Simone de Beauvoir: Existentialism, Phenomenology, Feminism
Simone de Beauvoir—activist, author, social critic, philosopher—is considered one of the pioneering figures of existentialist and feminist philosophy. Although her work spans multiple genres and address numerous modern social questions and classic philosophical dilemmas, it was the 1953 publication of The Second Sex that brought the “woman question” into plain and clear light and marked her entry into not only French, but also Western intellectual life more broadly. How, why and through what is something “masculine” or “feminine”? How is “woman”—technically over half the human population—somehow the primary Other of social life and discourse? Excluded from the formal philosophical canon during her own lifetime, Beauvoir’s contributions to contemporary thought are now widely recognized. She surpassed many of her contemporaries—including life-partner Jean Paul Sartre—in interrogating key dilemmas regarding freedom, self, embodiment, existence, and, above all, gender. Is gender fundamental to human understanding and existence? How can we best understand the constraints on our freedom and the ways in which we are defined—both by ourselves and by society?
In this course, we will address these questions by taking a deep dive into the philosophic literature of Beauvoir (including large sections of The Second Sex), her theories, and their residual impacts on questions of freedom, identity, and gender. We will investigate her contributions to existentialism as a complex relation to freedom, her turn to phenomenology to investigate the embodiment of difference, and her own tenuous relationship to feminism. Students will explore Beauvoir’s staggering philosophical output while thinking through contemporary struggles and debates over humanity and violence in the modern world.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
October 18 — November 08, 2022