Phil 155. Lecture: Introduction to Existentialism
Existentialism as a movement
An artistic as well as a philosophical phenomenon (
Notes from Underground
No Exit, The Flies, The Stranger, Waiting for Godot, Death of a Salesman
Philosophers: Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul
Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Gabriel Marcel, Martin Buber…
Artists: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka, Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco, Samuel
Beckett, Jackson Pollock, Ingmar Bergman…
An emphasis on thinking about human existence or
; this requires a radical
shift in perspective and can’t be done with the tools of scholastic philosophy or
mechanistic scientific inquiry.
Philosophically: the death of God. Attempts to build ethical ‘systems’ based on
universal principles of reason and general categories: Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel,
John Stuart Mill. Rise of ‘mechanical’ explanations for human behavior.
Abandonment of the divine justification for government: rise of the secular nation-
state. Optimism that humanism and reason will lead to a better life.
But then: collapse. The Russian Revolution, horrors of Bolshevism, purges of Stalin;