PHI350/REL353: Existentialism

COURSE DESCRIPTION

Existentialism embraces a wide range of thinkers—from the desperately religious to the vehemently atheistic. This course reflects upon central writers associated with the movement as well as voices that complicate the central idea of existentialism, i.e., that humans are wholly responsible in determining their own identity and destiny.

COURSE OBJECTIVES

  • Learn the basic tenants of the philosophy of existentialism, e.g., freedom, anxiety and despair, bad faith and authenticity
  • Understand some of the central figures associated with the existentialist movement (and a few others not generally associated with existentialism)
  • Critically engage the ideas and figures and their relevance in our current context, especially the growing concerns about the weakening of democratic commitments and institutions and the emerging consciousness of systemic gender and racial injustice

REQUIRED TEXTS

The following materials are required reading for the course.  Texts are available in the bookstore.
  • Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (Vintage, 2011)
  • E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (Dover, 1994)
  • Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (Grove, 2008)
  • Martin Heidegger, The Concept of Time (Continuum, 2011)
  • Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death (Princeton University, 1980)
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, The Portable Nietzsche (Penguin, 1954)
  • **Other electronic resources

EXPECTATIONS AND REQUIREMENTS

Attendance and Participation: My basic assumption is that we are mutually dedicated to the common cause of education conceived as the advancement of critical thinking.  Because of this basic assumption, I assume that you will come to class prepared and ready to participate in class discussion.  This means, first, that you will have completed assigned readings prior to the class meeting.  (Many of the readings are difficult and I do not expect you to understand them completely; I do, however, expect you to engage the material seriously and to ask about anything you do not understand.)  Second, I expect that you will be ready and willing to discuss the material, i.e., to raise questions, criticisms, thoughts, etc.  Class participation is worth 10 points toward your final grade.  I also assume that you will be in attendance and on time to all class sessions, barring unforeseen circumstances.  Each unexcused absense will result in subtraction of 1 point (10%) from your final general participation grade.  (Note: Attendance is not the same thing as participation.)
Weekly Forums: You will participate in weekly discussion forums through the Moodle page. Some of these forums will prompted by me, others will be more freeform. Forum participation is worth 10 points toward your final grade.
Response Papers: You will write three 5-7 page response papers. These papers will be prompted, and will aim to direct you to particular ideas in the texts. The papers must critically engage the prompt and must employ the course material. More detailed instructions for the papers will be included in the individual prompts. The first two response papers will be worth 20 points each; the third will be worth 40 points.

GRADING

A total of 100 points is possible for the class.  The point breakdown is as follows: class participation = 10 points; discussion forums = 10 points (2 points each week); response papers = 80 points (first two papers, 20 points each; the third paper, 40 points). The grading scale is as follows:
93-100 points: A
90-92 points: A-
87-89 points: B+
83-86 points: B
80-82 points: B-
77-79 points: C+
73-76 points: C
70-72 points: C-
60-69 points: D
below 60 points: U
*A NOTE ABOUT GRADING: A grade is an assessment of your effort and your abilities; therefore, simply fulfilling the course requirements does not constitute A level work!  Exceptional work will warrant an A; good work will win you a B; adequate work will get you a C; below adequate work gets you a D; a final grade of U means that your work has been unsatisfactory.  (A word of warning: I am a difficult, but fair grader, and I am always willing to discuss a grade with a student.)

ACADEMIC HONESTY

With regard to academic honesty, the Centre College Catalogue states:
“A high standard of academic honesty is expected of students in all phases of academic work and college life. Academic dishonesty in any form is a fundamental offense against the integrity of the entire academic community and is always a threat to the standards of the College and to the standing of every student. In taking tests and examinations, doing homework or laboratory work, and writing papers, students are expected to perform with honor. In written and oral work for college courses, students will be held responsible for knowing the difference between proper and improper use of source materials. The improper use of source materials is plagiarism and, along with other breaches of academic integrity, is subject to disciplinary action. . . . If the instructor has a concern about a student’s academic honesty, the Associate Dean of the College must be notified” (“Academic Honesty/Dishonesty,” Centre College Catalogue).
The Academic Honesty policy will be strictly upheld.

COURSE OUTLINE

8/26: Course introduction
8/27: Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, pp. 5-28
8/28: Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, pp. 29-42
8/31: Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, pp. 42-74
9/1: Søren Kierkegaard,The Sickness Unto Death, pp. 77-104
9/2: Søren Kierkegaard,The Sickness Unto Death, pp. 105-31
9/3: Friedrich Nietzsche, Portable Nietzsche, pp. 473-501
9/4: W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, pp. 1-8, 25-36
9/7: Martin Heidegger, The Concept of Time, pp. 79-88, 11-23 (please read in this order)
9/8: Martin Heidegger, The Concept of Time, pp. 24-36
9/9: Martin Heidegger, The Concept of Time, pp. 37-71
9/10: Jean Paul Sartre, “Existentialism is a Humanism”
9/11: Martin Buber, Good and Evil, pp. 63-97
9/14: Martin Buber, Good and Evil, pp. 99-113
9/15: Martin Buber, Good and Evil, pp. 115-43
9/16: Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, pp. 3-17
9/17: Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, pp. 148-56, 266-74
9/18: Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, pp. 283-312
9/21: Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, pp. 341-60
9/22: Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, pp. 524-47
9/23: Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, pp. 638-64
9/24: Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, pp. 721-51
9/25: Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, pp. 753-66
9/28: Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, pp. xi-23
9/29: Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, pp. 24-44
9/30: Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, pp. 45-63
10/1: Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, pp. 64-88
10/2: Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, pp. 89-119
10/5: Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, pp. 185-206
10/6: Course conclusion