PHIL 4009: Existentialism

3 Credits

Existentialism as a French philosophical and artistic movement of the mid-twentieth century, is commonly associated with Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, or Simone de Beauvoir. Only in retrospect did it become transnational, dating back to at least the 19th century--Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche--and comprising figures like Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Ayn Rand, Silvia Plath, or Franz Fanon. This list already makes it a hard to define a creed or an ethical or political commitment that these writers have in common. What then will allow us to call them existentialist? To begin with, it is perhaps the focus on individual experience, on the experience of finitude, a heightened awareness of the individual's embeddedness in a here and now and a quest for the possibility of an unalienated life. Such concerns cannot easily be expressed through a systematic philosophy, a set of definitions and principles that can be passed on. Instead literary writing became a form of philosophical inquiry. Further, how these concerns could lend themselves to the most revolutionary as well as the most conservative, even Fascist politics, will be one of the puzzles we will seek to answer in this course. We will engage with a number of canonical existentialist texts and trace what defines Existentialism as a key mode of modern philosophizing.

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