Simone de Beauvoir
French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir.


For existential philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (pictured) freedom comes to an individual in virtue of trying to attain it. As she writes in The Ethics of Ambiguity:

'If the past [i.e. tradition] concerns us, it does not do so as a brute fact, but insofar as it has human signification; if this signification can be recognized only by a project which refuses the legacy of the past, then this legacy must be refused . . . [If] everything about [today] already seemed justified and that there was no more of it to reject, then there would also be nothing to say about it, for no form would take shape in it . . . [I]n the light of this project situations are graded and reasons for acting are made manifest.'



Hence false certainty in our beliefs belies our chances of real freedom as we embrace existence too concretely. Our beliefs should be held more ambiguously than that.

Consider a man who wraps the value of his existence in external goals: money, power, position, conquest—it is only by achieving these external objects that he feels his existence will be validated. He cannot ever admit to the subjectivity of his goals, even though he himself identified them: to do so would be to acknowledge the subjectivity of his own existence.

Alas, he undermines a true understanding of himself: he loses his chance at being free as he is constantly upset by an ‘uncontrollable course of events’ which he will never be the master of. Simply put, he is controlled by his goals—and we don’t want that.

We should want meaning, which comes from within. But it takes modesty, for the required freedom arises from recognising that there will always be a distance between us and these things and aspiring to them anyway. In our unfamiliarity we lay a foundation for life affirmation to become someone who finds meaning and is free.