‘Ethics of Ambiguity’ Reading Group

This is a reading group for all those who wish to come together to discuss Simone de Beauvoir’s “Ethics of Ambiguity” (1947).

The group runs in (Northern hemisphere) winter 2022-3, mostly coinciding with the winter break, and is designed to give space for open reflection and discussion of ideas concerning ethics, responsibility, and ambiguity in relation to contemporary circumstances.

The group is open to all. Philosophical training or detailed background knowledge are not required. For specs, see FAQ (1) below.

The group runs in weekly sessions on Zoom, Fridays 1-2PM (BST, London time), starting from 16 December until 27 January inclusive of Xmas/New Year’s break. This time is chosen both for accessibility purposes and, in some cases, to accommodate the academic term. If the timing does not suit you, please see FAQ (2) below.

For instructions on how and when to join, as well as how to participate, see FAQs (3) and (4). For schedule, see bottom of page.

FAQs (or, please read this before joining):

(1) Who can participate?

The group is open to all. You do not need to have a philosophical background, detailed knowledge of existentialist (or any) philosophy, or an interest in Simone de Beauvoir to participate. The group welcomes all people regardless of gender, ethnicity, ability, or any other aspect of identity; that said, the conversation is designed to be respectful and equal, so bullying, racism and transphobia will not be tolerated.

There is no formal leadership and no assumption of authority in the group. The emphasis in the discussion is on personal impressions, thoughts, and questions that the text raises for you. That said, be mindful of the background of participants when contributing; do not use references (as in, ‘in her other work, de Beauvoir…’) or name-drops (as in, ‘as Foucault said..’) without explaining what you mean in a language accessible to everyone (or, best, skip name-dropping altogether).

(2) What if the timing does not suit me?

The group is run on an entirely informal and voluntary basis. You are free to join any of the sessions at any time between 1 and 2 PM, without expectation of continuation or repeat participation. If the timing does not suit you, you are welcome to start another reading or discussion group at a timing that suits you better.

(3) How can I join?

Below is the schedule, Zoom link, and details for each session.

16 December, 1-2PM (BST)

Chapter 1: Ambiguity and Freedom (pages 5-35 in 2015 English edition by Open Road Integrated Media)


23 December, 1-2PM (BST)

Chapter 2: Personal Freedom and Others (pp. 37-78, as above)


[Winter break]

6 January, 1-2PM (BST)

Chapter 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Sections I (The Aesthetic Attitude) and II (Freedom and Liberation), pp. 79-103


13 January, 1-2PM (BST)

Chapter 3: The Positive Aspect of Ambiguity, Sections III and IV (The Antinomies of Action & The Present and the Future), pp. 103-139


20 January, 1-2PM (BST)

Chapter 3, Section IV (The Present and the Future), cont’d, and beginning of Chapter V: Ambiguity (pp. 139-168).


27 January, 1-2PM (BST)

Conclusions (pp. 169-174) and wrap-up/further plans


(4) How do I participate?

Be mindful of other participants. Try not to take more than 2-3 minutes when speaking, and give priority to those who have not already spoken in the meeting. While there will be no chairing or official moderation (unless absolutely necessary), raising your hand (Zoom lower bar in window –> Reactions –> ‘Raise hand’) function will signal to other speakers you want to speak and indicate your turn in the conversation.

Your microphone will be muted by default when joining. Please make sure you keep your mic on mute except when speaking, especially if in a noisy environment. Participants are normally expected to turn cameras on as this contributes to participation and communication, but we understand there are safety- and ability-related reasons not to do so.

De Beauvoir’s book can be found on Marxists.org (link above), in libraries, or bookshops.

Happy reading!