Simone Weil

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the French philosopher and social activist Simone Weil. Born in Paris in 1909 into a wealthy, agnostic Jewish family, Weil was a precocious child and attended the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, achieving the top marks in her class (Simone de Beauvoir came second). Weil rejected her comfortable background and chose to work in fields and factories to experience the life of the working classes at first hand. She was acutely sensitive to human suffering and devoted her life to helping those less fortunate than herself. Despite her belief in pacifism she volunteered on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War and later joined the French Resistance movement in England. Her philosophy was both complex and intense. She argued that the presence of evil and suffering in the world was evidence of God’s love and that Man has no right to ask anything of God or of anyone whom they love. Love which expects reward was not love at all in Weil’s eyes. Weil died of TB in Kent at the age of only 34. Her strict lifestyle and self-denial may have contributed to her early death. T.S Eliot said “she was not just a woman of genius, but was a genius akin to that of a saint”; Albert Camus believed she was “the only great spirit of our time.”

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  • Beatrice Han-Pile 4 episodes
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex
  • Stephen Plant 4 episodes
    Runcie Fellow and Dean of Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge
  • David Levy No other episodes
    Teaching Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh

Reading list

  • Simone Weil's Philosophy of Culture
    R. Bell (ed.) (CUP, 1993) Google Books →
  • Simone Weil
    Francine du Plessix Gray (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001) Google Books →
  • Simone Weil and the Intellect of Grace
    L. Finch (Continuum, 2001) Google Books →
  • Simone Weil: An Anthology
    Sian Miles (ed.) (Grove Press, 2000)
  • Simone Weil: A Life
    S. Petrement (Pantheon Books, 1976) Google Books →
  • The SPCK Introduction to Simone Weil
    S. Plant (SPCK Publishing, 2007) Google Books →
  • Simone Weil: An Apprenticeship in Attention
    Mario von der Ruhr (Continuum, 2006) Google Books →
  • Waiting for God
    Simone Weil (Harper Perennials, 2009) Google Books →
  • Gravity and Grace
    Simone Weil (Routledge Classics, 2002) Google Books →
  • The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind
    Simone Weil (Routledge Classics, 2001) Google Books →
  • War and the Iliad
    Simone Weil (New York Review Book Classics, 2007) Google Books →
  • Notebooks
    Simone Weil (Routledge Classics, 2003) Google Books →
  • Simone Weil
    Palle Yourgrau (Reaktion Books, 2011) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b01nthz3

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Auto-category: 194 (Modern Western philosophy of religion)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. In Bybrook Cemetery in Ashford, Kent, lies the grave of Simone Weil, the French philosopher and social activist, described by her compatriot Albert Camus as the only great spirit of our time.