O.P. Recommends: A Conversation With Michael Ignatieff on Universal Human Rights, Localism, and the Ordinary Virtues at Philosophy 247

President Obama meets with Michael Ignatieff in Ottawa, Canada on Feb. 19, 2009 (from White House photo by Pete Souza)Ignatieff speaking of people he worked with on his travels to uncover people’s actual and expressed beliefs about human rights:

I first heard about Michael Ignatieff on the Philosophy Bites podcast a few years ago, and found his story of transforming himself from an intellectual to a politician and back again very intriguing. Just last week, I was very interested to hear a discussion between him and David Edmonds, co-host of Philosophy Bites and now host of his own podcast Philosophy 24/7.

This time, Ignatieff talks about human rights, a topic he’s been working on deeply for many years. As part of his preparation and research, he traveled the world to uncover people’s actual and expressed beliefs about human rights. What he says about what he learned really struck me:

‘The Human Rights edifice created since 1945 has had a huge effect on the world in the sense of powering the democratic revolution, the self-determination revolution, the civil rights revolution… On the one hand, you get people saying ‘my voice should be heard’… [The idea of] human rights has been influential in creating the tacit presumption… that their voice mattered… I don’t think without the human rights revolution that would have anchored itself in their souls and conscience as much as it is.

On the other hand… human rights is a form of universalism. It says that all human beings matter, and that we have duties to human beings outside our borders, and that it is the human identity that counts in moral judgment. What struck me very much is that people thought they wanted to make a claim of equality for themselves as citizens but not for other people, so equality of voice within the nation state, but no very strong or increased development of a universalist obligation to people beyond states. And that I think is a surprising result, because if human rights means anything, it is, we have this idea of transnational solidarity to people who are not fellow citizens, and so equality for us, not so much equality for strangers.

And this has, needless to say, huge political implications for a whole range of issues, notably refugees and migration…’

Igniateff then goes on to discuss how this great moral innovation, the idea of universal human rights, squares with what Ignatieff calls ‘ordinary virtues’: those interpersonal moral instincts which impel us to deal justly and kindly with those nearest to us, with those we encounter directly and those who share our culture, our language, our belief system, and our family and local community ties. Ignatieff believes that the ordinary virtues are not only compatible with, but necessary for realizing the ideal of human rights in the world. That’s because localism and the ordinary virtues provide us with a key element, that of triage, which makes these great human rights projects scalable, manageable, and effective within localities in a way that the application of universalist principles can’t on their own.

Does Ignatieff succeed in his attempt to reconcile the universalist conception of human rights with localism and the ordinary virtues? What do you think? Find out by listening to this fascinating and informative discussion at Philosophy 24/7

And learn more about the widely accomplished and ever-energetic Michael Ignatieff at:

Michael Ignatieff: Biography – at his website

Michael Ignatieff – by Michael Ray for Encyclopædia Britannica

Michael Ignatieff on Political Theory and Political Practice – discussion at Philosophy Bites podcast

“I Don’t See the President As An Intellectual at All”: A Q&A with Michael Ignatieff – by Isaac Chotiner for  The New Republic, February 20, 2014

Michael Ignatieff, The Intellectual Who Wanted to Be a Politician – by Jordan Michael Smith

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Photobook: Portrait of James Boswell, National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

James Boswell portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, 2014 Amy Cools

James Boswell portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland. Boswell’s diary of Samuel Johnson has been called the greatest biography in the English language. I visited this portrait during my journey to Edinburgh in 2014 following the life and ideas of David Hume, my favorite philosopher, if I had to name just one. Boswell sat at the bedside of the dying Hume and marveled at his composure in the face of suffering and death.

 

 

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

“Held in Trust by History:” The Intellectual Activism of Lerone Bennett Jr., by Christopher Tinson

Lerone Bennett, Jr, by John H. White for Series DOCUMERICA, Oct 1973, public domain (cropped)

On the morning of December 11, 2016, a notice in the Chicago area news read as follows: “Author Lerone Bennett Found Safe After Being Reported Missing.” The 88-year old scholar and journalist had decided to go for an early morning walk, without telling anyone. According to the notice, Bennett had been located hours after he had gone missing. While the news report provided few details about the incident, it indicated that Bennett was “the author of multiple books” who had “previously worked as an editor at JET and Ebony Magazine.” The brevity of this note calls attention to two important facts: that Bennett is not dead as many have assumed, and that he is still largely known for his work at Ebony and for the publication of two critically acclaimed texts even though he produced over ten. While this notice locates Bennett, it fails to account for the extraordinary impact of this important figure.

Lerone Bennett, Jr.—social historian, Black Studies architect, and intellectual activist—spent over four decades at Ebony magazine. Ebony, arguably the premier African American lifestyle magazine of the 20th century, was founded by John H. Johnson in 1945. In addition to Ebony, Bennett also maintained a full organizational life, holding memberships and associations in such organizations as the short-lived Black Academy of Arts and Letters, the Race Relations Information Center, the Institute of the Black World, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center. In 1965, John Henrik Clarke was the first to announce Bennett as a social historian and historian Pero Dagbovie revisited Bennett’s influence on Africana Studies in an article in the Journal of Black Studies. Renewing the interest in Bennett’s life opens us to several objectives: to gain a sense of African American historical expertise and craftsmanship, to achieve an expansive definition of intellectual history and the social function of the historian, to contextualize Bennett’s productivity, motivations, and range as a thinker, to achieve a view into his philosophy of life, and lastly to arrive at the creatively disruptive and reparative dimensions of history, all of which are discernible in Bennett’s robust body of work.

Born and bred in the south, Bennett moved to Chicago after a stint at the Atlanta Daily World and was named Associate Editor at Ebony in 1954. Bennett’s time at Ebony was unique. Starting out slowly, he later emerged as one of Johnson’s trusted advisors—he eventually co-wrote Johnson’s autobiography. He used the prestige of one of America’s most successful black entrepreneurs to teach and disseminate black history. The common association of Bennett with the popularizing of history reduces his impact. His record shows that far from watering down the African American experience in the United States, he sought to forge a reparative, justice-centric, visionary account of past human endeavor and the stakes of social disequilibrium. For Bennett, history looks backwards and forwards simultaneously. A brief survey of Ebony issues over this period reveals several principal social concerns, including: African American struggles over rights, passionate interest in the decolonization of the African continent, the uncovering or rediscovering key contributors to Africana intellectual life, and measuring the growing discontent with the prospects of American democracy. On one hand, Ebony emphasized high-life aspiration and on the other it cultivated a devoted and deeply engaged readership. Throughout the 1960s Bennett published a broad range of essays commenting on African American politics, culture, and Afro-diasporic history. Virtually no subject escaped Bennett’s pen. Among the writings in this period are essays on African independence, civil rights militancy, popular culture, and other histories that comprised the series “Pioneers of Protest.”

However, Bennett’s career took off upon the publication of Before the Mayflower in 1962, which began as a series of Ebony essays in 1961. The book was an immediate sensation. Mainstream press outlets such as the Chicago Tribune favorably reviewed the book. The Tribune also carried book reviews written by Bennett while he served as associate editor at Ebony. Historian and activist John Henrik Clarke’s review essay for the black left periodical Freedomways in 1965 locates Bennett in relation to the Civil Rights upsurge carried out by “A new generation of restless black Americans.” For Clarke, Bennett was part of a new generation who, like himself, could be called participant historians. In other words these were historians who not only documented history, but were themselves poised and principled activists in their own regard. Clarke offered readers a glimpse into Bennett’s background before diving into a review of key sections of Before the Mayflower and several of his seminal Ebony articles. Accompanying the piece was two of Bennett’s poems, showcasing a multitalented intellect.

The great irony of Bennett’s career, perhaps, is found in his relationship with Ebony, a magazine known for its dependency on advertising that peddled skin lighteners, platform shoes, cigarettes, scotch, the latest styles, and wigs. Bennett was bent on using the popular magazine of the black high life as a reputable platform to document and forecast black struggle, and he succeeded. Still, this did not mean he went unquestioned about what some perceived to be a contradiction.

Without question, Ebony was a critical platform for Bennett. In the front matter of every book he published for JPC, he earnestly thanked Johnson for allowing him the massive platform, time, and resources to research and write. He could reach larger audiences than professors at exclusive colleges or universities, but he could also keep relationships with those institutions that had no effect on his work. Ebony thus emerges as a premier, if unlikely, site of black cultural knowledge production. In this sense Ebony was a different kind of public institution. Bennett certainly benefitted from this unique arrangement and never took it for granted. Not only could he be in the thick of key debates as sage and journalist and historian, but also Ebony’s book publishing gave him a direct line to the national book networks. Among their many publishing pursuits, Bennett and Johnson had plans for an Ebony Encyclopedia.

Bennett’s approach to publishing was methodical and systematic. Lectures and speeches became articles, articles became books, or anthologies. Ebony therefore was unparalleled in its disruption of American consumer trends and U.S. based intellectual work. Bennett had the best of both worlds in terms of institutional credibility among all sectors of the black community. Bennett’s work ethic and standards of excellence had earned him the trust of John H. Johnson. The two carved out what was an enviable relationship. Bennett had access to the publishing mogul, and Johnson needed Bennett’s intellectual heft to bolster the magazine’s reputation and commitment to sincere and earnest coverage of black life beyond the simple demands of capitalist advertising and an aspiring black middle class’s pursuit of the high life. But Johnson was no fool. And although he refused to wear his politics on his sleeve, Bennett viewed Johnson as a sincere and chief advocate of black life. Effectively, Bennett was the bridge across a full spectrum that stretched from a petty capitalist, black bourgeoisie, churchgoing, assimilationist community, to grassroots militants and middle- and working class intellectuals with nationalist proclivities, alongside full expressions of black elite aspiration. No matter the segments of the black community and their ideological shadings or capitalist accouterments, in Bennett’s view, their fates were linked, and, moreover, they all had to answer the call of history and the demands of time.

At the turn of the 21st Century, Bennett remained active. On April 26, 2000, Bennett testified in front of the “Joint Hearing of the Finance and Human Relations Committees of the Chicago City Council on Reparations for African-American Slaves and Their Descendants.” The sage historian took full advantage of the opportunity to underscore the unpaid debt long past due. Interestingly, atop the typed speech, in Bennett’s cursive handwriting are the words, “Held in Trust by History.” It was as if Bennett was reminding himself of the duty to once again shine due light on the evidence and make the case plain.

Like W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson, he showed a commitment to “living history” and modeled a kind of public intellectualism that was both strident and sensitive. His time at Ebony suggests that a popular media platform could just as easily become a classroom. For Bennett, history was not just a discipline–it was obligation, memory, and art. He was moved by the opportunity, calling, and challenge of doing good work on behalf of a people’s struggle. Lerone Bennett, Jr. no longer needs an “All Points Bulletin/Missing Persons Report.” He has been here the whole time.

This piece was originally published at The African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) Blog

~ Christopher Tinson is an Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Hampshire College. His interdisciplinary research and teaching focuses on the intersections between Africana radical traditions, Ethnic Studies, critical media studies, incarceration, and community-based education. His book on Liberator magazine and black activism of the 1960s, entitled Radical Intellect, is forthcoming. (Bio credit: AAIHS)

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Anscombe!

‘Elizabeth Anscombe, [born Mar 18, 1919] was considered by some to be the greatest English philosopher of her generation. She was professor of philosophy at Cambridge from 1970 to 1986, having already, as a research fellow at Oxford in the 50s, helped change the course of moral philosophy. Also influential in philosophy of mind, she pioneered contemporary action theory, and the pre-eminent philosopher Donald Davidson called her 1957 monograph Intention the best work on practical reasoning since Aristotle. The philosophical world owes her an enormous debt, too, for bringing Wittgenstein, probably the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, to public knowledge…. from Jane O’Grady’s obituary for The Guardian

Let us honor Elizabeth Anscombe on the anniversary of her birth by learning more about this important, influential, and trailblazing philosopher:

G. E. M. Anscombe (1919—2001) – by Duncan Richter for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe – by Julia Driver for The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Elizabeth Anscombe – A BBC Programme Woman’s Hour episode in which Sarah Woolman speaks to Dr Rosalinde Hursthouse and Professor Philippa Foot

The Golden Age of Female Philosophy – A recent episode of Philosopher’s Zone which discusses Anscombe’s work along with the work of other great contemporary women philosophers

Anscombe Bioethics Centre – ‘a Roman Catholic academic institute that engages with the moral questions arising in clinical practice and biomedical research’

G.E.M. Anscombe Bibliography – by José M. Torralba for Universidad de Navarra

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

O.P. Recommends: Hi-Phi Nation Podcast by Barry Lam

A few weeks ago, I discovered this oh-so-enjoyable philosophy podcast, one right up my alley and the alley of anyone who loves philosophy in the public square. It’s called Hi-Phi Nation, ‘a philosophy podcast that turns stories into ideas.’

Created by Barry Lam, its mission is to demonstrate the revelatory power of philosophical thinking through its application to real-life situations, from what soldier-turned-philosopher Mike Robillard calls ‘moral exploitation’ in the military to what constitutes valid scientific inquiry, from the morality of wills and trusts (why should the wishes of the dead ever have priority over the interests of the living?) to what a certain musical subgenre reveals about the nature of art. The latter, in fact, is one of my personal favorite episodes, as philosophy and art are both central in my life.

The style of the podcast is closely modeled on This American Life and other story-driven podcasts. As Lam points out, people love stories, so if one wants to convey philosophical ideas to the public at large, especially complex or subtle ones, there’s no better way to do it than in the context of a good tale. For example, take morality: from Plato and his Republic and Ring of Gyges, to Jesus Christ and his parables, to Louisa May Alcott’s tales of the tribulations and joys of a progressive-minded family living through the Civil War, the most influential moral thinkers and teachers bring their ideas to comprehensible, identifiable, sympathetic life for their audiences.

There are two excellent articles about Lam and the show by Larry Hertz for Vassar Stories (of Vassar College, where Lam is an associate professor), and by Brett Tomlinson for Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Enjoy! I know you will…

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Steinbeck Retreat, Monterey Bay and Salinas Valley Region of California, March 4th – 9th, 2017

Bust of John Steinbeck and sculptures of the local people who inspired Cannery Row, Monterey, CA

For several days this last week, I’ve been on a literary retreat hosted by Clay Jenkinson, Becky Cawley, and Russ Eagle. You may remember Clay and Becky from the account of my last retreat with them at Lochsa Lodge in the Bitterroot Mountains in January. Clay is a humanities scholar who has been very influential in my own study and thought for the last few years, and Becky has worked with Clay for many more years than that co-creating historical, cultural, and literary tours throughout the United States. At Lochsa Lodge this winter, we read and discussed Walden Pond and Henry David Thoreau’s concept of living deliberately, and the history of the Native Americans of the Great Plains and the wars of the United States’ expansion into their territories through the 1800’s and their echoes in the DAPL fight today.

This tour took us to Monterey, Pacific Grove, the Salinas Valley, and the mountains and coastline of this beautiful region of California following the life and work of the great American writer John Steinbeck. It was a special joy for me that this retreat was all about history, literature, and gorgeous scenery from my home state of California. I had read and loved Steinbeck’s novels especially when I was in my late teens to mid-twenties but it had been far too long since I revisited his work. I re-read some of the novels for this occasion, and some were new to me; in both cases, I found a rich source of beauty and wisdom much more revealing to me with the added benefit of a decade and more of life-years.

Interior of Rocinante, the customized camper truck from John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley

We read Travels with Charley, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, and The Pearl; selections from The Red Pony, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, and East of Eden (though most of us read it in full, being a favorite of many); and read and discussed most in depth what Clay, myself, and many others consider his greatest work, The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath, as you may know, is the story of the epic journey of the Joad family as they flee the loss of their crops and their family home in the Dust Bowl disaster in Depression Era America. The Joads are a fictional family but their struggles are closely based on the struggles of actual immigrants as they face the life of much-maligned, much-neglected, and much-abused refugees from drought and debt in their own nation. Some members of the clan die in the course of their journey, some strike out on their own, a family friend who accompanied them is murdered by a vigilante trying to break up the worker’s rights movement that he had joined, and one becomes a fugitive after he kills his friend’s assassin. Throughout the novel, Ma Joad is transformed from mother to matriarch as she holds the family together through the terrible hardships they suffer in search of work and a new home. She’s one of my favorite female characters in all fiction in her strength, courage, integrity, wisdom, generosity, and great heart. Others in the family are ennobled and transformed as well: the ex-convict, fugitive son Tom joins the worker’s rights movement after his friend is martyred, disillusioned; tortured loner and binge drinker Uncle John worked until he nearly dropped to help save the family from a flood and sent a stillborn infant downstream in a crate, Moses-on-the-Nile fashion, to alert others of the migrant’s wrongs; and narcissistic, immature daughter Rose of Sharon … well, I won’t spoil the powerful, disturbing, beautiful ending in case you haven’t read it yet.

Bust of Ed Ricketts memorializing the spot where he died in Monterey, CA

Over the course of several days, we toured Monterey and the settings of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, centered around the character of Doc, modeled on his great friend, the charismatic biologist Ed Ricketts, and visited one of his homes in neighboring Pacific Grove, only several blocks away. We visited the aquarium, housing so much of the marine wildlife which fascinated Steinbeck and Ricketts; walked beautiful Point Lobos, well-loved by Steinbeck and where his family held a memorial service for him and spread some of his ashes; hiked in Pinnacles National Park, not directly associated with Steinbeck but linked to the Gabilan Mountain range which Steinbeck describes in such glowing terms in East of Eden; and, on perhaps my favorite outing of all, we climbed Fremont Peak, as Steinbeck did when on a visit to his old home town in Travels With Charley. Fremont Peak itself is beautiful, its chapparal terrain glowing green from the prolonged rains that rescued California from severe drought this winter and spring, scattered with cloud-gray rocks of the perfect size and grippy roughness to scramble around on, and the view from it is just spectacular: sprawling agricultural fields on one side, Monterey Bay on the other.

The rest of the retreat group spent their last day in Salinas at the Steinbeck Center, Steinbeck House, and the Garden of Memories where Steinbeck and many of his ancestors and family members are buried. I didn’t make it to Salinas with the group, having to return to work for the day, but I did visit the Steinbeck Center and House earlier on the first day of the trip since I was free. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to make it to the Garden of Memories before I was due to join the retreat.

I didn’t take many pictures during the trip; I was in retreat mode and in the mood to mostly leave my electronics put away so as to lose myself in the beauty and spirit of these places, unfiltered, unmediated. But I did chronicle my own visit to the Steinbeck Center and the Steinbeck House in Salinas and our day touring Monterey and Pacific Grove. Here are a few photos, below, in addition to the ones above.

It was such a lovely week, and I’m still enjoying the afterglow. Thank you, older, newish, and brand-new Odyssey Tour friends! ‘Til we meet again…

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Main Street, Salinas, CA. According to a sign out front, John Steinbeck ate at Sang’s Cafe, in the white building with the blue trim just to the left of Maya Cinemas

Rocinante, the customized camper truck from John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley. As you may remember, Rocinante was the name of Don Quixote’s horse. At the Steinbeck Center in Monterey, CA.

Steinbeck House, Salinas, CA, where John Steinbeck was born

Ed Ricketts’ Pacific Biological Laboritories, Monterey, CA. Ricketts was an important figure in Steinbeck’s life and work. Steinbeck also studied marine biology at Stanford, but did not receive a degree there. But not for lack of interest in marine biology or learning in general…

Interior of the downstairs lab area of Ed Rickett’s Pacific Biological Laboratories.

Discussion with Susan Shillinglaw, Steinbeck scholar and writer of books about him and others central to his life and work, upstairs in the Pacific Biological Laboratories, with Clay Jenkinson and Russ Eagle

John Steinbeck’s home and garden at 147 11th Street in Pacific Grove, CA

Monterey and its beautiful Bay with its rich tidepools

Me on Fremont Peak. Thanks for the photo, Larry!

Simone de Beauvoir’s Political Philosophy Resonates Today, by Skye C Cleary

Simone de Beauvoir is rightly best known for declaring: ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.’ A less well-known facet of her philosophy, particularly relevant today, is her political activism, a viewpoint that follows directly from her metaphysical stance on the self, namely that we have no fixed essences.

The existential maxim ‘existence precedes essence’ underpins de Beauvoir’s philosophy. For her, as for Jean-Paul Sartre, we are first thrown into the world and then create our being through our actions. While there are facts of our existence that we can’t choose, such as being born, who our parents were, and our genetic inheritance, we shouldn’t use our biology or history as excuses not to act. The existential goal is to be an agent, to take control over our life, actively transcending the facts of our existence by pursuing self-chosen goals.

It’s easy to find excuses not to act. So easy that many of us spend much of our lives doing so. Many of us believe that we don’t have free will – even as some neuroscientists are discovering that our conscious will can override our impulses. We tell ourselves that our vote won’t make any difference, instead of actively shaping the world in which we want to live. We point fingers at Facebook for facilitating fake news, instead of critically assessing what we’re reading and reposting. It’s not just lazy to push away responsibility in such ways, but it’s what de Beauvoir called a ‘moral fault’.

Since we’re all affected by politics, if we choose not to be involved in creating the conditions of our own lives this reduces us to what de Beauvoir called ‘absurd vegetation’. It’s tantamount to rejecting existence. We must take a side. The problem is, it’s not always clear which side we ought to choose. Even de Beauvoir failed to navigate through this question safely. She adopted questionable political stances: she once, for example, dismissed Chairman Mao – responsible for the murder of over 45 million people – as being ‘no more dictatorial’ than Franklin D Roosevelt. De Beauvoir’s philosophy of political commitment has a dark side, and she personally made some grave errors of judgement, yet within her philosophy, there’s an opening to address this issue.

In The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947) she argues that to be free is to be able to stretch ourselves into an open future full of possibilities. Having this kind of freedom may be dizzying, but it doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we like. We share the earth, and have concern for one another; if we respect freedom for ourselves, then we should respect it for others, too. Using our freedom to exploit and oppress others, or to support the side that promotes such policies, is inconsistent with this radical existential freedom.

With oppressive regimes, de Beauvoir acknowledged that individuals usually pay a high price for standing up to dictators and the tyranny of the majority, but demonstrated concretely – through her writing and political engagement – the power of collective action to bring about structural change. An intellectual vigilante, de Beauvoir used her pen as a weapon, breaking down gendered stereotypes and challenging laws that prohibited women from having control over their own bodies. She authored and signed the Manifesto of the 343 in 1971, which paved the way for birth control and abortion in France. Her most famous work, The Second Sex (1949), sparked a new wave of feminism across the world.

Today more than ever it’s vital to recognise that freedom can’t be assumed. Some of the freedoms that de Beauvoir fought so hard for in the mid-20th century have since come under threat. De Beauvoir warns that we should expect appeals to ‘nature’ and ‘utility’ to be used as justifications for restrictions on our freedom. And she has been proved correct. For example, the argument that Donald Trump and others have used that pregnancy is inconvenient for businesses is an implicit way of communicating the view that it is natural and economical for women to be baby-making machines while men work. However, de Beauvoir points out ‘anatomy and hormones never define anything but a situation’, and making birth control, abortion, and parental leave unavailable closes down men’s and women’s ability to reach beyond their given situations, reinforcing stereotypical roles that keep women chained to unpaid home labour and men on a treadmill of paid labour.

In times of political turmoil, one may feel overwhelmed with anxiety and can even be tempted with Sartre to think that ‘hell is other people’. De Beauvoir encourages us to consider that others also give us the world because they infuse it with meaning: we can only make sense of ourselves in relation to others, and can only make sense of the world around us by understanding others’ goals. We strive to understand our differences and to embrace the tension between us. World peace is a stretch, since we don’t all choose the same goals, but we can still look for ways to create solidarities – such as by working to agitate authoritarians, to revolt against tyrants, to amplify marginalised voices – to abolish oppression. Persistence is essential since, as de Beauvoir says, ‘One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.’ De Beauvoir is surely right that this is the risk, the anguish, and the beauty of human existence.Aeon counter – do not remove

~ Skye C Cleary is a lecturer at Columbia University, the City College of New York, and Barnard College, and is the managing editor of the American Philosophical Association’s blog. Her latest book is Existentialism and Romantic Love (bio credit: Aeon)

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!