This module explores two deeply related philosophical traditions that came to prevalence in the 19th and 20th centuries – existentialism and phenomenology. Existentialism is a philosophical movement associated with thinkers and writers as diverse as Sartre, Nietzsche, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Camus, Heidegger, and Kierkegaard – though not all of figures grouped under that heading accepted that designation.
Broadly speaking, however, Existentialism is unified by the belief that human existence cannot be adequately understood using the traditional categories provided by the philosophical tradition or the natural sciences. In light of this belief, many existentialists were committed to profound disruptions in the style in which philosophy is to be practiced – turning to poetry and literature to capture the nature of the human instead.
Existentialism is also unified in its commitment to take seriously the first-person quality of experience – arguing that purely third-personal categories fail to capture the nature of human existence as it is lived. For this reason Existentialism has close ties to Phenomenology, which is a philosophical methodology defined by its insistence on examining meaning as it is experienced first-personally in order to uncover the structural necessities governing the possibility of those meaningful experiences.
Briefly put, Phenomenology questions how experience can show up as meaningful. This module is dedicated to one or both of these philosophical approaches and/or the relationship between the two.
This term will be devoted to an in-depth study of Martin Heidegger’s magnum opus, Being and Time. The publication of Being and Timein 1927 immediately established Heidegger as a major philosopher. Combining his study of Husserl’s 6th Logical Investigation (on categorical intuition) with his reading of Aristotle’s Metaphysics (especially book Gamma, which states that “Being has many significations”), Heidegger focused on clarifying what it means to ‘be’. By doing so, he meant to recover what had been forgotten by the metaphysical tradition of the West : the question of Being. But how should we understand the difference between Being and beings? What is it that Heidegger calls ‘Dasein’? Why not talk of ‘human beings’ or of ‘subjects’ instead? What does it mean to be ‘in’ the world? What is the role of moods in our interface with the world? What does it mean for Dasein to be free? How (if at all) can it be authentic? This module will investigate such questions while relating Heidegger’s early hermeneutic ontology both with the Continental tradition and with the later development of his thought.
By the end of the module students should be able in their essay and exam work to:
1. explain some of the major preoccupations and approaches of Existentialism and/or Phenomenology;
2. analyse critically the debates surrounding them.
By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:
1. define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
2. seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
3. process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
4. compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
5. write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
6. be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
7. think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;
8. maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;
9. Think critically and constructively