The University of Sydney

Simone Weil’s Philosophy of Attention

Presentation Abstract

Attention is the disposition of the subject that is open and available to the reality of other people, ourselves, objects (natural and artificial), customs and traditions, ideas, and words such as good, truth, beauty, and God. In this sense, the attentive subject’s disposition is open and receptive. Simone Weil describes it as a “negative effort” and one that requires that we stand still and contemplate. In the attention, we adopt an attitude of passivity and of “waiting”. As I argue, attention is synonymous with love and forms the crux of Weil’s distinctive metaethics, and, of crucial importance for contemporary circumstances, her philosophy of education. 

By drawing primarily from her ‘Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God’ and other works, I argue that attention is a way of truly seeing and approaching the Divine over and against more instrumental views of education. I conceive of Weil’s thesis as a comprehensive response to the question in Plato’s Meno: “Can Virtue be Taught?” Replacing the term “virtue” with “attention,” Weil responds that it can be taught and conceives it as an “apprenticeship” i.e., as a spiritual exercise. Like Plato (and Pierre Hadot), Weil considers the conversion of the soul to the Good as crucial to philosophy understood as a way of life. By learning to contemplate and, to use her language, reading better, one can learn to love better. In doing so, she claims that this should be the sole purpose of education.


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