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Simone Weil

WEIL, SIMONE (1909–1943), French philosopher. Simone Weil was one of those rare thinkers whose life and thought were inseparable. Born into an upper-class Paris family (her brother was André *Weil), she lived most of her adult life in circumstances of physical deprivation. In 1934, wishing to share the experiences of the poor, she gave up teaching philosophy to become a factory worker. The fruit of this experience was La Condition Ouvrière, published posthumously in 1951. In 1936 she joined the Republicans in the Civil War in Spain, and in 1940, after the Nazi invasion, she worked as a farm laborer in southern France. In 1942, she left the U.S., where she had immigrated with her family, intending to return to France and join the Resistance. She never got further than England where, weakened by the hardships of her earlier life, she permitted herself to die of starvation. Most of Simone Weil's writings, published posthumously, consist of fragments from her notebooks, letters, articles, and memoranda, and can perhaps best be regarded as the testimony of a life of relentless dedication to the search for absolute truth and social justice. She was a mystic in the tradition of the 14th-century German theologians Meister Eckhart and St. John of the Cross, both of whom influenced her thought. Although she never actually converted to Catholicism, she experienced a mystical encounter with Jesus in 1938. Her main reason for not converting was that she found it impossible to accept the unchristian historical role of the Church. On the other hand, her attitude towards Judaism was one of total and blinding rejection. She considered it a racial, nationalistic, and cruel religion, and attributed all the evil in Christianity, such as the Inquisition and the killing of heretics, to its Jewish sources.

Published selections of her writings include: Cahiers (3 vols., 1951–56; Notebooks, 2 vols., 1956); La pesanteur et la grâce (1946; Gravity and Grace, 1952); L'Enracinement (1949; The Need for Roots, 1952); Attente de Dieu (1950; Waiting on God, 1951); and Lettre à un religieux (1951; Letter to a Priest, 1953).


J. Cabaud, Simone Weil (Eng., 1964); R. Rees, Simone Weil; a Sketch for a Portrait (1966); G. Kempfer, La Philosophie mystique de Simone Weil (1960); I.R. Malan, L' Enracinement de Simone Weil (1961).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.