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The ethical implications of Simone Weil’s Notion of reading

Olwyn Stewart read

In this thesis I develop the ethical implications inherent in a short paper written by Simone Weil, entitled ‘Essay on the Notion of Reading,’ with a view to exploring possible ways in which we are able to incorporate the unconditional value of each and every human being into our everyday apprehension of the world. Mindful of the fact that conceptions of unconditional value tend to be associated with religious belief, I make a distinction between religious theory and practical religious engagement, privileging the latter, in order to show the common ground between theistic and nontheistic ways of understanding unconditional value. My focus is on practical ethics, and the relationship between our direct and immediate ethical responses and their conceptualization plays an important part in my thesis, in tandem with an important distinction between absolute and relative forms of evaluation. The emphasis I place on the relationship between direct responses and their conceptualization is developed in the light of Wittgensteinian philosophical insights, both of Wittgenstein’s own and those of certain other philosophers who employ versions of his method. I also draw on both Platonist and Aristotelian conceptions of virtue, with particular attention to the relationship between our natural ethical responses and the terminology in which they find expression.

The University of Auckland, Ph.D. dissertation (2012).