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Philosophy: On the Meaning of Life

PHIL 010 Z2 (CRN: 60583)

3 Credit Hours

For crosslists see: REL 085 Z1

About PHIL 010 Z2

This course explores the ways in which different thinkers, texts, and traditions have responded to the question concerning the meaning of life. Topics to be covered include the questions: What is human happiness? What makes a good life? What is meaningful work? What kinds of responsibility do I have for other people? How do various thinkers, both philosophic and religious, respond to the problem of human suffering? What is the relation of personal to social identity in an age of increasing complexity? We will read classic as well as modern and contemporary texts. In addition, we will use films to provide the basis for further reflection and discussion.


Related Program

High School & Pre-College Programs


Dates: June 20 - July 15, 2016; Cross listed with REL 85 Z1; Credit not awarded for more than one PHIL course below 100 except 013

More Information

Section Description

This course is meant to be of value to both beginners and to people who have already delved into philosophic questioning and religious life. I want to emphasize that I view all education as continuing education. The greater variety of students and the somewhat more informal setting of Summer Academy make these courses among my favorite to teach. The course will be divided between lecture and discussion. The requirements are simple and straightforward. Students will keep a journal featuring their reactions to the ideas we discuss and their own ideas on the reading. These journals can provide the basis for the two papers to be written in conjunction with the course. The journals will be handed in at the end of the last class of the first two weeks. Reading List:Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Alboon The Death of Ivan Illyich, Leo Tolstoy The Will to Believe, William James Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl I and Thou, Martin Buber Existentialism From Dostoevsky to Sartre, Walter Kaufmann Siddhartha, Herman Hesse

Section Expectation

June 20-23 Week 1 Tuesdays with Morrie: a popular work dealing with how a retired sociology professor faces his own death, and in doing so, relates to a student some of the most basic events of a meaningful life. Death of Ivan Ilyich: according to Tolstoy, this book was very difficult to write, but very readable and includes very clear lessons on how life should and should not be lived. Will to Believe “Is Life Worth Living” (YES): This text deals with the relation of morality to religion to science. It also investigates the relation of faith to reason, trust to hope, and the importance of taking probability seriously. The film, Tuesday’s with Morrie will be shown. June 27-30 Week 2 Tues/Wed: Siddhartha: A book about journeys on life’s way from an eastern philosophical perspective. Questions to keep in mind: What is the central character Siddhartha searching for? How does he go about trying to achieve it? Does he find unity or happiness or serenity? Thurs: Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre: - Selections from Nietzsche on European Nihilism: Why does Nietzsche diagnose the basic crisis of humanity as nihilism? Why does human experience appear to be at odds with and different from our scientific description of reality? What is the consequence of the separation of appearance and reality? - Kafka’s “Parables”: What can be learned from Kafkas parables? What do they tell us about the nature of bureaucracy, human freedom, and responsibility? - Camus’ “Myth of Sisyphus”: Why does Camus argue that human existence is absurd? If it is absurd, why does he advocate a struggle against absurdity? - Sartre’s “Anti-Semite and Jew”: Why and how is the selection from Sartre’s book considered to be a classic on racism and general and anti-Semitism in particular? What is the pathology of the mind of the anti-Semite? Can this be overcome? These are mostly short selections from some of the most important thinkers of the modern and cotemporary world. Start Man’s Search for Meaning July 4-7 No class Monday July 4 Week 3 Finish Man’s Search for Meaning: Why does Frankl argue that the search for meaning is the central problem of human life? Why and how does it help to have a purpose no matter what one’s situation? How can we deal with human suffering in a meaningful way? Start Martin Buber’s I and Thou July 11-14 Week 4 Finish I and Thou: Why does Buber maintain that inter-personal relations are at the heart of human life? Personal and social identity is forming in the moment of the I-Thou relation—how and why? Why do we live primarily in the I-It world? Jersy Kosinsky’s Being There: Why is Chauncy Gardener taken seriously by the people around him as an intellectual and cultural force with whom to be reckoned, even though he can neither read nor write? What does it mean that television plays such a crucial mediating role for both Chauncy gardener and the people around him? What does this tell us about appearance and reality?


Attendance and participation . . . . 25% • Students should submit three quotes from the reading and/or class discussion to the instructor at beginning of class, along with two questions Journals . . . . 25% • Journals should be submitted on Thursday at the end of the first and third week. • One double-spaced page each; these may include your own insights on reading and/or class discussion or lecture notes. Papers . . . . 50% • Topics can be of the students’ own choosing or a response to one or two questions to be assigned. • Papers are due at the end of the second week and at the last class meeting on Thursday of fourth week




Lafayette Hall L400 (View Campus Map)


to on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday

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