Existential thinkers focus on the existence of individual human beings. Modern Existential thought arises with discussion of Nietzsche’s death of God and Nihilism and the horror of the world wars. No absolutes were left standing. This is the moment of great existential thinkers: Camus, Beauvoir, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Rilke, Heidegger. But the human condition is not new to the 20th and the 21st centuries. In the 1500s, Montaigne, citing Seneca, wrote: "Philosopher, c’est apprendre à mourir," meaning, "to philosophize is to learn how to die."
In this program, as students we will ask - as we have since before the ancient Greek philosophers - what it means to exist, to be a thinking, valuing being in the midst of a world which precedes and follows us, and in the absence of any easy religious or ideological explanation. As we read and analyze the work of each of the above philosophers, we realize that no two thinkers with whom we are engaged offer the same philosophical stance. Existentialists, we will learn, are nothing if not individuals, each unique. Each offers us, however, a possible response to the human hunger for meaning: in the silence of gods and absolutes, each falls back on herself or himself, as must each one of us. We may each realize this quarter that we as thinkers are valuing beings; that we must each make our own meaning, over and over again, with each of the million choices we make.
Assignments include 4 analytical and synthetic writings plus a midterm exam. Each student will be responsible for the oral presentation and analysis of one writer’s work. Students will submit a substantive portfolio, including their personal statement as an existential thinker. Students in eight- and twelve-credit sections will be responsible for a reduced number of writings.
One year of previous college-level work in the humanities strongly recommended (AP courses included)
Course Reference Numbers
advanced or graduate work in the humanities, philosophy, literature, and arts.