Existentialist Thought


Existentialism "begins with a disoriented individual facing a confused world that s/he cannot accept" (Robert Solomon). Existentialists seek to make meaning of the brokenness (Marcel), dislocation (Merleau-Ponty), and ambiguity (de Beauvoir) of modern life. While its origins go back to the nineteenth-century (Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche), with even older antecedents, as a specific moment in the history of ideas existentialism was created in response to the "age of anxiety" from the end of World War I through the 1960s. It continues to ripple through to the present. We will explore the richness and depth of the canonic figures of existentialism. But we will also consider how that canon was itself shaped and what this entailed for how these thinkers have been understood. We will consider existentialist giants such as Sartre and Heidegger. But we will also spend time with less totemic thinkers. One key thematic strand will focus on is race and existentialism. In short, we will explore why existentialism continues to speak to the Millennial generation's concerns about the meaning and purpose of human existence.
Course Attributes: EN H; AS HUM; AS SC

Section 01

Existentialist Thought
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