Ambiguity can be defined as a lack of precise meaning or interpretation, so how can we describe human existence as “ambiguous”? Surely, there must be some essence, or characteristic thing, that we can use to solidify the meaning of our existence. However, it becomes difficult to pin down exactly what every human existence has in common. Dreams of fame and fortune motivate and consume the lives of some people, others dedicate their lives to help people less fortunate, and still there are those that sit on a couch all day watching TV as their years monotonously pass by. In The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simone de Beauvoir develops an existentialist view that explains the details of an ambiguous existence and how those who exist should act in this world. De Beauvoir relies on an individual’s freedom to argue that existence is ambiguous and that each individual should act with the intention of securing this freedom in herself and others. I find Simone de Beauvoir’s analysis on an ambiguous existence to be logical, as I tend to think and act in ways that may constitute my being an existentialist.
Throughout The Ethics of Ambiguity, de Beauvoir contrasts the facticity of the world with the individual’s freedom to choose how to shape an otherwise ambiguous existence. Facticity is an undeniable truth that stands in the world, whether it details those who existed in a past event, one’s own birthday, or the force that is gravity. De Beauvoir would argue that, based on pure facticity, an individual’s existence becomes absurd: “Life imprisonment is the most horrible of punishments because it preserves existence in its pure facticity but forbids it all legitimation” (31). Imprisonment has a defined rigid structure with defined schedules and defined activities. There is no room for questioning, as the guard or other oppressor sets the standards for every action committed. In succumbing to this type of detention, the individual becomes nothing more than a cog in the prison’s network of operations: a thing. Thus, what defines a legitimate existence is that of freedom.
To be free is to have the unregulated power to choose one’s own values. For de Beauvoir, freedom is the characteristic with which we are able to describe our existence: “Freedom is the source from which all significations and all values spring. It is the original condition of all justification of existence” (24). Freedom entails a choice of one option over another, and one’s choice cannot be predetermined, lest she be unfree. It follows that the freedom of choice for all values, actions, beliefs, thoughts creates an existence that is indeterminate, ambiguous, and is only justified by assigning meaning using this freedom. It is therefore necessary that an appropriate reaction and critical analysis of a situation take place when exerting one’s own freedom in the world.
One may then ask, “How do I know that I am acting appropriately, or morally, if my existence and everyone else’s is ambiguous?” De...