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."
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex
Runcie Fellow and Dean of Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge
Teaching Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh
Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
R. Bell (ed.), ‘Simone Weil’s Philosophy of Culture’ (CUP, 1993)
Francine du Plessix Gray, ‘Simone Weil’ (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001)
L. Finch, ‘Simone Weil and the Intellect of Grace’ (Continuum, 2001)
Sian Miles (ed.), ‘Simone Weil: An Anthology’ (Grove Press, 2000)
S. Petrement, ‘Simone Weil: A Life’ (Pantheon Books, 1976)
S. Plant, ‘The SPCK Introduction to Simone Weil’ (SPCK Publishing, 2007)
Mario von der Ruhr, ‘Simone Weil: An Apprenticeship in Attention’ (Continuum, 2006)
Simone Weil, ‘Waiting for God’ (Harper Perennials, 2009)
Simone Weil, ‘Gravity and Grace’ (Routledge Classics, 2002)
Simone Weil, ‘The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind’ (Routledge Classics, 2001)
Simone Weil, ‘War and the Iliad’ (New York Review Book Classics, 2007)
Simone Weil, ‘Notebooks’ (Routledge Classics, 2003)
Palle Yourgrau, ‘Simone Weil’ (Reaktion Books, 2011)