Defining the “genuine person” is, in many ways, the aim of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity. This person strikes the appropriate balance of their individuality, or their ability to choose freely from their situated point of view, and their universality, or their recognition that their choices both affect others and are determined or limited by these others. The genuine person has a keen understanding of their own style of life, and the way in which others accommodate or interrupt this style of life. Lapses in individuality are typically expressed in a person’s over-investment in another human being or a set of rules and values that are imposed on human beings - the individual is caught up and occasionally lost in their devotion to others or to systems. On the other side, lapses in universality are expressed by a radical individuality that takes two forms: first, it may consist in a drive to satisfy individual desires for the sake of those desires; second, it may consist in choosing annihilation, or the dissolution of the individual and its desires.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 film The Big Lebowski offers a cinematic lens through which we might view de Beauvoir’s accounts of lapsed behavior. The variety of characters and the richness of their development offers us access to at least one example of the genuine person - The Dude - and the wider series of failures de Beauvoir develops in part II of her text, “Personal Freedom and Others.” These failures each harbor excesses and deficiencies according to the dispositions de Beauvoir develops for analysis. Those types too enamored with their own choosing - the adventurer and the nihilist - express over-developed individuality and deficient universality; those types devoted too keenly to others - the passionate man and the serious man - are deficient in individuality and excessive in their commitments to universality. We explore this connection in subsequent posts.