Last Updated: 4/13/09

45.352 Existence & Anxiety / Existentialism

Spring Semester 2009

(General education humanities and ethics)

Professor Eric S. Nelson                                                                                                     Email

Office: Olney 101b                                                                                Telephone: 978-934-3996

Spring Office Hours: MW 2:30-4:30pm and by appointment
Homepage:
http://faculty.uml.edu/enelson/index.html

 

Course Description

We will explore basic questions of human existence in 19th and 20th Century philosophy and literature in this course. Topics include anxiety and alienation; freedom and responsibility; authenticity and bad faith; individuality and mass society; rationality and the absurd; values and nihilism; and God and meaninglessness. We will pursue questions of the significance of human existence and modernity by exploring the works of European writers and thinkers associated with existentialism. Unlike other "isms", existentialism is not the name of a unified theory, movement or doctrine. Covering a variety of diverse and even incompatible approaches that unfolded during the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, existentialism revolves around issues of meaning and meaninglessness, God and the absence of God, individual freedom and social responsibility, despair and affirmation, creativity and conformity, anxiety and calm. We will examine responses to these and other issues by reading and discussing some of the central figures related to "existentialism" in literature (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Camus) and philosophy (Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Arendt).

 

Course Requirements: Students are required to:

1. Complete all assigned readings.                                                                                                                       2. Maintain regular attendance.

3. Participate in class discussion and in discussion groups.                                                                                4. Complete all written assignments on-time.

 

Course Assignments

1. Three Exams = 75% of final course grade.

2. Attendance, participation, in-class (individual or group) assignments = 25% of final grade. Note that beginning with the fourth absence, each additional absence will lower the grade by 0.3/0.4 out of a 4.0 scale. There will be oral and written, individual and group, in-class assignments based on the readings and class-discussion.

 

Special Instructions for Assignments

1. Exams will cover the assigned readings and class discussions of them, and will involve describing, explaining, and evaluating texts, concepts, and arguments.

2. In-class group discussion assignments will engage questions from the reading and discussion for that day of class. They will require that groups of students debate the meaning and validity of arguments, formulate possible alternatives, and arrive at a solution to be turned in at the end of class.

3. Students are expected to attend class regularly, and attendance will be taken daily. Attending class and actively participating will improve your final grade by 25%.

 

Required Texts (available at the UML North Campus Bookstore)

1. BWE: Gordon Marino, Basic Writings of Existentialism (Modern Library Classics; 0375759891)

2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (Oxford; 0199537070)

3. Leo Tolstoy, Death of Ivan Ilyich (Bantam; 0553210351)

 

SCHEDULE

1. Jan 26 (MON): The Question of Existence-Introduction to Existentialism and to the Class

I. Beyond Good and Evil?

2. Jan 28 (WED): Snow day-classes cancelled

3. Jan 30 (FRI): Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

4-5-6. Feb 2 (MON), 4 (WED), and 6 (FRI): Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Study Questions

7. Feb 9 (MON): Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

8. Feb 11 (WED): Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

9. Feb 13 (FRI): Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Feb. 16 (MON): President's Day (University Closed)

10. Feb 18 (WED): Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

11. Feb 20 (FRI): Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

12. Feb 23 (MON): Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Grand Inquisitor. Read BWE: 231-254

13. Feb 25 (WED): (In-Class) Exam 1!

II. Questionable Existence

14. Feb 27 (FRI): Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground. Read BWE: 193-205

15. March 2 (MON): Snow day-classes cancelled

16. March 4 (WED): Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground. Read BWE: 205-217

17. March 6 (FRI): Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground. Read BWE: 218-230

18. March 9 (MON): Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death. Read BWE: 41-52

19. March 11 (WED): Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death. Read BWE: 53-64

20. March 13 (FRI): Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death. Read BWE: 64-75

March 14-22: Spring Break (No classes)

21. March 23 (MON): Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death. Read BWE: 76-87

22. March 25 (WED): Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death. Read BWE: 87-98

23. March 27 (FRI): Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death. Read BWE: 99-105

24. March 30 (MON): Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich: 31-72 (ch.s 1-4)

25. April 1 (WED): Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich: 73-113 (ch.s 5-12)

26. April 3 (FRI): Martin Heidegger, Being and Time. Read BWE: 299-305

27. April 6 (MON): Martin Heidegger, Being and Time. Read BWE: 305-312

28. April 8 (WED): Martin Heidegger, Being and Time. Read BWE: 312-325

29. April 10 (FRI): Heidegger Being and Time. Read BWE: 325-236

30. April 13 (MON): (In-Class) Exam II today!

III. The Human, the Absurd, and the Other

31. April 15 (WED): Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism. Read BWE: 341-355

32. April 17 (FRI): Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Bad Faith. Read BWE: 355-367

April 20 (MON): Patriot's Day (University Closed)

33. April 22 (WED): Jean-Paul Sartre, “The Unconscious” and “Play Acting.” Read BWE: 367-378

April 24 (FRI): University Day (No Classes)

34. April 27 (MON): Jean-Paul Sartre, “The Unconscious” and “Play Acting.” Read BWE: 378-390

35. April 29 (WED):Jean-Paul Sartre, “The Encounter with the Other.” Read BWE: 390-399

36. May 1 (FRI):  Jean-Paul Sartre, “The Encounter with the Other.” Read BWE: 400-409

37. May 4 (MON): Simone De Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity: 413-424

38. May 6 (WED): Simone De Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity: 424-436

39. May 8 (FRI): Simone De Beauvoir, Introduction to The Second Sex: “Woman as Other” available online at:

http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/2nd-sex/introduction.htm

40. May 11 (MON): Interview with Simone de Beauvoir, "The second sex 25 years later" (1976) available online at:

http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/1976/interview.htm

41. May 13 (WED): Exam III today!