Weil & Other Thinkers

Nursing in Wartime: Edith Stein and Simone Weil on Empathic Attention

Ann W. Astell read

Abstract: Edith Stein and Simone Weil both trained as Red Cross nurses for wartime service. For both philosophers, the activity of a nurse demands empathic attention to the afflicted. Stein envisions herself as an attendant nurse in her memoirs; Weil similarly casts herself in a nurse’s role in her proposal for an elite, sacrificial nurses’ corps. This essay examines the practice of wartime nursing as a school for, and an expression of, their complementary philosophies of human beings seen in their physical, epistemological, and spiritual interrelatedness.

Journal of Continental Philosophy (Feb. 23, 2022)

Ann W. Astell is a professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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.

 

 

Investigating “Man’s Relation to Reality”: Peter Winch, the Vanishing Shed and Metaphysics after Wittgenstein

Olli Lagerspetz read

Peter Winch believed that the central task of philosophy was to investigate ‘the force of the concept of reality’ in human practices. This involved creative dialogue with critical metaphysics. In ‘Ceasing to Exist’, Winch considered what it means to judge that something unheard-of has happened. Referring to Wittgenstein, Winch argued that judgments concerning reality must relate our observations to a shared ‘flow of life’. This implies criticism of the form of epistemology associated with metaphysical realism. Just as, according to Wittgenstein, a sentence has no fixed meaning in isolation — an observation does not constitute knowledge outside shared human practices.

Philosophical Investigations, 5 Jan. 2022

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)

Dialectics of Silence for a Time of Crisis: Rethinking the Visionary Insights of Michel Serres and Simone Weil

Marjolein Oele read

This paper examines the figure of silence in the works of Michel Serres and Simone Weil. It argues that, in the spirit of Serres and Weil, our time of crisis calls not for a short-term response, but for long-term engagement in a dialectics of silence: the dialogical movement between the silencing of institutions and the attentive silence of visionary insights. Such dialectics can revalidate the value of institutional silencing if based on solid rational proof (rebutting so-called visionary ideas that are baseless) while simultaneously showing the value of visionary ideas that rightfully combat problematic institutional silencing. Especially in this current moment, in which science and scientific propositions are relentlessly questioned, there is a need to lean into silence so as to promote a productive dialogue that regains trust in proven scientific ideas and institutions while allowing visionary insights their place as well, provided that we are willing to test them.

Research in Phenomenology, vol. 52, no. 2 (2022), pp. 183-202.

Marjolein Oele is a professor of philosophy at the University of San Francisco.

Ellul and Weil: Attention as Waiting: Complementary Critiques in an Age of Technique via Simone Weil and Jacques Ellul

Sarah Louise MacMillen read

Excerpt:

The writings of Simone Weil and Jacques Ellul include sociological, philosophical, and religious themes, and the two intellectuals serve as “bookends” surrounding the postmodern era.  The writers were prolific, respectively, during the time between the World Wars (Weil), and the late 20th century’s Information Age (Ellul).  They each dealt with the impact of modernity on humans, further exploring the implications of Weber’s definition of moderns as “sensualists without heart and specialists without spirit.”

Weil and Ellul had prescient insights on a contemporary trend, namely an unbridled faith in technology, or what Ellul called “technique,” looming large.  Ellul and Weil both present a case for how the method of the technological imagination undermines basic needs and obligations for human beings.  Alan Jacobs’ text discusses both Weil and Ellul in this light.  For Weil the enemy of education is “technocracy . . . ’evil [dominates] wherever the technical side of things is…sovereign.”  For Ellul, observing later in the 20th century, “education no longer has a humanist…value in itself; it has only one goal, to create technicians.”  Combining these reflections from the two authors, postmodernity and techniquelose touch with what Weil calls “attention”—waiting for God (or Platonist transcendent claims of Truth and Goodness), and also to the human other.

The thrust of technique in the contemporary American spheres of social media and education pulls away from critical and reflexive capacities, especially as core values in the liberal arts.  These two related spheres of change suggest the unreflective assertion of ideas without in-depth, historical learning, or an ethically-entrenched humanistic approach.  Higher education and wider communities of discourse reflect an age of empty speech and the worship of technological innovation and “the newest.” This moves away from the charism of St. Bernard of Chartres who reminds us that “New knowledge is always standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Source: International Jacques Ellul Society (2022) / / An early version of this article was presented at the American Weil Society colloquy in the Spring of 2017 at Villanova University.

Sarah MacMillen is an associate professor at McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts in the Sociology Department at Duquesne University.