SummarySimone de Beauvoir, a French writer, is perhaps best known for authoring The Second Sex (1949), a book detailing the treatment of women throughout history. She is not only identified as a writer but also a feminist, existential philosopher, and social theorist. Her works, over twenty separate titles, are considered widely influential, but she is generally referenced as an important feminist theorist rather than a philosopher. Her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre has also contributed to her fame, but her work extended far beyond her association with Sartre. She made major contributions to philosophy, literature, and feminism.
Simone was born in Paris in 1908 to Francoise Brasseur de Beauvoir and Georges de Beauvoir. She studied philosophy at the University of Paris, eventually teaching upon completion of her agrégation. In 1944 Simone became a full-time writer. She traveled the world and took part in various political demonstrations. She died in 1986 at the age of 78.
I was struck by Simone's interest in writing from her own personal experience. Apparently The Second Sex began as an examination of what it meant to Simone to be a woman. She seemed to be interested in conceptions of "self" as a philosophical concept and "herself" as a subjective person with experiences and things to say. Unlike many philosophers I've read, Simone seemed to be very interested in her own experience. She did not claim to be "objectively" impartial. Instead she was driven by the things that impacted her life.
It saddened me to hear that even Simone was overshadowed by Sartre. Apparently she viewed herself as a lesser philosopher, and their works, much like Émilie and Voltaire, were heavily influenced on both sides. Though such a relationship of two intellectuals would probably be greatly beneficial to both, it seems troubling when considering Sartre receives more attention. His works and contributions are often seen on a college syllabus, whereas Simone is not nearly as iconic.
Reading either Simone's autobiography and/or a biography would be incredibly interesting. As long and detailed as this chapter was, due to its expansive coverage, it left me feeling like there was much more to Simone and her work then could be reasonably summarized in twenty-plus pages. One of the highlights in this chapter was getting to read so many quotes from Simone herself. Her writing is elegant and clear. And I even recognized several of her arguments or issues from various philosophy classes I've taken. She was clearly well educated in many philosophical areas, but she was equally as clearly thinking about the knowledge she received through her education. Based on outside research, it looks like Simone's father, like many of the other figures we've discussed, also encouraged her education and intellectual pursuits.
In the end, I think this chapter made me want to know more about Simone. Her interest in writing, especially fiction, caught my attention especially due to my own interest in that area. It reminded me of Murasaki Shikibu's use of literature to convey philosophy. I hope to have the opportunity to learn more about Simone de Beauvoir in the future.