Attention

Book Review: Simone Weil for the Twenty-First Century

Stephen J. Plant read

Excerpt: “Eric O. Springsted’s latest book on Simone Weil’s life and thought (it matters to him very much that her thinking is a lived philosophy) tackles the same subject matter again and again, doggedly pursuing the same questions from chapter to chapter. Yet far from being repetitious, this is done with the wisdom of a walker traversing a familiar mountain and finding fresh knowledge and delight in each ascent. There is a practical reason for the repetition: 11 of the book’s 14 chapters are adapted from previously published chapters in edited collections or from journal articles (whose original places of publication are given on pages xv-xvi). Naturally, some of the subject matter, citations used, and even points made recur. But any frustration a reader might feel is mitigated in three clever ways. First, Springsted structures his book into two parts that make a virtue of the similarity between the themes addressed in individual chapters by grouping them under two tightly conceived themes: philosophical and theological thought (Part I) and social and political thought (Part II). Second, for his monograph Springsted lightly edits the start and end of each chapter, erecting clear ‘sign-posts’ that make it seem as though a narrative argument is being sustained and developed from one chapter to the next. Though this may be a trompe-l’oeil, it is so skilfully realized one finds oneself reaching for the painted door handle. Finally, and most importantly, Springsted’s ‘take’ on Weil is so consistent and distinctive that a clear argument emerges in the book that is genuinely greater than the sum of its individual chapters.  . .  .”

“. . . . In his Preface, Springsted tells us openly that his aim is not scholarly exegesis, but to ‘offer Weil as something like a polestar to help orient our thinking in a time when the spiritual, moral, and intellectual world has become, in Charles Taylor’s word, “flattened”’ (p.vii). The book is a product of a lifetime of close and thoughtful engagement with Weil’s writings in which, to some extent, Weil’s thought and Springsted’s have become intertwined, such that it becomes hard to tease one out from the other. He is a guide with something to share not only with those new to Weil’s thought, but those who have explored her highways and byways on many occasions.”

Philosophical Investigations, 44, no 4 (October 2021) pp. 448-451.

Stephen J. Plant is Dean and Runcie Fellow at Trinity Hall and lectures on Christian theology and on ethics in the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge.

Attending: An Ethical Art

Warren Heiti, editor read

Attending – patient contemplation focused on a particular being – is a central ethical activity that has not been recognized by any of the main moral systems in the European philosophical tradition. That tradition has imagined that the moral agent is primarily a problem solver and world changer when what might be needed most is a witness.

Moral theory has been agonized by dualism – motivation is analyzed into beliefs and desires, descriptions of facts and dissatisfactions with them, while action is represented as an effort to lessen dissatisfaction by altering the empirical world. In Attending Warren Heiti traces an alternative genealogy of ethics, drawing from the Platonism recovered by Simone Weil and developed in the work of Iris Murdoch, John McDowell, and Jan Zwicky. According to Weil, virtue is knowledge, knowledge is embodied, and the knower is nested in an ecosystem of relationships. Instead of analyzing and solving theoretical problems, Heiti aims to clarify the terrain by setting up objects of attention from more than one discipline, including not only philosophy but also literature, psychology, film, and visual art.

The traditional picture captures one important type of ethical activity: faced with a moral problem, one looks to a general rule to furnish the solution. But not all problems conform to this model. Heiti offers an alternative: to see what is needed, one attends to the particular being.

Warren Heiti is a Professor of philosophy and liberal studies at Vancouver Island University.

McGill-Queen’s University Press, July 15, 2021

Video Interview: Eric O. Springsted

watch

Join Resistance Recovery founder Piers Kaniuka and author and scholar Eric O. Springsted as they discuss his new book Simone Weil for the 21st Century. Recorded on July 14, 2021. Eric O. Springsted is a long time scholar of the thought of Simone Weil. He is the co-founder of the American Weil Society and served as its president for thirty-three years. After a career as a teacher, scholar, and pastor, he is retired and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is the author and editor of over a dozen previous books.

Resistance Recovery, July 23, 2021

Related: “A Q&A Interview with Eric Springsted,” Attention.