In Our Time

BBC Radio 4

Society & Culture, History

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas


Simone Weil

November 15th, 2012

Episode 248 of 515 episodes

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." With: Beatrice Han-Pile Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex Stephen Plant Runcie Fellow and Dean of Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge David Levy Teaching Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh Producer: Natalia Fernandez.