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The Ethics of Ambiguity Paperback – December 1, 2015
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"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.
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.
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