Existence & Consciousness in Marx

If all this is disputed, one has but to examine closely the Marxist formula: social existence determines consciousness. There are more contradictions in it than words. Seeing that what is “social” can have an existence only in human minds, “social existence” is itself already consciousness; it cannot in addition determine a consciousness which would in any case remain to be defined. To posit in this way a “social existence” as a special determining factor, divorced from our consciousness, hidden no-one knows where, is to make a hypostasis of it; and it constitutes, furthermore, a beautiful example of Marx’s tendency towards dualism. But if one wants to consider this enigmatic “existence” as an element of the relationship between men, which depends on certain institutions, such as money, one will clearly perceive at once that this element operates only as a result of conscious acts performed by individuals, and consequently, far from determining consciousness, is dependent on it. Moreover, if Marx, as opposed to all thinkers who preceded him, considers it necessary to set on one side a particular form of existence, which he calls “social”, it means that he tacitly places it in opposition to the rest of existence, that is to say nature. (133-134)

Simone Weil | Oppression and Liberty


On Struggle

As long as there is social hierarchy, be that hierarchy what it may, those below will have to struggle, and will struggle, in order not to lose all the rights of a human being. On the other hand, the resistance of those on top to the forces surging up from below, although it naturally invites less sympathy, is founded, at any rate, on concrete motives. In the first place, except in the case of a quite unusual generosity, the privileged necessarily prefer to keep their material and moral privileges in tact. And, more especially, those invested with the functions of command have a mission to preserve that order which is indispensable to any social life, and the only possible order in their eyes is the established order. Up to a certain point they are right, for until a new order is in fact set up, no one can affirm that it will be possible; that is precisely why any social progress — great or small — is only possible if the pressure from below is strong enough to actually impose new conditions on social relationships. Thus, between the pressure from below and the resistance from above an unstable balance is continually being established, and it is this which defines at each moment the structure of a given society. (128-129)

Simone Weil | Oppression and Liberty

The Helmsman

Weil’s philosophy of work is Stoic in the sense that the revolt against necessity is made to appear foolish rather than heroic. Work is not a mode of Promethean rebellion. The free man determines his own fate, not unlike the helmsman of a small boat who keeps to his course through clever and discerning movements of the rudder and the sail, precisely by taking the waves and winds into consideration, and not because he subdues them. The metaphor of the little boat combines in one graphic image the formalizing use of juxtaposition, a use that involves the art applied by directive reason, by man’s gouverne, here represented by a rudder, a gouvernail. This art is both physical and mental work — or, put differently, the model of work that does not alienate. The fisherman’s simple way of life and his love of the sea as the emblem of amor fati are further evocative associations. The work of the boatman is very much like that of a free man. The similarity ends at the fact that for any boatman routine and improvisation play an essential part. “[T]he only mode of production absolutely free would be that in which methodical thought was in operation throughout the course of the work.”

This unattainable extreme of human liberty requires that the work itself be methodical — that is, that the method exist in the worker’s mind and is not brought in from outside. In the scientifically managed factory, the work is organized along lines determined by a method, but it is not methodical work. Man’s highest intellectual virtue, attentiveness, is not stimulated; on the contrary, it withers. (96-97)

Athanasios Moulakis | Simone Weil and the Politics of Self-Denial

[The problem is that if “clear-sighted work…allows no routine, no habituation, nor any authority or compulsion,” the result is that learning itself becomes impossible.]

Descent & Ascent

Creation is composed of the descending movement of gravity, the ascending movement of grace, and the descending movement of the second degree of grace.

Grace is the law of the descending movement. (48)

Simone Weil | Gravity and Grace


Since heaviness is the law of creation, the operation of grace consists in “de-creating” oneself.  To de-create oneself is to participate in the creation of the world.  In so far as the self is abolished, in so far as that shadow born of sin and error is effaced, in so far we are penetrated by the light of God.  But the death of the self is only possible if man exposes himself in his nakedness to the sharp impact of existence, without taking thought to the divisions of past and future, but clinging tenaciously to the immediate present.  The necessity of not seeking for compensation, of suspending the faculty of imagination, “that filler of open spaces” the necessity of exposing oneself, unarmoured, to the test of daily life, — these are her constant themes. (10)

Marie-Magdeleine Davy | The Mysticism of Simone Weil