Simone Weil

Simone WeilPortrait convener
Dr David Levy
University of Edinburgh

Introductory lecture (mp3 file)


Readings

Simone Weil, “Human Personality” reprinted in Simone Weil, Selected Essays 1934-43, ed. R. Rees, Oxford University Press, 1962.*

Simone Weil, “Are We Struggling for Justice?” Philosophical Investigations, Volume 10, Issue 1, pages 1–10, January 1987.

*[Also reprinted in

  • Simone Weil, An Anthology, ed. Siân Miles, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986; Grove Press, 2000.
  • Simone Weil, The Simone Weil Reader, ed. George A. Panichas, Moyer Bell, 1977.
    David McLellan, Utopian Pessimist: the life and thought of Simone Weil, Macmillan, 1989.]

Both texts are available in the original French in: Simone Weil, Écrits de Londres et dernières lettres, Gallimard, 1957.

Further reading

  • Simone Weil, “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force” reprinted many places but well accompanied in War and the Illiad, New York Review of Books, 2007.
  • Simone Weil, The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind, Routledge 2001. [esp. the first six pages]

Anthologies of Her Writings

  • Simone Weil, An Anthology, ed. Siân Miles, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986; Grove Press, 2000.
  • Simone Weil, The Simone Weil Reader, ed. George A. Panichas, Moyer Bell, 1977.
    Richard Rees, Simone Weil: Selected Essays, Routledge,

Introductory Works

  • Palle Yourgrau, Simone Weil, Reaktion Books, 2011.
  • Robert Chenavier, Simone Weil: Attention to the Real, University of Notre Dame Press, 2012.
  • Mario van der Ruhr, Simone Weil: An Apprenticeship in Attention, Continuum, 2006.
  • David McLellan, Utopian Pessimist: the life and thought of Simone Weil, Macmillan, 1989.
  • Simone Petrement, Simone Weil: A Life, Schocken Books, 1989.

Introduction to readings

Simone Weil was born into an affluent life in Paris in 1909.  Very early, she demonstrated a strident, uncompromising compassion when she gave up sugar in solidarity with French soldiers in the First World War. While still a schoolgirl, she declared her solidarity with the communist left. Though uncompromising in her persona at school, she was also brilliant and had the best education France could offer in languages, classics and philosophy.  While at the École Normale Supérieure, her tutor set her focus on the problem of man as an active being.  To address this she took Plato as her master and Descartes as her antagonist.  These influences remained touchstones in her intellectual life.  Despite the spiritual writings for which she is best known, her training and approach was that of a philosopher.

For the few years of her working life, she taught philosophy in secondary schools.  Weil’s compassion and strongly-held opinions led directly to a life of activism, which often scandalised the towns in which she taught.  Initially, her interests lay in the labour movement as well as pacifism.  Her judgment of the political weakness of the labour movement and more generally of social causes led to the qualification of her views on pacificism.  Violence, she then thought, could be a defense for human dignity against the Fascism that diminished it.  However, her exposure to the Spanish Civil War led her to contradict herself.  Force, she thought, could never be righteous.  Allowing that someone was the legitimate object of force inexorably nurtured tribalism, making murder seem natural.  Force controls those who would use it, an insight she saw in *The Iliad* which treated Greeks and Trojans alike as victims of force itself.

Her views on force were a singular example of how her developed perspective was at odds with received pieties in Western Culture, both those of the establishment and those who opposed it.  She denied the importance of political rights; of justice by due process; of state or private ownership; private choice in life; and legitimation by collective, public will. Instead she elevated as primary response to affliction; the inestimable significance of a human being; the needs of the soul as the basis for government; meaningful labour; and good and evil. Weil was unafraid of intellectual isolation, nor did she seek fellows—though she did publish her essays in intellectual journals.

She was not celebrated in her lifetime, though the force of her intellect was known. Many gave her a wide berth, because of her uncompromising manner, which was also evident in how she lived.  While working for the Free French in London on a manifesto for a transformed government in post-war France, her unyielding manner of living overcame her always-fragile health.  She died in Kent at 34.  Her celebrity came posthumously when her notes on Christian spirituality were published, influencing those within and without the Church.  Subsequently, her philosophical works have attracted a modest following among intellectuals and academics.

[More information about the Portraits of Integrity project]


 

3 Responses to Simone Weil

  1. Rachael Wiseman says:

    Hi all, the readings and location for the Simone Weil September meeting on the 26th are now on the website. I have electronic copies to circulate later this week.

  2. Rachael Wiseman says:

    David Levy’s introduction to the texts for our Simone Weil meeting on Friday (September 26th) is now available on the website, along with suggestions for further reading. Please get in touch if you are struggling to get hold of any of the readings.
    Note: we are meeting in room 334, Lipman Building, Northumbria University. Looking forward to seeing you all. Let me know if you need directions.

  3. ack77 says:

    The audio recording of David’s introduction to our Simon Weil reading group session last Friday is now available on the website. (Thanks, David, for setting up the discussion so well.)

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