Phil 256 – Existentialism

| March 25, 2014

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Phil 256 – Existentialism
5-7 Pages; 12 point Times New Roman font
Writing Your Mid-term Paper
Your task is to find something from culture (pop culture or high culture) such as a poem, a film, a short story, a song, a painting, a sculpture, etc. and interpret it existentially. Stay clear of works that are obviously existential, such as a novel by Sartre or Camus. Identify one or more existential themes and then explain how the work exemplifies these. If you have any questions at all about what you’ve chosen to interpret, please ask me.
Be sure to include the following:
• Writing that is clear and free from grammatical errors
• An overall, but concise, description of the text, film, etc you’re analyzing (no more than a page).
• An explanation of the existential themes you’re focusing on. Be sure to reference the work of philosophers or writers we’ve discussed so far, and to support your explanation by citing passages from the text. For instance, if you discuss the existential conception of death you’ll want to reference selections by Heidegger in Being and Time, or Sartre’s story “The Wall.” You may use secondary some sources, but mainly you should be relying on primary texts. Use MLA, APA, or Chicago Style Guides for citation format.
• Demonstrate how the theme or themes are in the thing you’re analyzing by argument, and by describing details and specifics, such as characters, scenes, moods, etc.
• See the grading criteria below
In addition to discussing themes as they appear and are evident in some way in the work you’re interpreting, you can also criticize a work from an existential point of view. That is, you might find one or more of these themes being dealt with but only “inauthentically” and you can explain the ways in which it falls short of genuinely revealing the phenomenon.
Some Internet Sources on Existentialism
Both of these are general encyclopedia articles on existential philosophy. You might find them helpful when thinking through the themes:
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Themes We Have Covered So Far:
Authenticity and being an individual
• Kierkegaard: ‘Truth Is Subjectivity, ’ ‘Teleological Suspension of Ethical’
• Dostoyevsky: ‘Notes From Underground’
• Heidegger: Being and Time (BT) particularly 123-127, and 145-146
• Kafka: ‘Metamorphosis’
• Sartre: ‘Existentialism Is a Humanism’
Commitment and passion
This theme includes the necessity of acting in the face of uncertainty, which a number of existentialists stress, Kierkegaard especially, who called it making a “leap.” To them we must some times simply make a fundamental life choice without having adequate evidence ahead of time which choices is the best.
• Kierkegaard: ‘Truth Is Subjectivity,’ ‘Teleological Suspension of Ethical,’ ‘Rotation Method’
• Nietzsche ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’: The ‘overman’ is a passionate person; Nietzsche’s emphasis on being ‘faithful to the earth’ could be thought of as a passionate commitment to living in the here and now
• Heidegger: BT, 145-146
Significance of Death
• Heidegger: 139-146
• Sartre: ‘The Wall
Significance of Angst/anxiety; Meaninglessness, Absurdity
• Kierkegaard: ‘Concept of Anxiety’
• Heidegger: BT, 132-135
• Sartre: ‘Existentialism Is a Humanism’
Freedom, Responsibility and Morality
• Nietzsche: ‘Gay Science,’ ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra,’ Beyond Good and Evil,’ ‘The Will to Power’
• Kierkegaard: ‘Teleological Suspension of Ethical’
• Sartre: ‘Existentialism Is an Humanism’
Living Without God
• Nietzsche: any of the selections
• Kierkegaard discusses living without a secure, rational connection to God
• Sartre: ‘Existentialism Is an Humanism’
Keep in mind that for many existentialists each of us can be alienated from others, from our community or society, but also from ourselves – and in different ways. Sartre’s fiction illustrates this. Pablo Ibietta became alienated from his past, his commitments, and his body. Roquentin experiences similar self-alienation but in a more everyday context. One always stands as a question to oneself, never possessing a complete identity.
Alienation and Disillusionment
This set of themes could arguably fall under the themes of living without God or nihilism and meaninglessness. A theme that many stories, novels, and movies deal with is the loss of an ideal or sense of purpose after some personally or historically cataclysmic event. A familiar example is a veteran returning from war finding his or her previously unquestioned acceptance of, say, “the American Dream” shaken such that they now find themselves wondering about the values and goals previously seemed so obviously worthwhile. Now their life and their world appear, disturbingly, as open questions.
Choice of Film
Truman Show
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