God as the other within: Simone Weil on God, the self and love

Doğa Çöl read


Simone Weil (1909-1943) is a French philosopher who is also a prominent figure in the tradition of Christian mysticism. In her early philosophical writings and lectures, she describes her understanding of the aim of philosophy as “the Search for the Good”. Very much influenced by Plato, Descartes and Kant, Weil states that God as the absolute Good is beyond known truths and can only be reached through Love. This treatment of love as a destructive power whereby the Self effaces itself in order to get closer to God, echoes a somewhat mystical scheme. Weil believes that the only way to reach such knowledge and therefore God, which in her view is the sole purpose of life and should also be the purpose of philosophy. This dissertation focuses on the grounds that bring her to such conclusions as well as providing an analysis of whether Weil’s philosophical approach as an alternative to metaphysical and ethical problems in philosophy is able to stand firm on its own.


With that in mind, the first chapter of this dissertation is on the nature of the self or what we refer to as the ‘I’ which is a good starting point because anything that an individual contemplates begins with either an explicit or an implicit ‘I’ which is inevitable by any being that would be classified as human. This is perhaps, in a way, our curse as Weil later notes, because we are able to contemplate our very own being as well as the only beings who are also aware of the implications of affliction that we face in our lives. This is not true for other beings, either animals who feel pain but do not contemplate the metaphysics of pain, or God and other supernatural beings who are said to not feel pain. As this is a dissertation of philosophy, it is vital that I must try to keep an open mind regarding definitions and beliefs of supernatural entities insofar as Weil engages with the concepts as such, however it is also important that I try and present an analysis of the way they are defined. This is the reason why the first two chapters include all the major religious and philosophical influences that Weil shares with us in her work. In this way, we will be able to not only revisit and examine but also compare those thoughts and ideas fresh in our minds. It is perhaps one of the most important aspects of a philosophical investigation that we must try and capture the essence of a problem before embarking on a journey where that problem presents other problems with it in its natural habitat.

The nature of self is, thus, first examined in the light of Plato’s works and how Plato presents a concept of the ‘I’ or rather what he understands from this concept. Plato’s understanding of the self is characterized in three parts, the λογιστικόν, the θυμοειδές and the ἐπιθυμητικόν, or the parts related to reason, to spirit and to desire, which make up the tripartite soul. The tripartite soul is the foundation for further investigation regarding the self and consciousness. Through examination of these ideas within Plato’s relevant body of work, a deeper understanding of Weil’s influence of Plato’s concept of the self will be reached. The aim is to look at primary sources but then compare these ideas with Weil’sinterpretation of them in her esoteric view.

DOCTORAL THESİS (Philosophy Department)

Philosophy Doctoral Programme

Thesis Advisor: Prof. Dr. Fatma Hülya Şimga

İstanbul / T.C. Maltepe University Graduate Institute (May, 2023)

The mysticism of the ordeal of the absence of God in the context of the Second World War. The case of Simone Weil and Etty Hillesum

Pierre Gillouard read

Based on the study of the writings of Simone Weil and Etty Hillesum during the Second World War, this article intends to identify the characteristics of an unprecedented moment in the history of mysticism where the experience of God’s presence is irreducibly associated with the ordeal of his absence in the events of this world. If this link between the experience of absence and that of presence echoes the classic image of John of the Cross’s “dark night”, its conceptualisation in both Simone Weil and Etty Hillesum reveals two emerging features that break with the earlier mystical tradition. On the one hand, the ordeal of absence is no longer experienced as a purifying punishment inflicted by God himself, but rather as the ordeal of contemporary reality where God is recognised as the Absent One “par excellence”. On the other hand, the experience of presence does not put an end to that of absence, so that one can speak of the concomitance of the absence and the presence of God in the mystical experience of the 20th century.

Dans Études théologiques et religieuses 2022/1 (Tome 97), pages 49 à 65


‘Waiting on God’: A Radio Talk on Simone Weil

Iris Murdoch read

Excerpt: ” . . . . For Simone Weil the main fact of human life, and the fact which we must not flinch from if we are to find out any truth about it,8 is the fact of affliction. Le Malheur. For her, the centre of Christianity is the passion and the central moment of the passion is the cry of dereliction. The greatness of Christianity, Simone Weil says, lies in its seeking not a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for the suffering. Let us see how she conceives this use. Her thought, although we have it in this scattered aphoristic form, is curiously systematic.

Two things strike one immediately about her ‘system’. That it is very austerely dualistic, and that it enunciates with a strange sort of confidence a view of the physical and of the spiritual universe which one might call ‘mechanical.’ The dualism is between La Pesanteur and La Grâce – gravity, this is gravitational force, and grace. All natural phenomena, including psychological phenomena, are subject to ‘gravity’, by which she means that they are subject to ‘natural law’ in the scientific sense. This realm of natural necessity is purposeless; things have causes but not ends. The only sort of finality which we can detect in it is the purposeless finality of the total ordering of natural things. . . . ”

Iris Murdoch Review, (2017), pp. 9-16, preface by Justin Broackes, (BBC broadcast, Oct.18, 1951, 7.40 p.m. on the Third Programme)


— Paul S. Fiddes, Iris Murdoch and the Others: A Writer in Dialogue with Theology, T&T Clark (December 2, 2021) (Chapter 6: “The Void and the Passion: A Dialogue with Simone Weil” & “Coda: With and Beyond Simone Weil: Between Murdoch and Theology”), pp. 155-204.

— Justin Broackes “Iris Murdoch and Simone Weil,” Royal Institute of Philosophy (2018), YouTube.

— Silvia Panizza, “The Importance of Attention in Morality: An Exploration of Iris Murdoch’s Philosophy,” Ph.D. dissertation (2015)

“The Love of God and Man’s Suffering: Simone Weil and Georges Bernanos”

William S. Bush

in Dunaway, John M. & Springsted, Eric. O., The Beauty that Saves: Essays on Aesthetics and Language in Simone Weil, Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, pp. 185-196