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Sonia Kruks: Simone de Beauvoir and the “New Materialisms”

When:We 06-03-2019 15:15 - 17:00
Where:Room Omega

Colloquium lecture by Sonia Kruks (Oberlin), organized by the Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

This paper engages critically with the “new materialisms” by bringing them into conversation with the work of Simone de Beauvoir. The new materialisms offer an important challenge to “human exceptionalism” in Western thought, calling attention to the materiality of the human and effectively criticizing still-pervasive conceptions of “man” as an autonomous “sovereign subject.” However, the paper argues, new materialists overstate their claims, tending to ignore what still remains distinctive to human life. The paper thus turns Beauvoir to make a case for a more “modest” human exceptionalism. Beauvoir’s philosophy of ambiguity, while grounding the human inextricably in the material, also grasps the quantum leap in consciousness and agency that makes the human distinctive. In addition, drawing insight from “historical materialism,” she also considers, in ways the new materialisms do not, how agentic qualities of human life may become blocked through the material sedimentation of human action in persistent, power-laden institutions.