PHIL 216: Existentialism
MWF, 10:20-11:10, Lathrop 215
David Dudrick, Associate Professor of Philosophy
This course introduces students to existentialist thought via an
examination of its 19th-century origins and 20th-century
manifestations. Among the topics to be considered are existence,
freedom, subjectivity, and absurdity.
On the reading list: Camus, The Stranger; Cumming, The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre; Descartes, Meditations; Dostoevsky, The Grand Inquisitor; Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling; Nietzsche, The Gay Science; Pascal, Pensées
Key assignments/ activities:
Bring questions and, most importantly, objections and new ideas to
class. Weekly postings to Blackboard engage with some idea in the
readings either individually or after small-group discussion. Two
papers, a midterm, and a final exam.
The professor says:
I want students to take away the idea that it is worthwhile to pose the
deep and abiding questions facing human beings — e.g., What is the
meaning of life? Does anything have meaning? How should I live in light
of these questions? — even if we can have no absolute certainty with
respect to the answers. Too often students are under the impression
that if there is no way of proving one answer to be the correct one,
then the question isn’t worth asking. I want them to see that each can
come to reasonable answers, even if other reasonable people would
disagree with those answers.
– “I’m getting a better understanding of myself for myself. That in itself is great.”
“The most important thing I got out of this course was the ability to
make thoughtful, logical objections to a claim. I feel more educated
after every class lets out!”
Live and learn
Gildiner ’09 arrived in Israel two days after the conflict in Gaza
began last December, when she participated in the Jewish National
Fund’s alternative break trip. Although she was only 18 miles outside
of missile range, Gildiner said she did not let the circumstances
hinder her plans.
The behavioral neuroscience and women’s studies dual major from Cherry Hill, N.J., reflects:
painted neighborhoods, worked in a soup kitchen, did forest cleanup,
and worked on a farm. The language barrier didn’t stop residents from
coming out to greet us and offer us what little they had — coffee,
oranges, or cookies. Being thanked by these strangers made our work
that much more meaningful. We completed all of our projects, and didn’t
change our itinerary, for the most part.
“We had hoped to go see the progress of the indoor playground project
[for which the students fundraised before the trip], but we couldn’t
because rockets were falling in Sderot. Also, toward the end of our
trip, our tour guide had to leave because Israel Defense Forces called
upon thousands of reserves — that’s when it really hit us that we were
in a place where war is a reality.
“A highlight was spending time with a family from Sderot who came to
the hostel where we stayed in Arad for a peaceful Shabbat. They ate
dinner beside us and played soccer with us. Seeing them get such
pleasure out of things that we take for granted — enjoying a dinner and
being able to run around a field without fear of a missile dropping —
put things in perspective for us.
“The rest of the country outside the Gaza territory was peaceful. I
traveled with a friend after the program, and I began to understand
Israeli life — people go on as usual. I was aware of my surroundings at
all times, but I spent more time enjoying the beautiful country than
worrying about my safety.”