From hostility to hope: Beauvoir’s joyful turn to Hegel in The Ethics of Ambiguity

  • C Sims


Kojève’s lectures on Phenomenology of Spirit generated two ideas – otherness is something threatening that must be overcome and one’s
relationships with others are inexorably violent – that fundamentally shaped the way many exponents of early French phenomenology regarded
intersubjectivity. This essay shows how Beauvoir’s appropriation of Hegel in The Ethics of Ambiguity offers a perspective on intersubjectivity that defies the other-conquering Cartesian hero implied by Kojève and celebrated in Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. Beauvoir appreciates the degree to which Hegel makes subjectivity indebted to otherness. Like Hegel, she defines oppression as the failure to recognise the otherness of the other. Beauvoir shares Hegel’s optimism that individuals can sublate their naïve solipsism. She associates reciprocal recognition between subjects with ethical freedom, which she distinguishes from Sartre’s concept of freedom. From the analysis of ethical freedom it is concluded that both conflict and
friendship are side-effects of the essential bond between subjects and their mutual need for one another. The Hegel-inspired hopefulness at
the core of The Ethics of Ambiguity is further demonstrated by Beauvoir’s rejection of the absurd in favour of ambiguity, her positive rendering of failure, her appeal to outrageousness, and focus on the joy of existence.

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eISSN: 0258-0136