A Different Voice in the Phenomenological Tradition: Simone de Beauvoir and the Ethic of Care

  • Kristana Arp
Part of the Contributions to Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 40)


In terms of her philosophical orientation, Simone de Beauvoir is usually identified merely as an existentialist. Up until now not enough attention has been paid to the phenomenological roots of her thought. Of course existentialism in its most well-known form, i.e., the early work of Jean-Paul Sartre, is itself an extension of the central phenomenological themes of Husserl and Heidegger. But Beauvoir, it can be argued, incorporates phenomenological perspectives into her work to an even greater degree than does Sartre. Witness, for instance, the way that she interweaves Merleau-Ponty’s views about the lived body into her analysis of women’s experience of their oppression in The Second Sex.1 Another central feature of Beauvoir’s work is the way that it incorporates the foundational phenomenological concept of the situated subject. A central tenet of phenomenology, fully validated by existentialism, is that the living subject always finds itself “in situation,” that is, in a highly particular and particularized complex of circumstances. This insight founds much of Beauvoir’s analysis in The Second Sex, especially in the second volume of the work, titled in the original “L’expérience vécue.”2 Even Beauvoir’s earlier writings on ethics, I have found, assume a phenomenological understanding of the subject as situated.3


Moral Ideal Joint Project Care Tradition Phenomenological Tradition Feminist Ethic 
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  1. 1.
    See Kristana Arp, `Beauvoir’s Concept of Bodily Alienation,“ in Feminist Interpretations of Simone de Beauvoir, ed. Margaret A. Simons ( University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995 ), 161–77.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The present English translation of The Second Sex constantly obscures Beauvoir’s connections to the phenomenological tradition. It has other problems as well. See Margaret A. Simons, “The Silencing of Simone de Beauvoir: Guess What’s Missing From The Second Sex,” Women’s Studies International Forum 6, no. 5 (1983): 559–64.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    present the case for this in Kristana Arp, The Bonds of Freedom: The Existentialist Ethics of Simone de Beauvoir (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity,trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1991). Henceforth referred to as EA.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See Simone de Beauvoir, Force of Circumstance, trans. Richard Howard (New York: G. P. Putman’s Sons, 1964 ), 94.Google Scholar
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    Caro1 Gilligan, In a Different Voice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Beauvoir also wrote a long essay on ethics first published in 1944: Pyrrhus et Cinéas (Paris: Gallimard, 1944). Several shorter pieces on ethical themes published in Les Temps Modernes in the late forties were later published together in a small book: L’Existentialisme et la Sagesse des Nations ( Paris: Les Editions Nagel, 1986 ).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See Simone de Beauvoir, She Came to Stay, trans. Y. Moyse and R. Senhouse ( Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1954 ).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
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    Ibid., 74.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 116.Google Scholar
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    lbid., 73.Google Scholar
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    Sartre does say something along these lines in his essay “Existentialism is a Humanism,” which was written after Beauvoir published her first essay on ethics, “Pyrrhus et Cinéas,” and before she started The Ethics of Ambiguity. Beauvoir edited this essay for Sartre so the question can be raised whether Sartre was influenced by Beauvoir in it. In any case he went on to repudiate what he said there later in his life. Jean-Paul Sartre, L’Existentialisme est un humanisme (Paris: Nagel, 1946). See also Jean-Paul Sartre, Sartre by Himself trans. Richard Seaver (Outback Press, 1978), 74–75.Google Scholar
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    Gilligan, In a Different Voice,30.Google Scholar
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    lbid. Translation amended.Google Scholar
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    The character of Paule in The Mandarins and the central female characters in Beauvoir’s short story collection, The Woman Destroyed spring most immediately to mind. See Simone de Beauvoir, The Mandarins,trans. L. Friedman (Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1956) and Simone de Beauvoir, The Woman Destroyed,trans. Patrick O’Brian (New York: Pantheon Books, 1969).Google Scholar
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    See Julie K. Ward, “Beauvoir’s Two Senses of `Body’ in The Second Sex, in Feminist Interpretations of Simone de Beauvoir,223–42 for a discussion of Beauvoir’s attitudes toward maternity.Google Scholar
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    One recent book even charges that Sartre stole the idea of bad faith from Beauvoir. See Kate Fullbrook and Edward Fullbrook, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre: The Remaking of a Twentieth-Century Legend ( New York: Basic Books, 1994 ).Google Scholar
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    Gilligan, In a Different Voice,74.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 82.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 85.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 86.Google Scholar
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    See Toril Moi, Feminist Theory and Simone de Beauvoir (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990) for an analysis of these conventions.Google Scholar
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    Gilligan, In a Derent Voice,139.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 91.Google Scholar
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    Gilligan In a Derent Voice89. Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    See The Blood of Others,trans. Y. Moyse and R. Senhouse (New York: Pantheon Books, 1948). See also Elizabeth Fallaize, The Novels of Simone de Beauvoir (London: Routledge, 1988),m/hose interpretation of this novel brings this aspect of it to the fore.Google Scholar
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    Gilligan, In a Diffèrent Voice,82.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    I presented a preliminary version of this paper, “Can There be a Feminist Existentialist Ethics?” at the meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association in Spring 1995. I want to thank my commentator, Julien S. Murphy, for her feedback. I also want to thank the Release Time Committee of Long Island University, Brooklyn for their continued support.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

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  • Kristana Arp

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