Simone Weil’s Phenomenological Ethics of Attention


  • Robert Reed Retired


Simone Weil, ethics, phenomenology, concentrationary universe, Shoah, Arendt, Levinas, ethics of self-abdication


This essay argues that Simone Weil’s writings suggest a phenomenological method of particular relevance to investigating ethical questions. It begins by presenting evidence that although Weil does not mention phenomenology explicitly, she thinks about ethics in a phenomenological manner. Subsequent sections outline a “phenomenological ethics” derived from Weil’s notion of attention and her hermeneutics of ‘reading’ the world. Since attention sets aside the self and its personal world, this allows for an ethics of self-abdication (decreation) relatively free of influence by the forces of domination. David Rousset’s term “concentrationary universe” is introduced to describe the claim, argued by Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben, and others, that present-day societies show evidence of an increasing reliance on ways of thinking derived from the Nazi concentration camps. Examples are given of applications of Weil’s phenomenological method to the problem of how to recognize signs of potential domination in a concentrationary universe.


Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 1994.

Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity. Tr. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969.

Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Weil, Simone. First and Last Notebooks. Tr. Richard Rees. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Weil, Simone. The Need for Roots. London: Routledge Classics, 2002.

Weil, Simone. Notebooks. 2 vols. Tr. Arthur Wills. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956.

Weil, Simone. Oppression and Liberty. Tr. Arthur Wills and John Petrie. London: Routledge Classics, 2001.




How to Cite

Reed, R. (2020). CREATING ETHICAL SOCIETIES IN A CONCENTRATIONARY UNIVERSE: Simone Weil’s Phenomenological Ethics of Attention. Journal of Dharma, 45(4), 529–544. Retrieved from