An encounter with Simone Weil

An encounter with Simone Weil

During my honours year in philosophy, one of my professors — I don’t remember who — proposed that a philosopher’s life might be a measure by which we can judge their philosophy.

Immanuel Kant, he suggested, built an intellectual mansion of epistemological and metaphysical thought. But Kant himself lived in an adjacent garden shed. His life didn’t really bear out his startling claims and conclusions.

Perhaps Friedrich Nietzsche lived a life which was more faithful to his nihilistic philosophy. But that hardly vindicates his philosophy. Ten years before he died, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown from which he never recovered.

These were the examples my professor used. He was musing out loud, not presenting a coherent thesis, but I think there’s something in it. This criterion at least reveals the moral seriousness of a thinker, which is a good recommendation on how seriously anyone else should take him or her.

By then, I had already started work on my honours thesis, which was focussed on the writings of Simone Weil. She passed the proposed measure with flying colours. Her life and thought resonate admirably.

Simone Weil is not a household name, but she is highly esteemed in wide and disparate circles: among socialists for example, and anarchists; existentialists and analytical philosophers; secular humanists and Catholic theologians.

She has “popped up” several times in the last week. I have been listening to the CD version of Thomas Woods’ How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization while driving. The audio and print volumes both conclude with a quote from Simone Weil:

I am not a Catholic, but I consider the Christian idea, which has its roots in Greek thought and in the course of the centuries has nourished all of our European civilization, as something that one cannot renounce without becoming degraded.

Sandro Magister’s article on the Cassock in Deep Marseille, which I linked to last week, mentions that one of Fr Michel-Marie’s childhood influences was Fr Joseph-Marie Perrin OP, spiritual director to Simone Weil.

And on Facebook, an old friend posted the trailer of a new film focused on Simone Weil’s life and thought:

It’s prohibitively expensive right now, but as soon as the DVD is available for private viewing, I’ll buy it!