The Religious Philosophy of Simone Weil: An Introduction

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For Freud all neuroses, to put it generally, come from repressed tendencies which are satisfied symbolically.

Simone Weil

The consequences of his theories are very far reaching. One has an inkling of their overall intellectual and moral significance: there would be in our minds thoughts which we do not think, in our souls wishes which we do not wish, etc.

Freud goes a little way to correcting the demoralising consequences of his teaching by a notion which is nevertheless quite vague: sublimation. The psychological state is obscure, the consciousness that one has of it is very dear. But why are these psychological states obscure? Because they are passive, emotional states. On this point one does not have to think that there are thoughts which no one thinks, because there is the body. For Bergson, the mind is a store of unconscious memories which the body draws out of it.

Is there anything else involved? This is a difficult question to which we shall return. Example: crossing the streets in Paris, playing some game with ease, etc. One can compare it to a continual noise one is not aware of ; when it stops, one notices it; very much the same kind of thing takes place in the mechanism of the body. The question of the subconscious only really arises in relation to what Freud calls repressed thoughts. We have to find out whether, in this case too, one can find another explanation of repression, without supposing that there is a container in our soul where we put our well-known bogies.

The phenomenon that Freud mentions has been observed at all times. The devil, in the Christian tradition, which leads one into temptation, can be thought of as the subconscious. It often happens that we feel that we are going to think of something; then there is some reaction which stops this thought from taking place.

A whole lot of actions would become impossible in actual life if we did not have the ability not to dwell on our thoughts in this way. A man who lives on financial speculation will not allow its true nature to enter his mind. The question is one of finding out how this self-deception works. It may be that repressed thoughts come out again in dreams, etc. We can say that thought is essentially conscious, but that one can always prevent oneself from formulating it completely. There would be no repression if there were no consciousness.

So, repression is the ability one has for self-deceit. But, the true way of fighting against subconscious ideas is not to repress anything, but to try to make everything clear in the way Socrates did. About a murder. Very well, stop thinking about it.

We have to bring into the light of open day the monsters within us; and not be afraid of looking them straight in the face. It brings about in fact the act of repression. The essence of repressed tendencies is lying; the essence of this lying is the repression of which one is aware. All the observations which tend to establish that there are degrees of consciousness can be accepted, but, when they are not explained by reference to physiological states, they are explained by reference to the non-activity of voluntary thought. One owes it to oneself to achieve this psychological consciousness.

Who Was Simone Weil? by Laurie Gagne

All absence of moral awareness is the result of an absence of psychological awareness. To find out how it is possible to try to get rid of oppression, or at least to make it less, one has first of all to put the following questions:. Now, all coordination is related to the intelligent activity of a mind. It holds good in the struggle against nature, and in the struggle against men. Night Flight by Saint-Exupery. Man, in fact, does not know the limits of his powers.

To achieve some kind of limit there has to be constraint. This distinction then, succeeds in accomplishing impossible things, miracles. Men, when no constraint is put on them, show no self-denial. Competition among oppressors — military war or economic competition — publicity: what efforts are wasted in advertising! All culture is, in this way, made into something false. There have been two periods which are exceptions to this law: the great period of Greek thought which nevertheless did not possess a feeling for the world, the presence of nature and the period of the Renaissance Descartes.

If we think in terms of a necessity that must govern us, we have to say that it does not bring about a stable unity. Itis thought which creates unity. In any case they would not be slaves.

An Introduction

In this case, there must be before everything else a motive for work. Workers give themselves to some piece of work when they understand it. So, it is a matter of ensuring that the workers work knowing what they are doing; of giving to the workers controlling power over the whole of production.

Above all it is necessary not to ignore their existence. It is quite impossible to avoid the social problem. The first form of lie is that of covering up oppression, of flattering the oppressors. This form of lie is very common among honest people, who in other ways are good and sincere, but who do not realise what they are doing.

Unless one has placed oneself on the side of the oppressed, to feel with them, one cannot understand.

So, the first thing to be done is to rebut these two kinds of lie. In order to be in the favoured position of being able to sell themselves for that price they have even to buy over the foreman. We have only to think of the docks at Marseilles, of the women who are forced to sell themselves so that their rickety children can live — miserable beings who before long will undergo the very same slavery.


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Apart from that nothing is done for the unemployed. What is more, especially in America, the workers are often watched in their private lives. Ford: they employ informers. Why all this? Because the machines need men less than men need machines. Men are now the slaves of machines. That is something Descartes never foresaw in his Discourse on Method. Nature dominates man now through the machine.

Those who are masters of the machines are masters of men and of nature. It is a bonus for producing more, a cause of the workers demeaning themselves even more. That only goes to prove that it is no use doing that as long as big industry survives. The capitalists are replaced by bureaucrats. Their plans worked out on paper are not very precise. Coercion does not go with democracy. It is obviously quite impossible for men to be treated like things in the labour market and in production and to be treated as citizens in public life.

As for the magistrates, the rich can buy them; they threaten them with a campaign in the press, or promise them political support. Just to get the services of an advocate, one has to have money. Besides, everything has to be bought at a price. One cannot go to war without money; the mines at Briey were not bombed although they provided the Germans with mineral resources throughout the war. It is very easy to see that the more the mass of workers are oppressed by the economic regime, the more oppressive the state becomes. And if one thinks of a totalitarian state, one form of oppression only brings another with it.

About The Religious Philosophy of Simone Weil

In France there is still some freedom left. It is assumed that some functions of the state are in the interest of everyone; one has the duty in respect of these functions to accept what the state imposes with good grace.


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  5. As for the rest, one has to give in to the state as a necessity, but not accept it within oneself. It is of ten very difficult to do this, especially if one has been brought u p in a certain atmosphere. One also has the duty, contrary to the law, to take liberties which the state does not allow us, as long as such action is worth the trouble. It is a duty, if circumstances allow it, to choose the least evil among a number of forms of government. There is a duty to work for a change in the way society is organised: to increase the material welfare and technical and theoretical education of the masses.

    While hypothetical imperatives have to do with means, categorical imperatives have to do with ends, ends of such a sort that consequences do not matter.

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