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Education and the ethics of attention: The work of Simone Weil

Peter Roberts read

This paper argues that the influential French thinker, Simone Weil, has something distinctive and important to offer educational and ethical inquiry. Weil’s ethical theory is considered against the backdrop of her life and work, and in relation to her broader ontological, epistemological and political position. Pivotal concepts in Weil’s philosophy – gravity, decreation, and grace – are discussed, and the educational implications of her ideas are explored. The significance of Weil’s thought for educationists lies in the unique emphasis she places on the development of attention, a notion elaborated here via the key themes of truth, beauty, and love.

British Journal of Educational Studies (Aug. 22, 2022)


A Eucharistic Pedagogy: Gospel Parables and Teachings in Simone Weil’s “On the Right Use of School Studies”

Christy Lang Hearlson read

This article examines biblical allusions in Simone Weil’s “On the Right Use of School Studies,” in which she argues that study can train our attention to God and neighbor. Focusing on Weil’s use of Jesus’ teachings that mention bread, meals, and table service, this article reveals an underlying theme of Eucharist (communion) in Weil’s essay on studying. Together with Weil’s comment that school studies are “like a sacrament,” this analysis suggests that Weil offers a “eucharistic pedagogy” shaped by her mystical theology of Eucharist, a theology itself shaped by George Herbert’s English-language poem “Love.” Throughout, the article compares Weil’s original French with its English translation, noting where the translation obscures her use of the Bible or her theology, and it also examines the Greek biblical text, since Weil read the New Testament in its Greek original. The article concludes with a critique of Weil’s educational vision, which relies on a dyadic vision of the eucharist, and suggests that a communal vision of the eucharist can support a social vision of education.

Horizons, vol. 49, no. 1 (May 30, 2022)

Christy Lang Hearlson is a professor in the Theology and Religious Studies department at Villanova University.

Attention in Simone Weil’s Thought

Zahra Qasemzadeh, Seyyed Mostafa Mousavi Azam, & Ehsan Momtahen read


Simone Weil has considered attention more than any other philosopher and mystic. Her thoughts on attention are not merely cognitive, scientific, or psychological issues, rather, it has direct and far-reaching effects on education, theology, and even politics. She expresses attention as a way of life, both at individual and socio-political levels. According to Simone Weil, although man does not create or make anything by paying attention to it, attention brings life to what is being attended to. Only that man’s attention to surrounding matters is a life-giving one which is “pure”. Pure attention is free from any attachments and through which man frees himself from imaginary and illusory matters and achieves the truth. What leads a person to pure attention is “to desire without an object”. On the other hand, Simone Weil refers to the suspension of thought as a state of pure attention, which is to endure void and wait.

In Simone Weil’s view, pure attention can be considered as love, because just as attention is consenting for anything other than oneself, so love also requires recognizing reality by turning away from oneself. Simone Weil introduces attention-based ethics, and by turning one’s attention to God, not only she builds her individual ethics, but also her epistemology and socio-political philosophy. And along with divine grace, she considers attention as an antidote that is necessary for man’s salvation.

Philosophy of Religion Research, vol. 19, no. 37, issue 1 (Summer/Autumn 2021), pp. 1-28

A just and loving gaze

Deborah Casewell read

Simone Weil: mystic, philosopher, activist. Her ethics demand that we look beyond the personal and find the universal.

Excerpt:” . . . Weil’s ethics can be reconstructed from three key texts written in 1943, the last year of her life. These are the essay ‘La Personne et le sacré’ (1957), the manifesto ‘Draft for a Statement of Human Obligations’, and her book The Need for Roots (1949). Written while she was working in London for the Free French forces, these texts explore several key concepts in Weil’s ethical thought – that ethical action is grounded in our obligation to something impersonal and universal in the other, not in rights; that this obligation is expressed best in the attitude of attention, or reading, towards the other person; and that this obligation is grounded not in the world but outside it. This latter aspect draws both from her philosophical love of Plato and her own religious convictions, stemming from a series of mystical experiences and practices, which brought her to, but kept her at the door of, the Catholic Church. She remained as fiercely singular in this respect as in all others, though her outlook was broadly Christian.

These concepts are evocatively drawn out in the essay ‘La Personne et le sacré’, translated variously as ‘Human Personality’ or ‘What Is Sacred in Every Human Being?’ Here, she uses two examples to illustrate her ethical vision and challenge our immediate idea of why and how we should act towards others. She begins by focusing on what appears to be a rather common-sense approach to the question of how we should relate to other people – we should look at each of them as a person, with a personality, a certain je ne sais quoi, which we respond and relate to. This is a form of personalism. . . .”  {full text in link}

Deborah Casewell is a Humboldt Research Fellow in philosophy at the University of Bonn and co-director of the UK-based Simone Weil Network. Her most recent book is Eberhard Jüngel and Existence: Being Before the Cross (2021).

Aeon (2022)

The Work of Simone Weil: An Educational Mission

Daniela De Leo read

 The paper investigates the question if Simone Weil’s thought is unitary or fragmentary, if one can speak of a “system” concerning her theoretical approach, and if her works are still current. The paper suggests a re-reading of Weil’s reflections to find in them an educative aim. 

 “A pilgrim of thought 

When one approaches the greatness of Weilian philosophy, one is inevitably taken by very conflicting emotions: this woman of genius inspires strong passions. 

Simone Weil, an ascetic, uncontrollable, overpowering woman, literally fed herself either on the words of peasants and workers or on reading her classic works, forgetting to eat. 

She refused all obliging solutions in order to be always ready to confront herself with the innovation and variety of situations, without examining them through the reassuring methods of memberships. 

 A double misrepresentation of the figure of Simone Weil emerges from the critics’ interpretations: the first one, based on hagiographic criteria, makes

her a separate, singular case, by distinguishing the years of her political commitment from the last years, which are characterized by a mystical and religious experience, and the second one, which attempts to equate her, in all ways, with the other intellectuals of her time. 

From this interpretative hodgepodge, therefore, the image of Simone Weil emerges as that of a sensitive, lucid, and committed intellectual who moves from civil rejection to contemplative acceptance of the fracture between manual and intellectual work, from a complaint of the factory regime to the dream of a domestic industry, and from the condemnation of the Soviet-style State to the proposal for a Constitutional Act that prohibits parties. . . . “

 This paper is based on the report presented in English at the XVII Congreso Internacional del Grupo.  

 Daniela De LeoProfessore Aggregato di Filosofia Teoretica – Università del Salento.  

“Pleasure and Joy in the Work”: Using Simone Weil in the Classroom

Vance Morgan read

Richard Rorty once wrote that inspired teaching “is the result of an encounter with an author, character, plot, stanza, line or archaic torso which has made a difference to the [teacher’s] conception of who she is, what she is good for, what she wants to do with herself: an encounter which has rearranged her priorities and purposes.” In a teaching career more than three decades long, no author has influenced me more profoundly as a teacher and as a human being than Simone Weil. She has changed how I think about myself, my relationships, the world around me and ultimately about what transcends me. And this could not help but change how I am in the classroom. This essay is a reflection on how Simone Weil has changed my life, both in and out of the classroom.

Philosophical Investigations, vol. 43, nos. 1-2, pp. 8-18.