Edinburgh speaker series seminar

Speaker: Daniela Dover (University of Oxford)

Title: Beauvoir’s Groundwork: Toward an Existentialist Metaethics (coauthored with Jonathan Gingerich, KCL)

Abstract: In her 1947 book The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simone de Beauvoir set out to create a systematic existentialist ethical theory. Like Kant’s Groundwork, this short and yet startlingly ambitious text purports to offer nothing less than a new way to meet the challenge of moral skepticism, affording a metaethics that at once grounds moral normativity and entails certain first-order moral norms. Like many ethical and political theorists, from Plato to Aristotle to Hobbes to Hume to Kant, Beauvoir approaches ethical theory from the starting point of descriptive anthropology: she believes that the nature of normativity follows from human nature. Like Kant, Beauvoir focuses on freedom as the normativity-grounding feature of human nature, arguing that immoral action is necessarily unfree. Beauvoir departs dramatically from Kant, however, in her account of the consequences—both ethical and metaethical—that freedom entails. Little attention has so far been paid to these grand metaethical ambitions, with most scholarship on the Ethics of Ambiguity treating it as a mere companion piece to the Second Sex. Yet we argue that Beauvoir offers an original and promising metaethical program, one that deserves to be treated as a live option in contemporary analytic metaethics. This program has surprising implications, such as that it is unethical to be a moral realist and that the practice of promising undermines the very existence of ethical normativity. In this paper, we undertakes a critical reconstruction and defence of a neo-Beauvoirian metaethics.

Further information

The Edinburgh Speaker Series features talks on all areas of philosophy. For information, or to join the email list for these events, please contact Mahrad Almotahari. All are welcome, including all students (MA, MSc, PhD) and faculty in philosophy.


Mahrad Almotahari

Apr 05 2023 -

Edinburgh speaker series seminar

2023-04-05: Beauvoir’s Groundwork: Toward an Existentialist Metaethics

Lecture Theatre, Hugh Robson Building, 15 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9XD