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Spring 2012

Philosophy 7    Existentialism in Literature and Film
Tues/Thurs 3:30 - 5:00
159 Mulford

Office Hours: Wednesdays 2:00 to 4:00 - 310 Moses Hall
Schedule   Reading   Requirements  Lectures, Handouts and Paper Topics    Reading Assignments

In the traditional Judeo/Christian understanding, God is the ground of all meaning.  At the end of the Medieval World, Descartes and Kant attempt to promote Man as an autonomous ground, taking the traditional place of God.  The promotion of man undermines the authority of God, but as an autonomous ground Man turns out to be existentially insufficient.  The dual failure of God and Man as ground, leaves us with the threat of nihilism.  The course asks: Can we preserve the existential insighst common to both traditions that life needs some kind of ground, without finding such a ground in a Supreme Being or in autonomous Man?

The answer depends upon whether one can uncover an authority other than us that, although not a Supreme Being, nevertheless serves as a ground.  The course will be devoted to a series of philosophical-religious thinkers who describe just such a possibility.  Pascal speaks of God as essentially hidden and makes a virtue of his hiddenness.  Kierkegaard holds that after the God-man appears in the world we no longer have, nor do we need, access to God the Father.  Nietzsche embraces as liberating the sheer absence of any ground.  In opposition, Dostoyevsky attempts to show how one can live a meaningful life that preserves the authority of our Judeo-Christian practices without recourse to a monotheistic metaphysics.

Note: Films will be screened at a time and place to be announced.


Jan. 17                   Introduction: What is Existentialism?
Jan. 19, 24              Pascal, Pensees  (excerpts)
Jan. 26, 31, Feb.2     Kierkegaard, Fear & Trembling - Preamble from Heart
Feb.7                Discussion of film: Hiroshima Mon Amour
Feb. 9               Fear & Trembling, Problema I
Feb. 14             Fear & Trembling, Problema II
Feb. 16             Discussion of film: The Third Man
Feb. 21, 23        Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death (excerpts)
    Feb. 28            FIRST PAPER DUE
Feb. 28, March 1        Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript  (excerpts)   
March 6, March 8       Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols  (excerpts)   
March 13, 15, 20        The Gay Science
March 22                  Discussion of Godard’s Breathless
    March 23          SECOND PAPER DUE
April 3,5            Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov, Part I,
April 10, 12        Brothers Karamazov, Part II
April 17, 19        Brothers Karamazov, Part III
April 24, 26        Brothers Karamazov, Part IV
May 1,3             Conclusion
    MAY 8              THIRD PAPER DUE

            Pascal, Pensees  (Penguin)
            Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov (Dover)
            Kierkegaard, Fear & Trembling (Penguin)
            Nietzsche, The Gay Science (Vintage)
                      Twilight of the Idols ((excerpts)

        Duras, M., Hiroshima Mon Amour (Grove Press)
        Dudley, A.,  Breathless (Rutgers U. Press)

1) Three 5-page papers on subjects to be selected from a list of suggested paper topics, or on a topic approved by your instructor.
2) Up to 200 pages of reading per week
3) Attendance at weekly discussion sections

Created on 3 January 2012