Nov 15, 2018 in Analysis

Women in Philosophy Essay

Women in Philosophy


The contribution of women to the field of philosophy cannot be ignored. It is worth noting that women have been instrumental in the development of philosophical ideas that lay the foundation of today’s philosophy. One of the most famous women-philosophers to have existed in history is Simone de Beauvoir. She played a vital role in the exploration of ideas relating to feminism and existentialism. De Beauvoir is credited with the enhancement of philosophy through extensive research and numerous publications, including essays, novels, and biographies. She is one of the pioneer women to have shaped the history of philosophy with ideas on existentialism and feminism. This paper explicates the biography of Simone de Beauvoir, her similarities and differences in ideas with other philosophers, and the key books and articles she wrote during her career.


The history of Simone de Beauvoir  

Simone de Beauvoir was born on the 9th of July, 1908 in Paris, France (Appignanesi 3). De Beauvoir’s parents were Georges Bertrand de Beauvoir and Francois Beauvoir. She was born in a wealthy family where her parents offered her and her younger sister Helene a high-quality life. It is worth noting that de Beauvoir was very interested in the Catholic religion from a young age, and was determined to become a nun at some point in her early years. However, she experienced a faith crisis at the age of 14, and this extremely affected her love for religion (Appignanesi 27). The religious challenges she experienced at this age made her become an atheist for the rest of her life.

Encouragement of her father boosted her confidence every day, and ensured she became intellectually gifted while studying at school. After she successfully took bachelor’s degree in philosophy and mathematics, de Beauvoir continued studying mathematics at the Institut Catholique. Moreover, she kept studying literature at the Institut Sainte-Marie and philosophy at the Sorbonne (Appignanesi 15). In fact, she was the ninth woman to receive a degree in philosophy in Sorbonne because many French women had been denied the opportunity to access higher education.

In October 1929, she started dating Jean-Paul Sartre. However, de Beauvoir tended to believe that marriage was impossible (Bauer 39). Therefore, she chose never to marry and decided not to live in the same house with Sartre, even after her father insisted on it. The decision not to live in the same house with her husband gave her the opportunity to pursue advanced degree courses, teach, travel, write, and join political movements in her country. Nevertheless, she continued exchanging different philosophical works with her husband, Sartre, and they immensely influenced each other in terms of existential philosophy. In 1943, de Beauvoir suffered a setback in her life as she was suspended from her teaching job on grounds that she had seduced a 17-year-old student in 1939 (Simons 55).

Accordingly, de Beauvoir became fully involved in France’s Women Liberation Movement in the 1970s as tried to defend the rights of women in the entire country. She died in 1986 of pneumonia and was buried next to her lover, Sartre, at the Cimetiere du Montparnasse in Paris (Appignanesi 120).

Areas of de Beauvoir’s philosophical work

De Beauvoir’s philosophical questions and concepts relate to what other famous philosophers, such as Sartre, studied. For instance, she subscribed to Sartre’s similar ideas and concepts on existentialism. They both believed that human reality is composed of two modes of existence, including being and nothing (Simons 62). They emphasized that individuals are independent objects that have no external limitations. This implies that everyone is able to live in line with what he/she thinks about themselves. There is no overriding authority and there is no imposed pattern of existence for individuals. Being together as a husband and wife, it was easier for Sartre and de Beauvoir to develop similar ideas and concepts through their shared texts and stories. Overall, both de Beauvoir and Sartre emphasized that individuals create their own links with the world and depend on these links to make their own decisions without necessarily being influenced by others.

Additionally, de Beauvoir’s philosophical questions and ideas on essentialism relate directly to Plato’s ideas. Essentialism provokes the view that animals and people have a set of attributes that help them in their identity. Plato and Aristotle emphasized the view that objects are made up of the substance that makes it easier for them to identify themselves in the most effective manner. It is difficult for individuals and objects to identify themselves without the substance. For instance, young girls identify themselves as women in instances where they begin experiencing bodily changes at their adolescent stages (Simons 64). It is usually difficult for them to identify these characteristics in their earlier years because they lack the essential features to fit them into the category of women.

On the other hand, her concept of essentialism relating to the development of key features differs from those of Sartre, Socrates, and Plato. For instance, she argued that as development in girls takes place, every stage is always traumatizing and demarcates her from the opposite sex. She talked about the gradual stages of becoming a “flesh” when a girl sees herself as a sexual and bodily object that is always exposed to the gaze of other people (Bauer 66). She continued with the emphasis that the female body is a real nuisance and embarrassment, and a massive problem that has to be dealt with. However, Plato insisted that the world should not just base on these characteristics to identify objects and things because there are numerous variations that would need to be made. For instance, the insistence that individuals should identify themselves with their own characteristics would demand the existence of separate forms of dirt, mud, and hair where everyone would be fighting to attain it (Simons 42).

She also held a diverse opinion on the free will of women. This was different from the one held by other philisophers, such as Descartes. She insisted that the relationship between the body and the mind are vital in explaining women’s oppression (Simons 86). De Beauvoir emphasized the view that women do not have the free will to choose what to think about their bodies. Their thoughts are always depend on what other people feel about them. The harsh patriarchal society influences the way they think about the attractiveness and sexuality of their bodies. This view is different from what other philosophers, such as Plato and Descartes, believed (Bauer 83). They held the view that every object and person will always have his/her own way of thinking about various things, including the thoughts that individuals develop toward each other.

Overall, all the above philosophers had philosophical questions relating to the freedom of individuals and their self-discovery. They did not agree on all the ideas because of the varying schools of thought and because de Beauvoir strongly believed in feminism. She believed that a strong fight for women would help in rescuing them and restoring their dignity.

Books and articles written by Simone de Beauvoir

In the course of her career as a philosopher and a teacher, Simone de Beauvoir wrote several books and articles. The articles were vital in leading to the further growth of philosophy and the understanding of aspects relating to humanity and the ways people think about themselves. One of her most common novels was She Came to Stay published in 1943 (Appignanesi 68). The book explained the manner she and her husband manipulated her students for sexual relationships. The book was followed by another one titled The Blood of Others that explored the nature of personal responsibility, highlighting the love story of the young French students who tried to participate in the resistance to World War II. The Ethics of Ambiguity is also a vital article written by de Beauvoir in 1947 to explicate more French existentialism. The other most famous works written by de Beauvoir include All Men are Mortal, The Second Sex, The Mandarins, Must We Burn Sade?, The Long March, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, The Prime of Life, A Very Easy Death, The Woman Destroyed, The Coming of Age, All Said and Done, and When Things of the Spirit Come First (Simons 77). These articles illustrate her hard work and contribution to the development of the philosophical field.


In conclusion, de Beauvoir was one of the greatest women in the field of philosophy. Her massive contribution can never be overlooked, especially because she had to face numerous obstacles in her life before getting to the highest level of her career. For instance, she experienced problems with her faith and had to live as an atheist for the rest of her life. Apart from this, she did not live with her husband because of the lack of belief in marriage. Nevertheless, she contributed to the school of thought relating to free will and the manner in which individuals think about themselves. She mainly focused on women, emphasizing that the ideas they form about themselves are not independent as they come from the men. This is in contrast with the ideas developed by such individuals as Plato who believed that free will exists in all objects and individuals, and is not easily influenced.



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