The writings of Simone Adolphine Weil (vay) had significant influence on religious and political thought in the second half of the twentieth century. Weil was the second child of Jewish agnostics Bernard and Selma Weil. She expressed social concerns at an early age—when only five years old, she steadfastly refused to eat sugar as long as French soldiers could not get it. The strain of humility that runs through Weil’s adult writings also began early; the achievements of her brother André, a prodigy who went on to enjoy a distinguished career as a mathematician, eroded her self-confidence. In this, as in so much else, Weil was a mixture of opposites, and her writings also reveal a strong consciousness of her intellectual powers and a morally judgmental tone bordering on arrogance. At the age of twelve Weil endured the first of the migraine headaches that tortured her throughout her life and from which she may have distilled some of her intense compassion for human suffering.
Weil was awarded her baccalauréat with distinction at the age of fifteen. After studies with the famed French philosopher Emile-Auguste Chartier (known by his pen name, Alain), she passed first in the extremely competitive entrance examination of the École Normale Supérieure. A brilliant and precocious student, she became deeply involved in social and political causes. Following her graduation in 1931, Weil began teaching philosophy at a girls’ lycée. School boards shuffled her from one school to another, nervous at her picketing and her writing for leftist journals. By 1932 she was publishing in the Révolution Prolétarienne such articles as “Reflections on the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression.” In her notebooks of this period Weil reflected on the social alienation caused by workers’ increasing enslavement to industrial society.
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