Sunday, November 8, 2009

Failure through Inaction

Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophy, as perhaps Existentialism as a whole, can be reduced to the word possibility. De Beauvoir writes, “Nothing is decided in advance, and it is because man has something to lose and because he can lose that he can also win.” Thus, according to de Beauvoir, there always exists the possibility to win and lose in any given situation—that is, unless we act to deliberately limit them. There exists the possibility of neither winning nor losing, of not playing the game, so to speak. We can pretend that a possibility is not a possibility. Using her example, we can pretend that a door cannot be opened because it could not be opened on the first try. In other words, we can live in a state of inaction in which we rid ourselves of the possibility of failure, but also of the possibility of success. This, of course, is undesirable. In this state, we would not be truly living.

I see this as failure in its worst conception. It seems that to exist happily and meaningful, we must attempt to increase the possibilities of our life. If we do not maximize our possibilities, we in some way limit them—along with our potential successes and failures. Limiting our experiences, the possibilities of life, is the sort of “evil” it seems that de Beauvoir describes in her commentary on the “ethics” of Existentialism. It is evil to accept our life as it is, as if we have no say in its direction and, more importantly, its meaning. This approach to life is largely masochistic. If life has the possibility to be better, then by not attempting to improve it, we resign ourselves to an unhappier state of being, a comparative life of misery. Although some may say that people do not realize their possibilities, this is no excuse. We all in some way or another realize the possibilities available to us. Some of us chose to act on those possibilities while others don’t.

People say that they could never sky dive or climb a mountain, but this is synonymous with pretending as if it is impossible to open the door. One can chose not to climb a mountain or sky dive, but it still remains a possibility. Although this may be an extreme example, people frequently resign themselves to inaction. They are scared of failure of the lesser kind. People will refuse to apply for a job because they tell themselves that they won’t get it. People won’t go to college because they tell themselves that they can’t succeed. By not doing these things, people indeed get rid of the possibility of failure in the sense of not getting the job or not succeeding in college. However, they also prevent themselves from bettering their lives—a greater failure it seems. In any case, it seems that actively attempting to better the quality of one’s life is essential to obtaining any kind of meaning or happiness. We must be active participants in life to succeed on a higher level.


  1. This is really interesting: we must explore and recognize all of the possibilities available to us in order to live a better life. However, I think that there could be a connection between this and the underground man's organ stop. Are we merely rational beings that automatically perform their rational work to increase their pleasure and minimize thier pain? I think that it is important to note that the value in freedom is not that it allows us to better ourselves, but it allows us to decide for ourselves.

  2. That's a good point. I guess it is too simplistic to say that all people should choose to better themselves or seek out success. It is for us to decide what we want. If we want to limit ourselves, or even seek out failure, so to speak, that is our choice. Although it seems this would be undesirable for most.

  3. there are times when people need to not act. Con artists prey on people that are constantly looking to better there lives. Sometimes it is appropriate to limit our freedom in order to protect what we already have. There are times when people need to limit their freedom to protect themselves. People need to hang onto what they have unless they are almost positive it will lead to good results. Saying people should always be open to things seems like it will probably lead tto self destruction rather than success.


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