Education, Attention and Transformation: Death and Decreation in Tolstoy and Weil

Peter Roberts read


What might it mean to engage in an educative struggle with death? Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich helps us to answer that question. Tolstoy’s story depicts the life of a man who, when suddenly faced with the prospect of his own death, is at first unable to comprehend the reality of his situation. He is angry, fearful, and disgusted. As he gradually comes to terms with his mortality, he undergoes a harrowing process of transformation, at the heart of which lies the development of his capacity for attention. Drawing on ideas from the French philosopher and pedagogue Simone Weil, it is argued that Ivan’s experience is consistent with the passage from ‘gravity’, through the void of intense suffering, toward a state of grace.

Roberts, Peter. Education, “Attention and Transformation: Death and Decreation in Tolstoy and Weil.” Studies in Philosophy and Education (2021). Online:

Simone Weil for the Twenty-First Century

Eric O. Springsted read

This in-depth study examines the social, religious, and philosophical thought of Simone Weil.

Simone Weil for the Twenty-First Century presents a comprehensive analysis of Weil’s interdisciplinary thought, focusing especially on the depth of its challenge to contemporary philosophical and religious studies. In a world where little is seen to have real meaning, Eric O. Springsted presents a critique of the unfocused nature of postmodern philosophy and argues that Weil’s thought is more significant than ever in showing how the world in which we live is, in fact, a world of mysteries. Springsted brings into focus the challenges of Weil’s original (and sometimes surprising) starting points, such as an Augustinian priority of goodness and love over being and intellect, and the importance of the Crucifixion. Springsted demonstrates how the mystical and spiritual aspects of Weil’s writings influence her social thought. For Weil, social and political questions cannot be separated from the supernatural. For her, rather, the world has a sacramental quality, such that life in the world is always a matter of life in God―and life in God, necessarily a way of life in the world.

Simone Weil for the Twenty-First Century is not simply a guide or introduction to Simone Weil. Rather, it is above all an argument for the importance of Weil’s thought in the contemporary world, showing how she helps us to understand the nature of our belonging to God (sometimes in very strange and unexpected ways), the importance of attention and love as the root of both the love of God and neighbor, the importance of being rooted in culture (and culture’s service to the soul in rooting it in the universe), and the need for human beings to understand themselves as communal beings, not as isolated thinkers or willers. It will be essential reading for scholars of Weil, and will also be of interest to philosophers and theologians.

Eric O. Springsted 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, NM. He is the author and editor of a dozen previous books, including Simone Weil: Late Philosophical Writings (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015).

University of Notre Dame Press, 2021

Against Religious Fellow-Traveling

Taylor Ross read

This essay argues that Simone Weil’s writings suggest a phenomenological method of particular relevance to investigating ethical questions. It begins by presenting evidence that although Weil does not mention phenomenology explicitly, she thinks about ethics in a phenomenological manner. Subsequent sections outline a “phenomenological ethics” derived from Weil’s notion of attention and her hermeneutics of ‘reading’ the world. Since attention sets aside the self and its personal world, this allows for an ethics of self-abdication (decreation) relatively free of influence by the forces of domination. David Rousset’s term “concentrationary universe” is introduced to describe the claim, argued by Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben, and others, that present-day societies show evidence of an increasing reliance on ways of thinking derived from the Nazi concentration camps. Examples are given of applications of Weil’s phenomenological method to the problem of how to recognize signs of potential domination in a concentrationary universe.

Macrina Magazine, no. 6, (December 5, 2020)

Creating Ethical Societies in a Concentrationary Universe: Simone Weil’s Phenomenological Ethics of Attention

Robert Reed read

Journal of Dharma, vol. 45, no. 4 (Oct-Dec 2020) pp. 529-544.

“Simone Weil: The Ethics of Affliction and the Aesthetics of Attention”

Christopher Thomas read

International Journal of Philosophical Studies, vol. 28, no. 2 (March 2, 2020), pp. 145-167.