Philosophy 7

Spring 2012

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
7 Existentialism in Literature & Film Dreyfus TuTh 3:30-5 159 Mulford

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 insight 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.

Required Reading: Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov (Dover) Kierkegaard, Fear & Trembling (Penguin) Nietzsche, The Gay Science (Vintage) Twilight of the Idols (Penguin)

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

Requirements: 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