Skye C. Cleary at the Times Literary Supplement:
The emphasis on situation is one of the key factors that distinguishes Beauvoir from other existentialists. For Beauvoir, we are free, but we are also thrown into contexts where we don’t always have the freedom to choose. This is very different from Jean-Paul Sartre’s emphasis on radical freedom; by his lights, any attempt to blame our situation for our predicament is a denial of freedom – a form of bad faith. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre imagined an impassable crag – a “brute existent”, to use a Heideggerian term – and suggested that it’s only impassable if one had imagined that it would be possible to climb it. In a not-so-subtle attack on this idea, Beauvoir argues in Ethics of Ambiguity that, “If a door refuses to open, let us accept not opening it and there we are free. But by doing that, one manages only to save an abstract notion of freedom. It is emptied of all content and all truth”. Whereas for Sartre, “success is not important to freedom”, Beauvoir’s point is that without the possibility to act – if we’re limited by our situation – then freedom is rendered impotent. We may be free to scale a crag, but unless we have the power to do it, it means nothing.