Navigating Ethical Ambiguity: A Critical Analysis of Simone de Beauvoir's Perspective on Moral Conduct

Published: 2024-01-27
Navigating Ethical Ambiguity: A Critical Analysis of Simone de Beauvoir's Perspective on Moral Conduct
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Religion Ethics Behavior
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1568 words
14 min read


In its natural meaning, ambiguity refers to the aspect of an issue or object, being open to multiple definitions. Ambiguity is characterized by inexactness, where there is no precise meaning that can be attached to a particular idea. Ambiguity results in the complexity of understanding and judgment because it is hard to attach a reliable meaning to a specific notion when it is ambiguous. Ethics define the moral guidelines that individuals use in their judgment of the nature of an activity, whether it is right or wrong. Therefore, when compared to ambiguity, there is a complexity that is introduced. Simone de Beauvoir's work and perspective are based on the premise of ambiguity. There is a perspective; where the view adopted regarding ethics is not based on the moral principles and opinion that is preferred by all the people in the society. The work by Simone de Beauvoir differs from many other authors; because of the ambiguous aspect it is based on.

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Ethical Ambiguity

Existentialism is adopted as the basis of the work by Simone de Beauvoir, where there is the appreciation of the freedom of an individual to embrace their school of thought. Therefore, she develops her school of thought and develops is based on ambiguity and how it is used to determine what is ethical. According to Simone de Beauvoir, the meaning of ambiguity is the freedom of an individual to choose the right code of conduct and justify its truth (Beauvoir 7). Her work is based on disputing God's existence, Humanity, and the ideas that guide morality that were developed by them. Ethical ambiguity is based on secularism, whereby the ideas adopted do not rely on the moral justification of the existence of a supreme being. When an individual supports the presence of a Supreme Being, they act consistently with the Supreme Being. Therefore, in Simone de Beauvoir's work, she disputes the principles that had been adopted earlier that support the existence of a Supreme Being and humanity. Thus, according to Simone de Beauvoir, ambiguity means an individual's freedom to choose acceptable conduct based on their judgment of what is wrong or right (Beauvoir 11). The aspect of ambiguity forms the basis of her ethics, which is not reliant on justification through human feelings, opinion, or faith.

Ethics is defined as acceptable conduct by individuals, which is justified based on rules that exist. The rules are derived from either their religion or what is perceived as acceptable human conduct. The acceptability of what is moral is based on the opinion about how it affects individuals and the act's conformity with spirituality. Spirituality is based on the existence of a supreme being, for example, God. Therefore, the justification of human behavior as either moral or not is based on whether it conforms to religion or what is considered humane. According to Simone de Beauvoir's perspective, she adopts the concept of ambiguity. The basis of ambiguity is disputing Humanity and God's existence, which creates the freedom to determine what can be defined as either acceptable or unacceptable conduct.

Simone de Beauvoir's philosophy is based on the freedom of judgment, where people are free to choose what is right or wrong, provided they have a justification for it. Existence precedes essence; is the philosophical justification, according to Simone de Beauvoir. The statement means that people create their own explanations for behavior, which then forms the standard that judges whether a behavior is ethical, moral, or not. The results of our past actions and the effect they will have on the future are used to determine what we desire or not. Therefore, she justifies ethical ambiguity based on the freedom of individuals to judge their conduct.

Various philosophers have had their input towards ethics, highlighting what they think ethics is and what should be done to remain ethical. One of the contributors to ethics is Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is based on the nature of a good life for people in society. The ethics developed by Aristotle's Nicomachean perspective are based on the idea that individuals should live a free life from any unnecessary disturbances (Hirji 3). Therefore, life should be orderly, with minimal inconveniences that may compromise their welfare. The central idea was based on ethical values, which are habits that individuals expose us to through their conduct that would be relatively acceptable to us. The acceptability of an individual's conduct made it ethical. Thus, virtues should be respected to create order and convenience for all people in society.

Aristotle's Nicomachean view of ethics is quite different from the perspective that was advanced by Simone de Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity. There was a reference to virtues, which was associated with the morality of human beings. Morality has a reference point, which is either humanity or a supreme being. When an individual practices great virtues, they are considered moral. On the contrary, an immoral individual does not adhere to the principles of any virtues. For an individual to be ethical, according to Aristotle's Nicomachean perspective, the reference to virtues is essential. According to Simone de Beauvoir's perspective, there is no reference to virtues. The reference point of human behavior to make it either ethical or unethical is the major difference between the two views by Simone de Beauvoir's and Aristotle's Nicomachean aspects. With ethical ambiguity, there can be no reference to virtues because of the subjectivity of the virtues among individuals.

The concept of ethics is based on whether an action is right or wrong, based on a particular guideline that determines human behavior. Therefore, there should be a point of reference that determines whether an undertaking is ethical or unethical. Simone de Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity does not have a justifiable basis that can be used to judge a particular behavior as either being moral or immoral. Therefore, there is no absolute way of judging people's actions as either ethical or not. Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is based on the construct of a good life in society. When an individual engages in an activity that fosters greatness and for the people's general good in a community, it is considered an ethical action. Therefore, the scale for determining an activity's moral nature is the associated outcome for society's welfare. Thus, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics meets the criteria required to judge human conduct as either ethical or unethical.

Simone de Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity is subjective, mainly because of the lack of a clear guideline that marks ethical or unethical activities. In most societies, the goodness of an activity that makes it either ethical or unethical is based on their cultural perspectives. When an action is consistent with their cultural beliefs and attitudes, it is judged as honest. Therefore, there is a clear guideline that helps in determining the ethical outcome of an action. On the contrary, Simone de Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity lacks the moral dimension because of a lack of justifiable background. The aspect of ambiguity makes it unclear whether an activity is to be termed as ethical or unethical. Moreover, Simone de Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity disputes the concept of humanity of God's existence. Moral conduct is based on the duty that people owe to one another, what is perceived as humanity. In most cases, humanity is based on religion, where there are concepts that religion supports, for example, honesty. Therefore, when an individual is dishonest, their conduct is termed unethical. Therefore, Simone de Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity is mostly subjective and cannot be relied upon to determine the ethical nature of an individual's conduct.

Ethical conduct is based on intentionality according to Simone de Beauvoir, where the intended consequences of an individual determine if the actions are moral or not. However, there is a lack of a justifiable point of reference that the ethical perspective is associated with. There needs to be a solid justification of human behavior which may make it either ethical or unethical. Ambiguity cannot be relied upon by individuals in society to judge the behavior of individuals. There needs to be a point of reference, for example, religion or humanity. However, Simone de Beauvoir disputes the provisions of humanity and religion in determining the moral perspective associated with ethics. Therefore, there is a complexity about the judgment that an individual can make regarding the behavior an individual is associated with. Compared to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Simone de Beauvoir’s perspective cannot be reliably used to determine the ethical nature of individuals.


Ethics refers to moral conduct; which is acceptable among people in society, based on justifiable grounds. There are various philosophers that have crafted theories trying to explain ethical conduct among individuals. Simone de Beauvoir takes the ethical ambiguity perspective in explaining ethical conduct. The ethical ambiguity perspective is characterized by disputing the role of religion or humanity in determining ethical conduct. The dispute erodes the reliability that most individuals associate with ethical conduct within society. However, there are other perspectives like Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, which provide a better guideline of what constitutes ethical behavior. Therefore, individuals adopt the ethical perspective that they associate with better conduct, consistent with their beliefs and interests.

Works Cited

Beauvoir, Simone de. "The ethics of ambiguity." (1980). Accessed 11 December 2020.

Hirji, Sukaina. "Acting virtuously as an end in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics." British Journal for the History of Philosophy 26.6 (2018): 1006-1026. Accessed 11 December 2020.

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Navigating Ethical Ambiguity: A Critical Analysis of Simone de Beauvoir's Perspective on Moral Conduct. (2024, Jan 27). Retrieved from

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