No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life

Course No. 437
Professor Robert C. Solomon, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
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Course Overview

The message of Existentialism, unlike that of many more obscure and academic philosophical movements, is about as simple as can be. It is that every one of us, as an individual, is responsible—responsible for what we do, responsible for who we are, responsible for the way we face and deal with the world, responsible, ultimately, for the way the world is.

It is, in a very short phrase, the philosophy of 'No excuses!' We cannot shift that burden onto God, or nature, or the ways of the world."

—Professor Robert Solomon

If you believe that life should be a quest for values, reasons, and purpose—filled with passion and governed by individual responsibility—then yours is the sort of mind to which the Existentialist philosophers were speaking.

More than a half-century after it burst upon the intellectual scene, Existentialism has continued to exert a profound attraction for individuals driven to re-examine life's most fundamental questions of individual responsibility, morality, and personal freedom.

  • What is life?
  • What is my place in it?
  • What choices does this obligate me to make?

If you want to enrich your own understanding of this unique philosophical movement, the visionary thinkers it brought together to ponder these questions, and the prominent role it still plays in contemporary thought, you now have an opportunity to do so with this 24-lecture course.

Professor Solomon is Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Business and Philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin. He has written several books on a variety of philosophical topics that have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

He is the recipient of teaching awards and honors, including the Standard Oil Outstanding Teaching Award, The University of Texas Presidential Associates' Teaching Award (twice), a Fulbright Lecture Award, University Research and National Endowment for the Humanities grants, and the Chad Oliver Plan II Teaching Award. He is also a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

What is Existentialism?

Existentialism is a movement, a "sensibility" that can be traced throughout the history of Western philosophy. Its central themes are:

  • Significance of the individual
  • Importance of passion
  • Irrational aspects of life
  • Importance of human freedom.

"Existentialism is, in my view, the most exciting and important philosophical movement of the past century and a half," states 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, Existentialism continues to win new enthusiasts and, in keeping with its still exciting and revolutionary message, vehement critics."

In this series you:

  • Explore the religious Existentialism of Kierkegaard
  • Hear the warrior rhetoric and often-shocking claims about religion and morality of Nietzsche
  • Absorb the bold and profound fiction of Camus
  • Comprehend the radical and uncompromising notion of freedom championed by Sartre
  • Consider the searching analysis of human historicity and finitude offered by Martin Heidegger.

You see how these thinkers relate to one another and to the larger tradition of philosophy itself.

"This lesson taught me how to think—not what to think," writes customer Tony Pope of Auke Bay, Alaska.

Beyond Its Basic Message, Nothing Straightforward About It

To say that the basic message of Existentialism is quite simple and straightforward is not to say that the philosophers or the philosophies that make up the movement are simple and straightforward.

The movement itself is something of a fabrication. None of the major Existentialist figures—only excepting Sartre—would recognize themselves as part of a "movement" at all. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were both ferocious individualists who vehemently rejected all movements.

Heidegger was deeply offended when he was linked with Sartre as one of the Existentialists, and he publicly denounced the association. Camus and Sartre once were friends, but they quarreled over politics and Camus publicly rejected the association.

The Existentialists' writings, too, are by no means simple and straightforward. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche write well but in challenging, often disjointed exhortations.

Heidegger is among the most difficult writers in the entire history of philosophy, and even Sartre—a lucid literary writer when he wants to be—imitates some of the worst elements of Heidegger's notorious style.

Much of the challenge of this course of lectures, accordingly, is to free the exciting and revolutionary message of Existentialism from its often formidable textual enclosures.

The Great Existentialist Writers

Albert Camus, Lectures 1–6. After an introduction to Existentialism, the course begins with a discussion of the 20th-century writer and philosopher Camus (1913-60). Chronologically, Camus is late in the game (you trace Existentialist ideas as far back as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche in the mid-19th century).

You start with his most famous novel, The Stranger, published in the early 1940s. You also examine The Myth of Sisyphus, in which he introduces his infamous concept of "The Absurd"; The Plague; and The Fall.

Professor Solomon's aim in opening with Camus is to "set a certain mood for the rest of the course, a rebellious, restless, yet thoroughly conscientious mood, which I believe Camus exemplifies both in his writings and in his life."

Søren Kierkegaard, Lectures 7–9. Danish philosopher Kierkegaard (1813-55) was a deeply religious philosopher—a pious Christian—and his Existentialist thought was devoted to the question, "What does it mean to be—or rather, what does it mean to become—a Christian?"

"We should thus be advised that, contrary to some popular misunderstandings, Existentialism is by no means an antireligious or unspiritual philosophy. It can and often does embrace God, as well as a host of visions of the world that we can, without apology, call spiritual," notes Dr. Solomon.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Lectures 10–13 . Nietzsche (1844–1900) is perhaps best known for his bold declaration "God is dead." He is also well known as a self-proclaimed "immoralist."

In fact, both of these phrases are misleading, argues Dr. Solomon. Nietzsche was by no means the first person to say that God is dead (Martin Luther had said it three centuries before), and Nietzsche himself was anything but an immoral person.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, Lecture 14. Professor Solomon turns briefly to three diverse figures from literature who display Existentialist themes and temperaments in their works: Dostoevsky (1821–81), the great Russian novelist; Kafka (1883–1924), the brilliant Czech novelist and story writer; and Hermann Hesse (1877–1962), a 20th-century Swiss writer who combined a fascination with Asian philosophy with a profoundly Nietzschean interest and temperament.

Edmund Husserl, Lecture 15. The German-Czech philosopher Husserl (1859–1938) invented a philosophical technique called "phenomenology." Husserl is not an Existentialist, but you study him because of his influence on Heidegger and Sartre, both of whom, at the beginning of their careers, considered themselves phenomenologists.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Lectures 18–23. Professor Solomon suggests that much of what is best in Postmodernism is taken more or less directly from Sartre (1905–80), despite the fact that he is typically attacked as the very antithesis of Postmodernism.

Existentialism, Dr. Solomon argues, was and is not just another French intellectual fashion but a timely antidote to some of the worst self-(mis)understandings of the end of the century.

The series concludes with a comparison and contrast with French philosophy since Sartre's time.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    What Is Existentialism?
    Existentialism is best thought of as a movement, a "sensibility" that can be traced throughout the history of Western philosophy. Its central themes are the significance of the individual, the importance of passion, the irrational aspects of life, and the importance of human freedom. x
  • 2
    Albert Camus—The Stranger, Part I
    This novel is an excellent example of the new existentialist literature of the 1940s. Meursault, the title character, is critically devoid of basic human attributes. But then he kills a man, and we get to see him forced into philosophic reflection and humanity. x
  • 3
    Camus—The Stranger, Part II
    The Stranger captures the philosophical conflict between reason and experience. It raises the question of the meaning and worth of rationality and reflection. It also raises basic questions about self-consciousness, good and evil, innocence and guilt. x
  • 4
    Camus—The Myth of Sisyphus
    Here is Camus's vision of "the absurd." The absurd is born, Camus says, out of our increasingly impersonal, abstract, scientific view of the world. Only truly personal experience, he insists, can be ultimately meaningful. x
  • 5
    Camus—The Plague and The Fall
    In this, the most "social" work by Camus, the plague is a metaphor for the absurd. The theme of the novel is impending but unpredictable death, both individual and collective. Camus represents himself (more or less) as Tarrou, who faces the plague with both determination and irony. x
  • 6
    Camus—The Fall, Part II
    Here Camus displays reflection and guilt in extreme form. Clamence the attorney has become a "judge-penitent," and he confesses his supposedly hypocritical life to the reader. But is his intent expiation or seduction? x
  • 7
    Søren Kierkegaard—“On Becoming a Christian”
    This 19th-century Danish philosopher was, in many ways, the first existentialist. Why did he, a devout Christian, reject so much of what his contemporaries meant by "being a Christian"? x
  • 8
    Kierkegaard on Subjective Truth
    Kierkegaard took subjective truth, embraced with inwardness and passion, to be the central element in a meaningful life. Are there, he asked, any but subjective answers to the question, "How should I live?" x
  • 9
    Kierkegaard's Existential Dialectic
    Kierkegaard cannot be understood apart from his critique of Hegel. In the Dane's version of the dialectic, there is no predetermined direction, only subjective "modes of existence," but no purely rational ground for choosing one over another. x
  • 10
    Friedrich Nietzsche on Nihilism and the Death of God
    Friedrich Nietzsche blames Plato and the Judeo-Christian tradition for "nihilism," and praises the ancient Greeks of Homeric epic and Periclean Athens. Claiming that "God is dead," Nietzsche offers an alternative to Jesus in the form of the "this-worldly" Persian prophet Zarathustra. x
  • 11
    Nietzsche, the “Immoralist”
    Nietzsche was neither immoral nor a foe of morality as such. But he did take aim at Judeo-Christian morality. By contrast, he praised an aristocratic and independent "master" morality. x
  • 12
    Nietzsche on Freedom, Fate, and Responsibility
    Nietzsche often praises fate and fatalism. But at the same time, he encourages existential self-realization. Struggling with Schopenhauer's pessimism, Nietzsche insists that we can and should "give style to our character" in order to "become who we are." x
  • 13
    Nietzsche—The Übermensch and the Will to Power
    Though he appears in only one book, the Übermensch is Nietzsche's best-known invention and the alternative to the smug and hateful "last man." Ultimately, both the Übermensch and the spiritualized Will to Power that he embodies represent passion and the love of life. x
  • 14
    Three Grand Inquisitors—Dostoevsky, Kafka, Hesse
    Three important figures surrounding Nietzsche are Fyodor Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka, and Hermann Hesse. Dostoevsky was a contemporary who also investigated the dark side of human reason. Kafka wrote fiction that powerfully explored the absurd. Hesse was an admirer of Nietzsche who also became heavily influenced by Buddhist thought. x
  • 15
    Husserl, Heidegger, and Phenomenology
    Edmund Husserl founded phenomenology, a philosophical method seeking certainty. His greatest student was Martin Heidegger, who took Husserl's method into the realm of existentialism with a remarkable account of human being as "being there." x
  • 16
    Heidegger on the World and the Self
    For Heidegger, Dasein approaches the world less as an object of knowledge than as a set of tasks. Why, then, does Heidegger also question technology, the task-doing science? x
  • 17
    Heidegger on “Authenticity”
    What are the three "existential" features of Dasein? What are the essentials of authenticity, according to Heidegger? How does recognition of our own mortality prompt us to achieve them? x
  • 18
    Jean-Paul Sartre at War
    Jean-Paul Sartre named existentialism and popularized it. His philosophy can best be summed up by the phrase "No excuses!" Whatever the situation, he insists, we have choices. We are all responsible for what we do, what we are, and the way the world is. x
  • 19
    Sartre on Emotions and Responsibility
    Sartre was an early foe of psychologists such as William James and Freud, whose theories he found deterministic. Sartre insisted that emotions are not mere "feelings," but freely chosen strategies for coping with a difficult world. x
  • 20
    Sartres Phenomenology
    Borrowing from Husserl, Sartre tells us that consciousness is freedom. It is also "nothingness": as intentional, it is always about something other than itself and outside the network of causal relations. How does such a phenomenology of human nature replace traditional philosophical arguments? x
  • 21
    Sartre on “Bad Faith”
    What does Sartre mean by the terms Being-for-Itself, Being-in-Itself, and Being-for-Others? What is the meaning of his distinction between facticity and transcendence? Finally, where and why does Sartre see "bad faith" coming into the picture? x
  • 22
    Sartre’s Being-for-Others and No Exit
    Many philosophers have argued that we know the existence of others through an obvious kind of inference. Sartre, however, insists that our knowledge of them comes first from being looked at by them. Or as one of the characters in No Exit famously says, "L'enfer, ce sont les autres." x
  • 23
    Sartre on Sex and Love
    What consequences follow when Sartre's analysis of Being-for-Others is applied to love and other intimate human relationships? How does his view of love and friendship as struggles for self-definition and authenticity compare with traditional treatments of these phenomena in Western culture? x
  • 24
    From Existentialism to Postmodernism
    What is postmodernism? Has it really eclipsed Sartrean existentialism? Is there a postmodernist debt to Sartre? And more importantly, are there emphases and insights in Sartre that postmodernism loses sight of and could stand to learn from its predecessor? x

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Robert C. Solomon

About Your Professor

Robert C. Solomon, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Robert C. Solomon was the Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Business and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, where he taught for more than 30 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in molecular biology from the University of Pennsylvania and his master's and doctoral degrees in philosophy and psychology from the University of Michigan. He held visiting appointments at the University of Pennsylvania; the...
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Reviews

No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 91.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from No Pain, No Gain You'll sweat a little with this course -- I certainly did. But when the penny finally droppeth, you'll be a happy camper. Be aware that the Professor is a slow speaker, so if your DVD player has the facility, I would suggest speeding up the play to 1.3X or so.
Date published: 2011-01-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Rich content without obscurity or self-indulgence Solomon has temendous scope. And some desert-dry humor. While I was not overly-impressed by the depth of this presentation at first take, the insights and perspectives sort of "grew" on me - caught myself using them in everyday life. Then I wanted to listen to the lecture again, which I have done. Isn't that kind of connection and internalizing, after all, one important measure of a "good course"?
Date published: 2010-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb in Every Way I've listened to this course 3 times over about 3 years. Wonderful.
Date published: 2010-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course. I have degrees in engineering and medicine and very little previous exposure to philosophy. I found the subject fascinating, understandable and not at all boring. The presentation by Professor Solomon is impressive. His presentationi more like a conversation than a lecture. He tells his story in a seamless manner with no pauses or excess verbiage.
Date published: 2010-10-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not what I was expecting I probably should have examined the curriculum more carefully before purchasing this course. I was expecting an overview and exploration of existentialism. What the course ended up being (as far as I was able to make it through) was an exploration of the writings of the great existential writers. That's probably an appropriate course in and of itself. However, given that approach, I'd suggest that the title and description of the course would better serve the listener if that were made more clear. As several other people have mentioned, the delivery is soporific. Dr. Solomon was deeply respected at UT, and I have heard people praise his teaching excellence. However, I'm afraid I can't bring myself to listen to any more of this course.
Date published: 2010-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from no excuses! Passionate, Individual, Freedom, Choice and Responsibility (existentialism in a nutshell). Existentialism is kind of the European equivalent of "Zen" in being an elusive catchall term for the intuitive and ineffable yet immediate experience of being alive. But unlike the zen of Japan which arrives at this awareness through silent thoughtless observation (mindful mindlessness!) and ponderings of illogical and sudden insights, the French and German form of introspection is much more analytical, hyper-rational, and logically exhausting. This course gives a delightful and detailed overview of this approach to the subject. It may be a simple subject yet not an easy one to grasp!. It is easy to get lost in the subtlety, as the distinctions often become so much more hair splitting, but it is also easy to relate it to our own experience, as it is simply the subject of our immediate and fresh experience of the world. You may not come away with much more understanding of existentialism than the idea expressed in the title (as it is not something that can be pinned down), but that alone can help cut through all the other clutter and chit-chat we fill our minds with, and perhaps point to a qualitatively different way of living. I found this course extremely stimulating and relevant to my life, and a good stepping off point for further more detailed study (via readings of Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, and Hesse, and Solomon's other TTC course on Nietzsche), and continued acceptance of personal responsibility. Sometimes I even loved this course for the intense self examination it stimulated, yet I must warn you, it is a rather serious, dense and specialized philosophical one, thus NOT suited to everyone. I found Professor Solomon's presentation always interesting with a style that is precise, comprehensive and matter of fact. No drama here, just lots of words spiraling around the attempts of great 19th and 20th century thinkers to grasp the experience of our awareness of our immediate experience (the razor thin edge of nowness)... Not very exciting stuff, in fact often dry, but passionately expressed and fascinating none the less. Most remarkable I think is how in 24 lectures I did not hear Professor Solomon utter one "Ah" or "Um". Now, that's impressive.
Date published: 2010-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My favorite course Prof. Solomon's "No Excuses" is my favorite of the 25-30 Teaching Company courses that I own. It is the one to which I have turned to again and again as it has continuing relevance and value relating to the daily challenges of how to live a life.
Date published: 2010-07-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Cures Insomnia Unfortunately, this course was a big disappointment. The course is not an introductory course into existentialism. Listeners should be prepared to have read all the works of the existentialist philosphers before listening to the first lesson. As others mentioned, the course is poorly organized. And the fact that the professor has the most monotonous voice in the world adds to the overall disappointment in the course. I would strongly recommend against purchasing this course.
Date published: 2010-06-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Boring I agree with many of the lower rated reviews - this course is poorly organized, poorly presented, and far too long. I kept fast forwarding to find something interesting but it felt like it was always in the same place.
Date published: 2010-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solomon is an absolute scholar, but most importantly, his presentations and writings are understandable as a layman! I have watched and read everything this professor has produced and he is marvelous!
Date published: 2010-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I just finished this class. I have hundreds of hours of college credit on both the graduate and undergraduate level. During the years I was educating myself it was unusual to come upon a class with dynamic material and a dynamic professor, but such is the case here. This was just a wonderful learning experience. The class just builds as you go along and by the time you get to the last 6-8 lessons you just can't stop listening. I intend to go through the entire class a second time as a way of review. I can't imagine anyone taking this class and being disappointed. Not only is the content interesting, but I found a lot that was said valuable in my own personal life. Professor Solomon is incredible! I would not say the material is easy, but Professor Solomon has that unique ability to take difficult material and make it understandable and even exciting. I strongly urge you to consider taking this class.
Date published: 2010-03-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Difficult but useful Prof Solomon does a good job in presenting a difficult subject. I found the initial lectures on Camus easy to follow but as he went through Nietzsche, Heidegger and Satre I found the ideas very disjoint. Prof Solomon does warn us of this and often says there is no clear series of ideas among all these proponents. Every sentence Prof Solomom speaks is filled with meaning, and i found if i nodded off for awhile I needed to go back to the intitial ideas, as each lecure built on previous ideas. Overall, a difficult set of lectures on a difficult topic that i thought was worthwhile.
Date published: 2010-03-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not a winner It could be better. This is drudgery. This course could be boiled down to one lecture. I'm sure the existential authors could have been more concise about this subject than the lecturer. All other courses I've purchased from this company have been excellent.
Date published: 2010-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rolling the rock up a hill As a amateur existentialist, I appreciated the topics Professor Solomon covered & his sugestive reading list. In addition, I was impressed with the presentation given regarding how existentialism rose as well as how it has evolved. Professor Solomon offered a thoughtful analysis of the similariies differences regarding theistic and athestic existentialism. At the end of this course, I felt that I had learned something of substantial value.
Date published: 2010-01-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Good Presentation This is a very good series of lectures on the main points and figures of the existentialist movement. Professor Solomon speaks softly and fluently about many of the difficult notions concerning individual responsibility and freedom in today’s modern world. Professor Solomon uses the works of Albert Camus to try to make us aware of our feelings, emotions and passions as signposts for living our lives. He discusses Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to show us the way to personal commitment and living “beyond good and evil.” I personally came away with a much more favorable attitude towards Martin Heidegger, whom I had written off for many years on account of his involvment with the Nazi regime in Germany. Jean-Paul Sartre is given the most prominent position in the lectures, as he developed his philosophy with the most tangible examples of how humans should live authentically in this world. Nevertheless, the student should know that he was an advocate for Marxism and did not rule out killing people as a means to existential fulfilment! Sartre himself in later life said that he could scarcely believe what he had written and believed early in his own philosophy! Let the student beware of extremist positions with Sartre! Professor Solomon earnestly believes in what he teaches, which is absolutely essential in a course such as this. He teaches not only with words, but also with the example of his life. Although he does employ a rather idiosyncratic use of the phrase “there seems to be a sense in which...,” (which he repeats at least 50 times in his lectures,) his observations are nonetheless thoughtful and comprehensive. I would recommend this course to those who are wanting to understand the historical backdrop of existentialism, and to those who wish to understand what issues ares involved in living a more vital and authentic life.
Date published: 2009-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Favorite Course, but Difficult This is among the top three courses I have enjoyed from the Teaching Company. I found it to be a fabulous introduction to existentialism and the authors discussed, although the primary consequence of the introduction was to provide me with additional authors against which to crash and burn. I found the level of analysis to be exactly right for me, and my friends, who tend to be 40 or 50 something attorneys and stockbrokers. We had to cue up various passages again and again -- not a course one listens to once. Sadly, the CD's did not survive the experience.
Date published: 2009-06-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Good but not quite good enough for a 5 star rating. The professor was very good at explaining complex ideas at an understable level, I learned a lot from this course, and I will probably buy more courses by this professor. However, the organization of this course was a bit unstructured. I came away with a much better understanding of philosophy and several philosophers, but I am not entirely clear how they fit together or how their ideas are existential. I am less familiar with philosophy than with other subjects like history and science, and it is possible that philosphy courses can not be structured in ways to which I am accustomed.
Date published: 2009-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction to Existentialism This was an excellent introduction and explanation of the philosophy of existentialism. Dr. Solomon obviously knows his topic well and has a passion for it that underlies the entire presentation. Don't expect a detailed analysis of the topic here, each philosopher would need their own TC course to get an in-depth view. This course was just a great overview and summary by some of the major thinkers in existentialism, the context of their life and world to frame their thought process, and an exploration through their writings. This course left me wanting to learn more. My only criticism is that some of the reviews of the books by each philosopher, especially Camus, could have been more concise. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2009-04-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing but some value I have to agree with others who pointed out that the format was troubling. The course starts with Camus' literature before the listener knows what to look for. He then goes to Four philosophers and summarize their beliefs, but I fail to see why I have to know so much about all of their philosphies except that which pertains to Existenialism. Plus he fails to come to a common thread that all five have in common. I felt that the book Existentialism for Dummies did a much better job than this course by being more complete and more thematic. Plus it costs half as much. Prof. Soloman says there are three major themes in this philosophy, but the book points to ten. The last lecture and the lecture on the three playwrites were useless. Thus I feel the listener can get a better product by going somewhere else.
Date published: 2009-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course Good course, yet enjoyable to listen to and comprehensive.
Date published: 2009-04-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A long course about a short idea There is something important, even vital, in Existentialism - but it can be expressed succinctly, and lends itself much more happily to fictional and dramatic interpretation than to the weight of philosophical analysis. The late professor Soloman was a distinguished philosopher and, as the TC bio notes, "won many teaching awards." I was thus doubly disappointed to find the philosophy presented to be fuzzy and unconvincing, and the presentation to be rambling and disorganized. (I found the course guidebook, because of the TC's outline format and tight organization, to be more accessible and informative - even if still unconvincing - than the lectures themselves.) The course is more accurately described as "Existentialists" rather than "Existentialism." Prof. Solomon's approach is to present the works of the existentialist philosophers individually, rather than to focus on extentialism per se. Unfortunately in doing so it is often unclear when we are hearing the authors' opinions and when Prof. Solomon's. Further, the philosophy is rich in jargon, or at least in words being used in idiosyncratic and often uninterpretable ways, and is often presented by the philosophers as "this is the way life is" rather than as propositions with supporting arguments. The essence of existentialism, as far as I can make out, is "Live a meaningful life," with the related notions that we have choices and are responsible for making them. With this much I agree wholeheartedly - but to experience a memorable exposition of it, I would suggest listening to Tim McGraw's song, "Live Like You Were Dying." Really. It's short, it encapsulates the philosophy, and it's fun to listen to.
Date published: 2009-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favorites I really enjoyed this course, from the content to the lecturer. I found the presentation to be very engaging.
Date published: 2009-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best TC classes This seems to be polarizing class. Just like some other positive reviewers I was utterly surprised how some listeners could give it a poor rating. For me, this was an extremely engaging, thought-provoking and in many ways liberating series of lectures. I gives you not only a very well crafted overview of existentialist authors and thinking, but more importantly it opens and very well frames some key personal questions. I might add that I have medium-level background in philosophy, and that I grew up in a less-than-free authoritarian regime where people had to make some difficult choices on collaboration vs. dissent. Not sure whether these happened to be the deciding factors, but I did find this class very relevant and enriching.
Date published: 2009-03-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Non-extentialist This isn't the worse course I've chosen from The Teaching Company but it ranks in the bottom half. The extentialists view reminds me of the libertarians of today which is don't worry about anyone but yourself, "Survival of the Fittest." The world we live in is much more complex than this simplistic thinking. There is some interesting stories regarding some of these philosophers and there is a few of their beliefs I can agree with. There isn't enough good information in this course to waste the hours listening to it.
Date published: 2009-03-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Introduction If you're completely new to Existentialism and interested in only a handful of philosophers/authors this course will be helpful. If you're already familiar with Existentialism and its most representative works, this course is dull. This instructor's course on emotion was much better.
Date published: 2009-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Almsot Perfectly Executed. I have a difficult time imagining how this course coudl've been better. Dr. Solomon addresses all the major themes and authors on the subject. He also gets to the "heart" of existentialism, which is the most important part of teaching the subject. My only criticism is sometimes his teaching style is a bit slow and lacking passionate overtures. I agree with Alvi: those who aren't already receptive to the material will find it either meaningless or too challenging. I would recommend knowing a little bit about existentialism before purchasing the course. I would recommend reading Camus' The Stranger or The Plague; and, Sartre's No Exit or one of his technical works like "Existentialism is a Humanism" or "Being and Nothingness." If you read one by Camus and one by Sartre, and don't find existentialism compelling, don't buy the course. In fact, you probably don't need to explore the subject any more at all. Beginning with Camus was probably the best decision of the course: he is easiest to grasp. Existentialism is also a philosophy that lends itself to being told as a story as over against technical philosophical writing. If Sartre gives existentialism a skeleton, Camus gives it skin. The only thing I would change is I would have one less lecture on The Stranger and have one more on Kierkegaard (or perhaps "The Inquisitors" or Heidegger.)
Date published: 2009-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent (For A Receptive Audience) Robert Solomon was a prolific and highly respected philosopher with strong credentials in the exploration of existentialist thought, so I certainly regard him as a great choice to teach this course. His approach is actually fairly low key, and I think that has the virtue of moving us away from the caricature of existentialists as moody people dressed in black and brooding in cafes, to instead a more accurate portrait of serious thinkers earnestly and rigorously grappling with fundamental questions related to the meaning(s) of life. Rather than being dramatic, Solomon holds back and leaves room for us to reflect, sort of like a sage who nudges us gently along our own path, rather than pulling us by the nose. As a result, the course starts slow -- with the early lectures on Camus almost seeming too simplistic -- but then the pace and intensity of the course continue to pick up as Solomon probes deeper and deeper, progressively unfolding subtleties and nuances. By the time we work through Sartre and climax with the final lecture on postmodernism, the material has become quite complex, and the student is probably ready for the course to end (as I was), having more than enough material swimming in the head to continue reflecting on. Indeed, this is a course which warrants repeating, as I surely expect to do when I'm ready (but it could be a while!). The only precaution I want to mention is that, because of Solomon's subtle and nuanced approach, and because much of the material is inherently challenging, this course might not engage people who aren't already at least somewhat receptive to existentialism. But for those who feel compelled to grapple with the big questions, and feel (hope?) that a study of existentialism can contribute to that effort, I can highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2009-02-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Introduction Yes, the presentation could be more concise and the lecturer more spellbinding. But this is a good, solid introduction to the subject for anyone willing to put in the time. Occasionally, the commentary is quite insightful, for example on Camus' novel, "The Fall."
Date published: 2009-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Constructed Meaning Prof. Solomon does an excellent job of showing that what on the surface appears to be a diverse set of thinkers share a common bond of advocating the construction of meaning and value through the "human doing". Well paced, thorough, clearly explained, logically coherent. Wish there were a few more lectures to cover the entire scope of this school of thought- the course was that good.
Date published: 2009-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Review of Audio Download I bought the audio download and burned the lectures to CD so I could listen to them in my car during the morning and evening commute. I don't have a philosophy degree but have read a fair amount of philosophy over the last ten years. There was no mention of Karl Jaspers, whose philosophy I have studied and long admired. This is disappointing. I also felt the professor dawdled in the beginning lectures, spending way too much time on the novels of Camus and the writings of Kierkegaard.
Date published: 2009-01-25
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