We will explore (very difficult) texts by Kierkegaard and Sartre, as well as briefer (but equally difficult) texts by Heidegger and Nietzsche. We will compare the issues raised in these texts with some more recent philosophical work on values, the meaning of life, and human freedom. And we will supplement all this with some excerpts from literary texts by Sartre, Camus, Dostoevsky, and Beckett.
Among the questions central to our discussion will be:
Existentialists try to answer these questions with such opaque claims as "Existence precedes essence" and "I am not what I am, and I am what I am not." We will try to figure out what they are trying to say when they make these claims.
- How can we overcome the self-alienation that is grounded in our capacity for self-reflection?
- What is the relationship between our responsibility for our choices and the fact that we can reflect on (and distance ourselves from) our own commitments?
- How can we reconcile our beliefs about what is important and good with the role that contingent influences have on our commitments and concerns?
- To what extent are we responsible for the significance we attribute to our choices?
- What, if anything, does the belief in God have to do with our assumption that what we do matters?
Students will be expected to read very difficult texts very carefully. Grades will be assigned on the basis of class participation and papers.
Students with some experience in upper-level Philosophy courses
3 hrs per week, with a mix of lecture and discussion