Intermediate Philosophy Part 2: Nihilism, Phenomenology and Existentialism
One unexpected outcome of the Enlightenment period was the rise of nihilism, a crisis of finding any real meaning in the emerging scientific worldview. The development of the new philosophical movement of phenomenology can be seen as, in part, a response to this crisis. Husserl sought to analyse the role of consciousness in constituting meaning in experience in a way which united our daily experience of the world with the scientific world view. The approach he developed was swiftly challenged in the name of a more embodied and historically situated account of meaning by the work of Heidegger, de Beauvoir, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. This course will explore how the emergence of phenomenology as a philosophical method came to be inextricably linked to the wider issue of Existentialism as a response to the urgent problems of the 20th Century.
Who is this course for
This is not a course for absolute beginners to philosophy. Students joining this course would benefit from having some previous experience of studying philosophy. Graduates of other humanities or social-science disciplines, however, with experience of complex theoretical frameworks, should find it very challenging yet potentially intellectually manageable to begin their philosophical studies with this course. All students will need to have reached at least Level 2 standard (equivalent to GSCE) in the English language.
What does this course cover
The course begins with four sessions on the history of the concept of nihilism. We start by looking at Gorgias' argument for why nothing exists, situating it in the context of Pre-Socratic philosophy. Then we look at modern discussions of nihilism in F.H. Jacobi, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Camus, Beauvoir and Deleuze.
In the main body of the course, we develop an account of the basic methods and concepts of Phenomenology and Existentialism, paying particular attention to how Husserl's Phenomenology became a discourse about Being (an ontology) in the hands of Heidegger. After exploring key ideas in Husserl's Phenomenology (eg. intentionality, the epoche, and phenomenological reduction), we examine the central doctrines of Heidegger's Being and Time (focusing on the difference between Being and beings, the analytic of Dasein and human temporality), and examine his approach to nothingness in the essay 'What is Metaphysics?' We will also assess the impact of the recently published Black Notebooks.
In the last third of the course, we turn our attention to French Existentialism. After an intensive introduction to the key ideas of Sartre's Being and Nothingness, we look at Simone de Beauvoir's development of Existentialist ethics, and Merleau-Ponty's attempt to rethink the Existentialist account of perception and embodiment in The Phenomenology of Perception.
The conceptual focus of the course is on being and nothingness, and so we conclude with a discussion of Emanuele Severino's The Essence of Nihilism and Badiou's Seminar on Parmenides, with the aim of integrating Pre-Socratic ideas about being and nothingness with Phenomenological and Existentialist approaches.
By the end of the course, you should be able to:
' Analyse, compare and contrast different approaches to the philosophical problem of Nihilism
' Explain key concepts from a range of thinkers in the Phenomenological tradition (e.g. In Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty)
' Explain key concepts in Heidegger's development of phenomenology as an account of Being (e.g. the ontological difference, the analytic of Dasein and temporality) and assess the implications of this
' Apply the insights you have developed during the term to wider debates in philosophy
What will it be like
The course is an interactive mixture of tutor exposition and class discussion. Extensive documentation will be provided throughout the course, and powerpoints covering the main points will be distributed after each session. There are opportunities for further discussion and reading outside of the class via the course's Moodle website.
We will assess your expectations of the course in the first sessions. Thereafter, you will be able to monitor your progress on the course through participation in class discussion, questions and answers and in-class exercises. At the end of the course, you will be able to measure your progress against the stated outcomes for the course.
What else do you need to buy or do
Notebook and pen, for taking notes in class. Students may find it helpful to have Robert Solomon's book Continental Philosophy Since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self (about £17.99), as useful background reading, but this is not a requirement of the course. Extracts from the work of some of the thinkers we are studying will be provided as preparatory reading at home, and exercises will be set as homework for some classes. Students who undertake the reading and exercises will find that they gain more from the course.
The central works referred to in this course are Heidegger's Being and Time and Sartre's Being and Nothingness. It is recommended that students acquaint or re-acquaint themselves with Heidegger's tome before the course starts. If you are completely new to Existentialism, you could start with Mary Warnock's overview, Existentialism.
What this course could lead to
This course is designed as the second of a series of three term-long courses, and therefore students can enrol on the Summer Term course to continue their studies. Students who are unable to continue onto the second part of the course will find this term a good preparation for general intermediate level courses in Continental Philosophy, German Idealism, or Existentialism at institutions such as Birkbeck or other colleges.
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This course has concessions available for people who meet certain criteria
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