Does Beauvoir’s the Second Sex Give Us a Better Philosophical Understanding of the Body Than Sartre’s Being and Nothingness?

Topics: Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir Pages: 7 (2628 words) Published: December 28, 2012
Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness” and Simone De Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” look at similar concepts such as freedom, responsibility, alienation and living an authentic life, and both approach these topics from a similar perspective . Sartre and de Beauvoir spent much of their lives romantically involved with one another and much of the philosophy found in “The Second Sex” echoes ideas which were proposed by Sartre 6 years earlier in “Being and Nothingness”. Yet just how much influence Sartre had on de Beauvoir’s thinking is a topic of heated debate; some think the influence Sartre had on her is greatly overestimated [1]while others agree with de Beauvoir’s own description of herself as being the “midwife of Sartre's existentialism”[2] However “The Second Sex” has substantial differences in opinion to “Being and Nothingness” and the aims of the two works are radically different. “The Second Sex” is interested with the treatment and oppression of women throughout history and is a pivotal work in feminist philosophy, whereas “Being and Nothingness” sets out to give an ontological analysis of human existence and is considered as one of the most important philosophical works of the 20th century. Both texts are considered as existentialist, a term which cannot be defined as a consistent philosophical “system”[3], but rather a general approach focusing on the experience of existence. Therefore existentialist works tend to focus on the human consciousness and its situation in the world, as is the case with “Being and Nothingness” and “The Second Sex”. The fact that the consciousness is embodied is a crucial part of the situation facing it, for it is through the body that the consciousness interacts and experiences the world. Both philosophers see freedom as fundamental to the nature of consciousness and both offer ideas on how embodiment affects our ability to exercise this freedom. It is these ideas that I shall focus on during the essay and I will also show why it is ultimately Sartre who gives us a clearer understanding of the body and its role in leading an “authentic” life. We will first take a look at Sartre’s view of what it means to lead an authentic life, however we must to do this we must understand some of Sartre’s fundamental ideas in “Being and Nothingness” .The introduction sees Sartre makes a metaphysical division between the two fundamental types of being: “Being For-itself”, which he uses to refer to consciousness, and “Being In-itself”, which refers to beings that do not possess the consciousness that Sartre describes (for example rocks, inkwells, trees and worms). For Sartre the in-itself came before the for-itself, for he believed that: “Ontology will therefore limit itself to declaring that everything takes place as if the in-itself in a project to found itself gave itself the modification of the for-itself”[4]. The distinction between these two regions of being cannot be compared to Cartesian duality proposed by Descartes, who thought that mind and body were two separate fundamental substances. Instead Sartre maintains that Being In-itself and Being For-itself are instead “abstractions” from a single reality. [5] Sartre believes that it is freedom and the ability to question everything which separates the for-itself from the in-itself. Freedom is the absolute core of Sartre’s and De Beauvoir’s, and it has been suggested by many that free will is just an illusion, that we are just puppets of nature and it just comes down to an ignorance to the underlying causes. However I do not think a scientific understanding of freedom is essential to Sartre’s project. “Being and Nothingness” is sub-titled as: “An essay on phenomenological ontology”; phenomenology being a description of the world as it appears to the consciousness.[6] Therefore freedom is real for Sartre because we experience it on a daily basis; we cannot escape from choosing between A and B when faced with the choice. In contrast the...

Bibliography: [1] – E. Fullerbrook & K. Fullerbrook ,2008. Sex and Philosophy – Rethinking Sartre and De Beauvoir. Continuum Publishing Group.
[2] - (date entered aug/16/2010)
[3] – H. Cohn, 1997. Existential Thought and Therapeutic Practice – An Introduction to Existenstial Psychotherapy. Sage Publications Ltd.
[4] – J. Sartre, 1993. Being and Nothingness, p.621
[5] – G
[6] –Lundgren-Gothlin, 1996. Sex & Existence. The Athlone Press
[7]- J
[8] - J. Sartre, 1993. Being and Nothingness, p.38
[9] - J
[10] - J. Sartre, 1993. Being and Nothingness, p.38
[11] - J
[12] - (date entered (October/13/2004))
[13] - J
[14]- J. Young, 2003. The Death of God and the Meaning of Life. Routledge
[15]- S
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