themselves to become insensitive to human suffering (de Beauvoir used as an extreme example), but oh well... This book is a keeper, and very quotable! Highly recommended, especially for those diving into the Realm of Existentialism! --Katharena Eiermann, 2006
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise Existential Account, June 8, 2003
By 
By exploring the meaning of "existence before essence" and the fundamental reality of choice, Beauvoir presents the reader with a livable program for life in the modern and multiplicit world; namely existentialism. Ethics is both concise and poetic, maintaining a clarity that Being and Nothingness lacks. The Second Sex is essentially an entailment of the ideas explored in this book. Few other philosophers of the 20th century were able to combine practical philosophy and rigorous metaphysics with such eloquence.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Teaching Text for Existentialism., December 26, 2003
By 
John Russon (Toronto ON Canada) - See all my reviews
This is an excellent and original work of philosophy, closely related to the contemporary ideas of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, but quite unique and not reducible to their work. I find it to be one of the best books (indeed one of the few books) to use to teach existentialism in introductory classes. I recommend skipping the first chapter, because it is self-consciously "literary," (in an obscure way), and contributes nothing essential to the book. Chapter 2 is the core of the book, and it is an incredible and compelling piece of writing that brilliantly discusses the distinctive nature of childhood experience, and then develops a dialectic of "bad faith" that offers a sort of system for understanding personality types--ways, that is, of embracing (imperfectly) our freedom. The third chapter studies politics in a very thoughtful way, (though I find it is often lost on my intro students because they just don't have enough experience of political realities to appreciate the significance of what she is saying). This text is often wrongly belittled by commentators (and, indeed, de Beauvoir herself wrongly said disparaging things about it), but I think it is one of the classic texts of existential phenomenology and deserves to be widely read.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book changed my life., October 6, 2002
By 
Michael (Minneapolis, MN United States) - See all my reviews
This book changed my life. In precise, but understandable terms, this book offered a compelling view of existentialism, devoid of the terminological wilderness of other books on the subject (e.g. Being and Nothingness).
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book - an outline for an ethics rooted in radical freedom, October 27, 2009
The Ethics of Ambiguity is a first rate philosophical study, and important contribution to ethics, that demonstrates the radical freedom proclaimed by existentialists to carry with it ethical responsibilities. The insight that the essence of human being is freedom, or that we are just what we make of ourselves and there are no absolutes does not lead to nihilism, but rather to the recognition that we are answerable to the others with whom we must collaborate in the construction of human existence.

The core of the book is in the second chapter, where Beauvoir outlines a progressively more adequate series of responses to the awareness of freedom. The child can remain ignorant of the ways in which her choices reflect back upon her, and begin imperceptibly to define who she is and determine a destiny; but in adolescence we all grasp, in varying degrees, that if who we are has been shaped by the free and somewhat arbitrary choices of our parents and guardians, who we will become is up to us. It's easy, at that point, to deny or reject our freedom and fall into complacency or routine, but to do so is to be not fully human, a "sub-man" who rejects responsibility and lives just to live and according to habit. Such are easily manipulated by trends and marketing and political slogans of whatever content.

The first stage along the way of accepting freedom, according to Beauvoir, more pernicious perhaps but still an advance on the "sub-man," is what she calls the "serious man": the one who subordinates freedom to a cause - a war, an ideal, a gang, a program or a religion - whatever it is, and embraces that cause as if it were the one and only thing worth choosing, as if choice itself were not what matters and as if any and all freedoms that stand in the way of the cause are to be suppressed.

Beauvoir outlines a series of "ways of being" - the adventurer, the passionate person, the lover, the artist and intellectual - each of which can be understood as overcoming the deficiencies of the prior, in living up to the demands of freedom. Ultimately, she argues, to be free involves dedicating oneself to the cause of freedom, realizing some good that allows others also to discover that good. Teaching could fit this pattern, but so could revolutionary activity; she argues that in some situations that may be what is called for, and in such situations the ambiguous nature of free activity would be evident: that in order to achieve freedom I must struggle against the choices and activities of those who suppress freedom.

Beauvoir's argument in this book is provocative and compelling, and leaves one with much to reflect on. While some of the works once considered pivotal for the existentialist "movement" may appear to be directly bound to a particular time and place (e.g. the cafes and lounges of postwar Paris), Simone de Beauvoir's excellent little treatise on existentialist ethics has lost none of its relevance or urgency. Highly recommended!
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an ethics for people who like being alive, March 16, 1999
By A Customer
compared to Being and Nothingness, the Ethics of Ambiguity is a cakewalk to read. which does not at all make it a bad choice. Beauvoir constructs an ethics (but not a set of mores(inflexible)) that is livable. an ethics that works in this world. all readers of The Second Sex should read the Ethics first, especially the english readers since the only(?) Second Sex translation available to us was written by a scientist who didn't comprehend/care about the types of things the Ethics addresses. also of interest is how well this book flows moderately seemlessly (other than he-centered language) into contemporary feminist theory. like sarah hoagland's Lesbian Ethics, for example.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Concise Summary of Existentialism, December 23, 2012
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"As soon as one considers a system abstractly and theoretically, one puts himself, in effect on the plane of the universal, thus , of the infinite. That is why reading the Hegelian system is so comforting. I remember having experienced a great feeling of calm on reading Hegel... But once I got into the street again, into my life, out of the system, beneath a real sky, the system was no longer of any us to me... I think that, inversely, existentialism does not offer to the reader the consolations of an abstract evasion: existentialism proposes no evasion." -- Simone de Beauvoir

"The Ethics of Ambiguity" is the most concise overview of Existentialist ethics I have read. In "Being and Nothingness" Sartre eschewed an ethical system in favor of focusing almost exclusively on ontological relationships. Here, Beauvoir takes "Being and Nothingness" and extends it into an ethical system.

There are two major parts to "Ethics of Ambiguity". The first part focuses on different degrees of personal freedom. Degrees of understanding range from: the sub-man, serious man, nihilist, adventurer, passionate man, and, finally, the independent man. The independent man understands his own freedom. He also understands the necessity of freedom for other men for him to be free.

The second part of the book is a description of how to use personal freedom. Man must live for a concrete objective. This objective is constantly transcending and can never be captured. The object of transcendence is determined by individual freedom within the context of social freedom.

Beauvoir's prescriptions to political change remain both critical and revolutionary. She constantly stresses the need to evaluate the situation and not act rash. The individual must not submit to dogma. However, a choice must be made. Many times the choice will not be ideal and blood must be shed. Beauvoir's Existentialism does not feign from making tough choices.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to existentialism, May 23, 2009
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not a natural "Bob Bickel" (huntington, west virginia United States) - See all my reviews
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I first read this book forty years ago for an undergraduate class in social philosophy. I've re-read it five or six times since, and benefitted from each re-reading. Though it was not DeBeauvoir's intention to write an introduction to existentialism, this is the best one available.

What is the meaning of life? It has none save that which we give it, an inescapable process which the author terms "disclosure of being in the world." This view is strongly relativistic, to be sure, providing no basis for preferring a painfully abscessed molar to good sex.

Unlike the early Sartre, moreover, DeBeauvoir recognizes that we disclose being in the world -- learn what it means to be -- in very specific ways, in socially determined contexts. The meanings we discern are bounded by the social worlds of which we are the ongoing creations and which we help to create.

DeBeauvoir's answer to what-is-the-meaning-of-life kinds of questions is not spiritually uplifting, but it's an answer, given without equivocation or hollow appeals to faith. As such, I think it's the right answer. She makes a compelling case.

Can we organize our lives around "disclosure of being in the world?" I don't think so. Its much too abstract, fraught with anomie, positing a sort of Durkheimian nightmare. Still, at least we know where we stand: right in the middle of a universe that anticipates by two or three decades post-modern rejection of any sort of natural and durable foundation.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book changed my life., October 6, 2002
By 
Michael (Minneapolis, MN United States) - See all my reviews
This book changed my life. In precise, but understandable terms, this book offered a compelling view of existentialism, devoid of the terminological wilderness of other books on the subject (e.g. Being and Nothingness).
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The Ethics of Ambiguity
The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir
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