Prof. Daniel Collette (Marquette University)
In this class we will learn seminal texts and important themes within existentialist philosophy by experiencing them. Since the existentialists were less concerned with abstract theorizing than fundamental aspects of living, this course aims to fulfill that spirit of existentialism by engaging in activities and existential experiments that expose and teach those philosophical themes.
Classroom Learning and Readings
Our readings include shorter excerpts from several influential existential texts. Some of these are Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism, Simon de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity and Second Sex, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, and Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus. Authors we read will present the foundation for this school of thought and consider being in the world, living authentically, radical freedom, human irrationality, anxiety, gender norms, distraction, boredom, absurdity, and creativity. We will explore these together in class using a variety of methods such as small group work, video conferencing with professors who specialize on the topic at hand, and “reading circles” – a hybrid of open discussion, lecture, and close readings of texts. Students will be given reflection questions ahead of time to prepare them for discussions and will be challenged in different ways to own these conversational parts.
Students will have a chance to live out and encounter the philosophy we learn through experiential learning – for instance, we will visit the art museum to see existential expression, expose our inherent existential tendencies through virtual reality simulations, and conduct individual exercises in the community. While some of the activities are more guided, others allow a great deal of flexibility to give students the chance to be creative in how they apply that material. Generally, we will alternate – one day of discussing a set of readings, the following day of conducting and/or discussing the activity that corresponds with those reading. In addition to learning the material “hands on” in a way that better aligns with what the existentialists envisioned, these experiments have additional benefit of fostering a sense of community.