How To Be Authentic: Simone de Beauvoir and the Quest for Fulfillment

St. Martin’s Essentials. Aug. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781250271358. $27.99. PHIL
Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophy has lately fallen out of fashion, but Cleary (Existentialism and Romantic Love) is interested in showing her as a thinker in her own right, whose ethics are a guide for life. For Beauvoir, authentic living is a matter of creating oneself by one’s own free choices rather than striving toward some idealized image. Two principles guide this process: that one may transcend one’s physical and social state by being for oneself, and that genuine freedom depends on our being for one another. The latter marks Beauvoir as a distinctive and innovative ethical thinker among existentialist philosophers. Focusing on the mutuality found in friendship, romance, marriage, and parenting, Cleary navigates between shoals of objectifying the other and losing oneself by trying to find meaning in that other. She then outlines the dispositions and structures that thwart authenticity and must be thrown off. Cleary celebrates Beauvoir as a woman who rebelled against the structures she confronted, but also criticizes her inability to see those we now confront.
VERDICT Cleary brings a modern and neglected voice in applied ethics to a level that readers have recently seen with Aristotle and the Stoics.
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