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Publisher's Summary

What is life? What is my place in it? What choices do these questions obligate me to make? More than a half-century after it burst upon the intellectual scene - with roots that extend to the mid-19th century - Existentialism's quest to answer these most fundamental questions of individual responsibility, morality, and personal freedom has continued to exert a profound attraction.
Now, in a series of 24 probing and thoughtful lectures, you can enrich your own understanding of this unique philosophical wave, the visionary thinkers it brought together to ponder and debate these questions, and the prominent role it still plays in contemporary thought.
"Existentialism is, in my view, the most exciting and important philosophical movement of the past century and a half," says Professor Solomon. "Fifty years after the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre gave it its identity and 150 years after the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard gave it its initial impetus, it continues to win new enthusiasts and, in keeping with its still exciting and revolutionary message, vehement critics." Plumbing both sides of the debate, these lectures examine a wide range of Existentialist thought. You'll be exposed to the religious approach of Kierkegaard; the bold fiction of Camus; the warrior rhetoric and often-shocking claims about religion and morality posed by Nietzsche; the radical and uncompromising notion of freedom championed by Sartre; and the searching analysis of human historicity and finitude offered by Martin Heidegger. And you'll encounter the reluctance - often angrily expressed - of many of Existentialism's major figures to be thought of as part of any philosophical movement or even as intellectual allies!
©2000 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2000 The Great Courses
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By Gary on 07-24-15

Good for even a non-existentialist

I don't like existentialism philosophy, but I liked this lecture series. It allowed me to understand other philosophers through the lens of Existentialism, and I got to understand Kant, Schopenhauer, and learn learn more about Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. I liked the hour and a half he devoted to Heidegger so much, I ended up buying "Being and Time" from Amazon.

I would strongly recommend watching the BBC production of the play "Huis Clos" ("In Camera", or also called "No Exit") freely available on YouTube before or after listening to this lecture. I did and am glad for the understanding it brought. The heart of this lecture series is really Jean-Paul Sartre and a lot of what he thinks is within this highly watchable and freely available play.

Even if you think Existentialism is passe (a word the lecturer uses), and you don't particularly like Existentialism this lecture has more than enough to keep you entertained. As with almost all of these Great Course series, I don't know of anything else where I get as much value for my one credit, and because of this series I'm violating one of my rules and plan on reading a difficult book because this series has piqued my interest that much in Heidegger.

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59 of 61 people found this review helpful

By Rich on 10-09-15

Broad, Thorough and Highly Engaging

The Great Courses captured a jewel of a lecture series with Professor Solomon's work. Solomon puts the focus on five European philosophers: Camus (French, 20th C.), Kierkegaard (Danish, 19th C.), Nietchze (German, 19th C.), Heidegger (German, 20th C.) and Sarte (French, 20th C.). Common threads of individualism, passion and freedom ties the work of all these philosophers together. Solomon's lectures are clear, in-depth, and fascinating.

This was the first title in my Audible collection (30+ titles) that I immediately listened to again once finished. The second listening I took notes, there was good information in nearly every minute of the recording. After finishing the course, I learned Dr. Solomon passed away in 2007 while vacationing with his wife (a fellow Philosophy professor) in Europe. I never knew him personally, but this recording seems to be a fitting tribute to a man who clearly cared about his philosophies and teachings. (The companion PDF authored by Solomon is excellent as well).

The remainder of the review will be scratch notes on the lectures. If you are interested in exploring beyond the Greeks in the realm of Philosophy, if you've ever felt frustrated with the "herd mentality" of society, or if you've ever wondered where the world of emotions/passions fit in our age of reason, this title doesn't disappoint.


* Albert Camus: Emotions and thoughts do not depend upon each other, as illustrated in "The Stranger." Perhaps emotions precede reason, in contrast to the Greeks. Guilt exists just by our being human. Your perspective is more important than "the benign indifference of the universe." The Myth of Sisyphus: he becomes one with his rock, refusing to accept the absurdity of the situation. Reason begets absurdity. "You get the war you deserve" as illustrated in The Plague. Philosophical suicide is dismissing the absurd and prioritizing a future utopian life. The utopian future trivializes the life you are living right here right now. The Fall illustrates a character that thinks too much, challenging Socrates' notion that the unexamined life is not worth living. Is pride a blessing (the Greeks) or a curse (the Christians)? The character can't overcome his guilt of reflection. (Mother Teresa offered as contrast: "I focus only on the person that I am with.")

* Soren Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling. Subjective truths; leaps of faith. Trying to prove God exists is pointless. Keep subjectivity and objectivity separate. "I want a truth that I can live and die for." His truth was Christianity. He abhorred those who thought Christianity was their birthright or function of hometown. Passionate commitment: seems like an oxymoron but for Kierkegaard it's the decision and action that follows a passion that are important. Hegel's historical vs. existential dialectic. His planes of existence: aesthetic, ethical and spiritual. Boredom (aesthetic) and burnout (ethical) leaves only the spiritual.

* Friedrich Nietzsche. The public's misperception of "God is Dead." Relative truths exist, but perhaps no absolute truth. An immoralist: ethics are a matter of self virtue, not Kant's rationalism, not an order of God. Judge yourself, not others--aligns with Aristotle. Virtue is beautiful. Master/slave morality. Slave morality has eclipsed master morality, for the worse. Wealth, education and strength are looked down upon. Slave morality sees those as evil and focuses on self-denial. Proto-characters. Perspectivism. Birds of prey will never be lambs. Talents may exist, but must be self-realized. "Become who you are." The Will--universal by Schopenhauer. Nietzsche doesn't believe in free will/the ability to pull away from all the world. "There is just action; consciousness is overrated." Our control is used to cultivate new automatic actions. "Give style to your character; it is a great art." Nietzsche's test for living properly: if you had to live your life over and over ad infinatum, would you? Ubermensch is free of resentment, but aspiring to uber is not realistic. Goethe's life was near ideal: creative, spiritual. Will to power is self-mastery, not control. Will to power/Self-esteem is feeling energized by your own ideas. Will to power is a passionate life, in contrast to the Greeks. Martyrs are more motivated by their own righteousness than by the infinite afterlife. Love is control. Pity is superiority. Attachments to ideals and aspirations are what life is all about. Schopenhauer says life is nothing, Nietzsche disagrees.

* Martin Heidegger. Believes that the conscious and the world are not separate entities. Lines between realism and idealism are blurred. "Dasein." Our first thoughts are not "who am I," but "here is the world I am in." To think about the hammer makes it no longer a hammer. Authenticity: taking a hold of yourself, not Das Mann self. A return to your historicity after authenticity to avoid alienation. We've been thrown into the world. We never live in the present. This understanding leads to dasein. Acorns are not dasein: they have potential, but not perspective. Conscious says we could be more authentic, which gives rise to guilt. "Being unto death:" a recognition that leads to resolutions. Nazi ties: very controversial.

* Jean-Paul Sarte. Writes for responsibility; turns down Nobel prize. Human nature is found under stress. Sarte says screw making up excuses for yourself for any predicament. We are free in that we always have choices to make, no matter the situation--he should know, he was a Nazi prisoner. How do citizens see the moutain they live by? Threats to freedom are often internal. Choices lead to emotions. You decide whether to forget or dwell. "We all get the war we deserve." Consciousness is freedom, spontaneous and nothingness: like a beam of light that dynamically molds what it sees. Emotions structure consciousness, not an escape behavior. Being for itself, in itself, for others. Self is an accumulation of external actions. Transcendence: overreaching facts and the present, wanting to be God. My birthday is not a fact (re: fake ids). "Bad faith"--a stiff waiter. Sarte attacks Freud for not taking responsibiliy. Being for others--the play 'no exit.' We only know ourselves through other people. We may appear bad in one instance, but we also are being for ourselves so don't have to be judged. Leads to moral education. Being for others cannot be ignored. Facticity, transcendence and being for others always in tension, in contrast with Aristotle's society. This guilt is secular original sin. Hell is other people: the play No Exit. Wife abuser, female socialite and working class lesbian. Death makes us pure facticity. Seeing someone else in our private desert.

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34 of 35 people found this review helpful

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By T J james on 12-30-15

So good I listened to it twice.

A very engaging speaker with a gentle but lyrical style. Comprehensive and thought provoking but designed to be accessible.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

By Miss Clare Bakhtiar on 03-13-16

Excellent - informative and interesting.

I recommend this as an accessible introduction to existentialism. The lectures are a good length and Prof. Solomon explains the subject with clarity, charisma and contemporary relevance . I feel confident now in engaging in deeper study.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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By Mitchell on 02-20-17


Great introduction to existentialism and a good summary and interpretation of key texts. Solomon covers different concepts within existentialism including freedom and responsibility, and continually points out its relevance to one's everyday experience. It is a broad survey of ways about how to think about ourselves and our place in the world which, if you found this as Intersting as I did, will have you thinking for hours after listening. I thoroughly enjoyed this, particularly the coverage of Camus, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. It has inspired me to read some of the key texts discussed. The presentation is clear and very followable despite the complexity of some of the ideas, some lectures will require a bit more concentration than others. If you are interested in philosophy at all, having some sort of life-crisis or want to have some good discussion material for debating friends on the big questions, I would really recommend this course.

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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