Aporias of Blame and Punishment in Simone de Beauvoir's “Œil pour Œil”

Hypatia 36 (4):598-618 (2021)
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Abstract

This essay concerns Simone de Beauvoir's analysis of blame and punishment in “Œil pour œil” and the irreconcilable tensions that haunt it. I study these tensions—between the desire to blame and punish and the inability to provide moral justification for these practices—and locate their source in Beauvoir's conception of ethics in Pour une morale de l'ambiguïté. According to my reading, her ethics implies that violence violates freedom, the grounding principle of ethical life. Retaliatory and retributive judgments and the punishment they uphold, regardless of whether they are exerted by individuals or by official state powers, are forms of violence and are therefore unjustifiable. The aporias of blame and punishment in “Œil pour œil” suggest that Beauvoir's ideal of ethics necessitates an abolitionist position regarding punishment. The essay ends with a reflection on the affinity between the position constructed from Beauvoir's work and feminist abolitionist theories that seek to undermine the legal, social, and political institutions that perpetuate, rather than resolve, economic, racial, gender, sex, and class inequality.

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Lior Levy
University of Haifa

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