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Springsted on Zaretsky’s The Subversive Simone Weil

Eric Springsted read


“. . . On the whole, Zaretsky tends to round most of the edges off Weil. In part, this is a matter of reinforcing a liberal sense of the good and using her to be a shining example of that. Philosophically, it is the result of trying to skate around the hard edges of her religious thinking. For Zaretsky, attention is not supernatural; the divine is not the place we are forced to find purpose when confronting affliction; societies can be made up of nice committed people without higher callings. All this is reinforced in the final chapter where Zaretsky does take on Weil’s religion. He lays out the religious experiences that led to her conversion, making that conversion largely a matter of belief, ignoring the personal sense of Christ that she experienced. It was this personal sense of unconquerable love in a person that caused her to find a use for affliction; it was Christ’s own crucifixion that lay at the center of her understanding of attention, for attention is a self-emptying to give life to another. Zaretsky does note with concern that there is a kenotic quality to Weil’s religion and then quickly shifts the conversation to the soft Platonism of Iris Murdoch, who indeed owed much to Weil. But in the end, what this religious factor amounts to for him is chiefly “do-gooding,” without the mordancy of Weil’s uncompromising transcendence and mysticism. Whether one can build politics or ethics on such transcendence and mysticism is debatable. But to have the debate, you have to articulate the ideas rightly and clearly.

So, in the end, it seems to be that it is Weil who is being subverted here. I wish I could say it was done deeply. But the problem is that the book just does not engage in any kind of in-depth examination of Weil’s thinking as she expressed it. It is a paraphrase, it is rounding. It is within the author’s own experience (there is no bibliography, for example). Love Weil or hate Weil—there are plenty of people that go each way—a reader will be better off with something more substantial.”

Review of Politics, vol. 84, no. 2 (March 10, 2022), pp. 294-296

Note: Robert Zaretsky was invited to reply in this Journal but declined.


Thinking about Judaism: Jacques Maritain and Simone Weil (Italian edition) 

Emanuele Pili read

Pensare l’ebraismo: Jacques Maritain e Simone Weil (Italian Edition) Kindle Edition (Feb. 2022), Emanuele Pili, University of Perugia

Abstract in translation

Against the backdrop of the Second World War, Jacques Maritain and Simone Weil reflected deeply on the nature and relevance of Judaism. If Maritain imagined an unprecedented relationship with Christianity, reading the (in) fidelity of Israel in a Pauline way, Weil hoped for a purification of the West from inauthentic cultural traditions, of which Judaism participated in large part, in search of those ties that preserve the ‘human.’

Emanuele Pili originally interprets two very different souls but united by a strong sense of political responsibility, which led to a commitment to fight against totalitarianism. The first Italian translation of the bases for a statute of French minorities appears in the appendix; it is is one of the most controversial texts in the entire body of works by Simone Weil.




Simone Weil: A Very Short Introduction

Rebecca Rozelle-Stone read

Oxford University Press, 2022 (forthcoming)



    Philosophies of Work in the Platonic Tradition: A History of Labor and Human Flourishing

    Jeffrey Hanson read

    The Platonic tradition affords extraordinary resources for thinking about the meaning and value of work. In this historical survey of the tradition, Jeffrey Hanson draws on the work of its major thinkers to explain why our contemporary vocabulary for appraising labor and its rewards is too narrow and cramped. By tracing out the Platonic lineage of work Hanson is able to argue why we should be explaining its value for appraising it as an element of a happy and flourishing human life, quite apart from its financial rewards.

    Beginning with Plato’s extensive thinking about work’s relationship to wisdom, Hanson covers the singularly powerful arguments of Augustine, who wrote the ancient world’s only treatise dedicated to the topic of manual labor. He discusses Bernard of Clairvaux, introduces the priest-craftsman Theophilus Presbyter, and provides a study of work and leisure in the writings of Petrarch. Alongside Martin Luther, Hanson discusses John Ruskin and Simone Weil: two thinkers profoundly disturbed by the conditions of the working class in the rapidly industrializing economies of Europe.

    This original study of Plato and his inheritors’ ideas provides practical suggestions for how to approach work in a socially responsible manner in the 21st century and reveals the benefits of linking work and morality. — Jeffrey Hanson is  a Senior Philosopher in The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University.

    Bloomsbury Academic (April 21, 2022)


    Ideas To Save Your Life

    Michael McGirr read

    Ideas to Save Your Life follows Michael McGirr’s much-admired Books that Saved My Life (2018). This time, instead of sharing his love of literature, McGirr shares his love of philosophy, focusing on the works of twenty-plus eminent thinkers across history.

    The book goes back to Pythagoras and comes forward to the contemporary Australian Frank Jackson; back to Mungo Woman and forward to Martha Nussbaum, by way of Simone Weil [Chapter 16] and Iris Murdoch. It is animated by two related questions: from where do we draw a sense of life’s purpose? And how can philosophy make life better? It ranges widely across subjects—from solitude to community, language to order, experience to ecstasy, the idea of good to that of a good idea.

    McGirr’s approach is warm and inviting. Drawing on his many years of teaching philosophy to teenagers, he shares stories from his life and the lives of others. Ideas to Save Your Life is often funny, but it is always serious about the task of philosophy. It makes the impenetrable accessible, the indescribable palpable, and invites you to change how you see the world.

    Text Publishing (2021) (ch. 16 on Weil and attention)

    Reviewed by Gregory Day in The Sunday Morning Herald (Dec. 31, 2021)