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A Study of Character: Simone Weil’s Psychological and Ethical Attention

Deborah Casewell read

 Abstract: In the later, ethically oriented writings of the philosopher Simone Weil, she develops her concept of attention. This involves using the body to train the mind and thus the soul, into an open, receptive state. This state is the first condition for any ethical action to take place. This article explores how Weil’s account of attention can provide a new perspective in philosophical and theological engagement with psychology, first in terms of moral psychology and virtue ethics, and second in statements on the malleability or plasticity of human nature. As Weil sees that human nature’s stress on activity tends to lead to suffering rather than ethical action, she proposes not ethical action per se, but an ethical attitude of attention instead. Habit-formation and character development can thus be approached differently as cultivating a state of openness rather than of particular virtues. This article will therefore explore the relationship of theology and psychology in terms of human nature as irremediably situated but also psychologically receptive for restoration. 

TheoLogica (An International Journal for Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology) (February 07, 2022)

The Author: Deborah Casewell holds a Humboldt Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Bonn.


Nursing in Wartime: Edith Stein and Simone Weil on Empathic Attention

Ann W. Astell read

Abstract: Edith Stein and Simone Weil both trained as Red Cross nurses for wartime service. For both philosophers, the activity of a nurse demands empathic attention to the afflicted. Stein envisions herself as an attendant nurse in her memoirs; Weil similarly casts herself in a nurse’s role in her proposal for an elite, sacrificial nurses’ corps. This essay examines the practice of wartime nursing as a school for, and an expression of, their complementary philosophies of human beings seen in their physical, epistemological, and spiritual interrelatedness.

Journal of Continental Philosophy (Feb. 23, 2022)

Ann W. Astell is a professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.


Simone Weil’s exemplary anti-fascism feels urgent today

Richard Penaskovic read

Excerpt: . . . . What can we learn from her today? Plenty. First, in these pandemic times, we need to focus on helping others in a way that makes our own ego disappear as we come to the aid of neighbors less fortunate than we are. Second, Simone suggests that we are to do God’s will and can be a unique presence of God on planet Earth. Third, Simone can be relatable to women today who are experiencing physical, mental, and emotional pain, since she suffered so much pain her entire life yet continued her important work of championing the marginalized.

Times Union (March 5, 2022)

Former Albany resident Richard Penaskovic went on to become a professor of religious studies at Alabama’s Auburn University. He earned his doctorate in theology at the University of Munich in Germany.


“A terrible responsibility”: In today’s U.S., patriotism is essential — but not easy

Robert Zaretsky read

In early July 1942, a 30-something French Jewish woman and her parents, having fled occupied France months earlier, disembarked in New York City. While the parents were still unpacking, the daughter began to write letters to friends, acquaintances, even strangers to help her return to France.

How Simone Weil taught us to confront a world poisoned with lies.

To an English officer she heard on the radio discussing France, she poured out her heart in near-fluent English.

“It is a very hard thing to leave one’s country in distress,” she Weil wrote. “Although my parents, who wanted to escape antisemitism, put a great pressure upon me to make me go with them, I would never have left France without the hope that through coming here I could take a greater part in the struggle, the danger and the suffering of this war.”

Simone Weil, the author of the letter, then tried to sell its recipient — as she had dozens of others — on the idea of creating squadrons of unarmed French nurses who, garbed in white and led by Weil, would be parachuted onto battlefields to tend to the wounded. Though the idea never got off the ground, Weil did manage to get as far as England toward the very end of that year, and join Charles de Gaulle’s Free French movement. . . .

Forward (July 3, 2022).


Investigating “Man’s Relation to Reality”: Peter Winch, the Vanishing Shed and Metaphysics after Wittgenstein

Olli Lagerspetz read

Peter Winch believed that the central task of philosophy was to investigate ‘the force of the concept of reality’ in human practices. This involved creative dialogue with critical metaphysics. In ‘Ceasing to Exist’, Winch considered what it means to judge that something unheard-of has happened. Referring to Wittgenstein, Winch argued that judgments concerning reality must relate our observations to a shared ‘flow of life’. This implies criticism of the form of epistemology associated with metaphysical realism. Just as, according to Wittgenstein, a sentence has no fixed meaning in isolation — an observation does not constitute knowledge outside shared human practices.

Philosophical Investigations, 5 Jan. 2022


The presence of the world in Simone Weil’s early writings

Juan Manuel Ruiz Jiménez read

In this critical study we analyze the question of the presence of the world in Simone Weil’s early writings, in order to apprehend properly her conception of time. In this sense, we try to elucidate the ontological and epistemological relations that she sets between man and the world. This perspective allows us to explore the philosophy of perception in Weil’s early years and to sketch the existential implications that emerge in the experience of present. We also look at the difficulty of thinking about immobility in human reality, based on the problematic tension that Weil establishes between the notions of continuity and eternity.

Filosopfia, vo. 23, no. 1 (Jan-Apr. 2022)



Ellul and Weil: Attention as Waiting: Complementary Critiques in an Age of Technique via Simone Weil and Jacques Ellul

Sarah Louise MacMillen read


The writings of Simone Weil and Jacques Ellul include sociological, philosophical, and religious themes, and the two intellectuals serve as “bookends” surrounding the postmodern era.  The writers were prolific, respectively, during the time between the World Wars (Weil), and the late 20th century’s Information Age (Ellul).  They each dealt with the impact of modernity on humans, further exploring the implications of Weber’s definition of moderns as “sensualists without heart and specialists without spirit.”

Weil and Ellul had prescient insights on a contemporary trend, namely an unbridled faith in technology, or what Ellul called “technique,” looming large.  Ellul and Weil both present a case for how the method of the technological imagination undermines basic needs and obligations for human beings.  Alan Jacobs’ text discusses both Weil and Ellul in this light.  For Weil the enemy of education is “technocracy . . . ’evil [dominates] wherever the technical side of things is…sovereign.”  For Ellul, observing later in the 20th century, “education no longer has a humanist…value in itself; it has only one goal, to create technicians.”  Combining these reflections from the two authors, postmodernity and techniquelose touch with what Weil calls “attention”—waiting for God (or Platonist transcendent claims of Truth and Goodness), and also to the human other.

The thrust of technique in the contemporary American spheres of social media and education pulls away from critical and reflexive capacities, especially as core values in the liberal arts.  These two related spheres of change suggest the unreflective assertion of ideas without in-depth, historical learning, or an ethically-entrenched humanistic approach.  Higher education and wider communities of discourse reflect an age of empty speech and the worship of technological innovation and “the newest.” This moves away from the charism of St. Bernard of Chartres who reminds us that “New knowledge is always standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Source: International Jacques Ellul Society (2022) / / An early version of this article was presented at the American Weil Society colloquy in the Spring of 2017 at Villanova University.

Sarah MacMillen is an associate professor at McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts in the Sociology Department at Duquesne University.