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Arp, Kristana. The Bonds of Freedom: Simone de Beauvoir's Existentialist Ethics.

La Salle: Open Court, 2001. xii + 178 pp. Cloth, $42.95; paper, $19.95--In this book, Kristana Arp seeks to establish a new understanding of the ethical thought of Simone de Beauvoir. While placing Beauvoir within the school of existential phenomenology, Arp emphasizes Beauvoir's unique contribution to existentialist ethics. Her thesis is that Beauvoir's work moves beyond the ethical thought of other existentialists, particularly beyond that of Jean-Paul Sartre, and seeks to address fundamental problems left open by Sartre's thinking. "Beauvoir's breakthrough," she claims, "is to change existentialism's focus on one's own freedom into a focus on the freedom of others" (p. 7).

Arp argues that the locus of Beauvoir's originality in thinking on ethics is the book The Ethics of Ambiguity. This work, she claims, is the end point of Beauvoir's self-described "moral period" during which she attempted to come to terms with her experiences during the Second World War. Her focus on this work as the primary ethical text written by Beauvoir gives Atp a unique reading of Beauvoir's ethical development. For, as she observes, other recent commentators have suggested that this work is either derivative of Sartre's thinking or that Beauvoir's own ethical thinking moves beyond this work. Arp, on the other hand, sees The Ethics of Ambiguity as moving beyond Sartre and presenting the most fully formulated account of her ethical thought.

The principle contention of this book is that Beauvoir develops a trifold account of freedom that builds upon the ontological freedom emphasized by Sartre. For Sartre and most subsequent existentialist thinkers and commentators, freedom is identical to a freedom of the will; all humans are free insofar as all humans possess a free will. This ontological freedom--so called because it is essential to human being--cannot be taken away from anyone. Thus, even when one is in bondage, one is as free as one's captors. Arp argues Beauvoir moves beyond this sense of freedom to develop what she calls "moral freedom."

There is a layer of freedom that Beauvoir sees lying between ontological freedom and moral freedom. This layer is power. Power is an effective freedom; it is the ability to do and to have things. This level of freedom lies above the fundamental ontological level insofar as our ontological freedom cannot be deprived of us and each of us is as ontologically free as any other one of us. But power can be diminished or enhanced above what another might possess. "Power," Arp observes, "can be used for ill or for good" (p. 150). One who possesses more power than another and who uses that power for ill can directly impact the freedom of another. Thus, at this second level of freedom deep moral concerns arise. Arp's analysis of Beauvoir's notion of power is located in a consideration of oppression. What is denied the oppressed by the oppressor is this level of freedom. Though still capable of willing freely, the oppressed no longer has the power to act on that willing.

Arp sees this situation as giving rise to what she calls Beauvoir's notion of moral freedom. Moral freedom, she claims, involves a concern for engaging with others in "particular ways." Power does not share this concern. Arp's examples to explain these "particular ways" are clear. "When I turn on my television," she writes, "I have the freedom to choose among more than sixty channels to watch" (p. 151). This is an example of power. I am free to choose among the sixty channels, but if this choice were deprived of me, there would be no long-term detrimental effects. This freedom does not truly effect my being engaged in a world with others. "I also had the freedom to apply to and try to graduate from graduate school in philosophy," she continues. This freedom is not simply power; rather, it has a significant long-term impact on the quality of life. What this freedom allows is the creation of "more opportunities for action for oneself and for others" (p. 151). This is moral freedom; and, according to Arp's presentation of Beauvoir, it is this sort of freedom that we have duty to expand not only for ourselves but for others. This sort of expansion for both me and for another does not come into contradiction, for "I need others to be free so that I can be free myself" (p. 151).

In presenting this reading of a trifold understanding of freedom, Arp gives us a clear and original contribution to the growing literature on Simone de Beauvoir. The book is clearly written, well argued, and accessible. These characteristics combined with a refreshing lack of technical or popular jargon make this work a welcome addition to the shelves not only of Beauvoir scholars but also of those who have a passing interest in her ethical thought.--Mitchell P. Jones, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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Author:Jones, Mitchell P.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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