Simone de Beauvoir’s Existentialist Ethics

  • The “sub-man” is the worst type of person to de Beauvoir. de Beauvoir states: “Ethics is the triumph of freedom over facticity, and the sub-man feels only the facticity of his existence. Instead of aggrandizing the reign of the human, he opposes his inert resistance to the projects of other men. No project has meaning in the world disclosed by such an existence. Man is defined as a wild flight. The world about him is bare and incoherent. Nothing ever happens; nothing merits desire or effort.” In other words, the sub-man restricts himself as much as possible to the world; in an attempt to perhaps escape his shortcomings, or to excuse any attempt to try anything, he claims that nothing merits effort. Nothing is that meaningful or worthwhile. de Beauvoir says that the most harmful quality of the sub-man is that he is most likely to become one of a mob; ignorant rhetoric appeals easily to the sub-man, since that’s the easiest thing to listen to. Online neo-nazis, for example, are sub-men.
  • The “serious man” is one who dedicates his life staunchly to one particular cause, ideology, or set of values that he considers to be good. The serious man stops at nothing to achieve the cause, or embolden the ideology, even if it comes at the detriment of others. To de Beauvoir, the serious man doesn’t necessarily care about the cause as much as he does his ability to get lost in it. The serious man can sometimes be stumped in his beliefs, as even the strongest, most decent ideologies can have setbacks — but the serious man doesn’t care to listen. In doing so, the serious man denies his freedom and ability to reconsider and evolve his beliefs. Serious men are often prone to becoming sub-men if they fail to achieve their goals.
  • The “nihilist” grows up, figures out that the values of the world are subjective, politicians do bad things, and rent isn’t cheap. In figuring this out, the nihilist asks, “Why bother?” and, like the sub-man, resists the world. However, rather than giving up on everything, like the sub-man, the nihilist rebels against the world’s subjectiveness and indecency. Simone de Beauvoir finds the nihilist more agreeable than the sub-man, because the nihilist has gotten something right, at least: the world possesses no justification, and he is merely a speck of dust in the universe’s timeline. But the nihilist, she says, denies his freedom by seeing his existence as just a means to death. The nihilist has figured out the ambiguity of his existence, but doesn’t transcend to freedom.
  • The “adventurer” is probably the most common stereotype among existentialists. The adventurer understands the ambiguity of life, and attempts to transcend by doing as he pleases, whatever it may be. Simone de Beauvoir says that the adventurer is quite close to transcendence, because he throws himself into his personal passions and embraces freedom. However, the adventurer often steps on others to achieve his personal commitments. To de Beauvoir, true transcendence relies on the transcendence of others around you — after all, people must rely on each other to achieve their goals, in one way or another. The adventurer is always thinking about what to do next, and, in doing so, detaches himself from his true passions at hand.
  • The “passionate man” shares similar qualities to the adventurer, in terms of understanding his ambiguity and taking advantage of his freedom; however, he does the exact opposite of what the adventurer does. The passionate man attaches himself to his personal projects, but does so too seriously — he forgets that in the natural state of ambiguity, one is never fully content with their desires. The passionate man lets his work define him.

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