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 No. 437
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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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No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 91.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Could not be happier with this course. Everything about this course has delivered. The content, knowledge of the professor, pacing etc. I found it intellectually stimulating and personally fulfilling. I would general listen to these lectures on my way home from work. But I eventually began listening to them on the way into my office because I couldn't wait till the evening.
Date published: 2017-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear and captivating Absolutely first rate captivating journey through existentialism. The 5 philosophers (Camus, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre) are explained effortlessly and clearly. But make no mistakes, the clarity is deceptive and a second listen is highly recommended to catch the initial details missed and put the whole picture together. The professor is down to earth, uses plenty of real life examples and obviously knows his subject. I also enjoyed the last lecture on postmodernism (a topic that the teaching courses should devote an entire course to). I highly recommend this lecture to anyone interested in philosophy. It is a vintage Teaching Company classic.
Date published: 2017-04-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Course This is another course I purchased while taking some philosophy classes at my university. It really helped flesh out some of what they were teaching. It also gave me some latitude in writing my papers. This is a great overview of existentialism. Very enjoyable.
Date published: 2016-09-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Far-ranging and thoughtful, though not spectacular This courses provides a very good, comprehensible (for the most part), multi-pronged survey of thinkers loosely categorized as existentialists. Interestingly, the lecturer draws on literature (especially re Camus and Sartre) as well as the more obvious philosophical tracts. He speaks clearly and in most respects, is quite straightforward. One mild limitation is that the final lecture was somewhat obscure, precisely when I had hoped he would help consolidate all that preceded it. Still, the consensus rating of 4.2 is on the mark-- very good, if not spectacular.
Date published: 2016-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Charmed Bob S is not only a super lecturer (or was as has now departed us) but has his own original voice on this subject The real thing
Date published: 2016-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Exposure to other ideas I enjoyed the course since I was completely unsure what existentialism meant. I'm still not sure but it did expose me to some authors whom I had previously known only by name. I would recommend it for someone Whois just curious.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wish he were still with us The circumstances of his 2007 sudden, public passing seem, tragically and urgently, to mingle with his calmly addressing me as an adult about, of all things, existentialism. Have read some of the less-than positive reviews but, no, I treasure these 30-minute sessions.
Date published: 2016-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! AUDIO: CDs This is my first course with Professor Solomon and I am greatly impressed. I had been interested in existentialism many years ago, and did a good deal of reading of such existentialists as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Camus, and Sartre, as well as such related novelists as Dostoevsky, Kafka, and Hesse. I wish I could say I plumbed the depths of the subject, but I did not. More often than not, I was put off by difficulty of many of their writings and the anxious and dark situations treated, for example, in their novels and plays. But I must say, some of the most vivid images I still have from my reading of nearly fifty years ago include Camus’ ‘The Plague’, Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, Kafka’s ‘The Trial’, and Hesse’s ‘Steppenwolf’. Professor Solomon in this 2000 course early admits existentialism’s well-deserved “gloomy” reputation. He pulls no punches in that regard but, nevertheless pronounces it to be “…in my view, the most exciting and important philosophical movement of the past fifty years” (Course Guidebook, Page 1). In fact, he later declares existentialism to be uniquely suited to the needs of the present-day United States, where so many are starting to see themselves as victims: “The message of existentialism, unlike many more obscure and academic philosophical movements, is about as simple as it can be. It is that everyone 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!’....As the delightfully priggish Kate Hepburn says to a wonderfully vulgar Humphrey Bogart in the movie ‘The African Queen’, “Nature is what we are put on this earth to rise above”. That is what existentialism is all about. We are responsible for ourselves” (Page 1). This is one of those TC courses where one does not have to come to it with a significant subject background to understand or appreciate it. Professor Solomon is a careful and clear speaker and has done a great job in organizing the material for a maximum impact. He does considerable “heavy lifting” for us in dealing with the existentialists’ works. As he notes, existentialism is often thought to be a relic of the mid-twentieth century and French and atheistic due to the prominence of its chief spokesman, Jean Paul Sartre. Professor Solomon sets out to correct these impressions and to flesh out the existentialist’s take on life and living. Rather than a strictly chronological approach, Professor Solomon starts the course off discussing and analyzing Albert Camus’ 1940s/1950s novels and stories, as these are the most accessible and understandable presentations of existentialist sensibilities and concerns, setting the “…mood for the rest of the course, a rebellious, restless, yet thoroughly conscientious [one]…” (Page 2). Professor Solomon then jumps back to the early nineteenth century to Soren Kierkegaard, whose notoriously difficult and revolutionary works set the stage for existentialism (a term not used until Sartre), and then moves chronologically through the major thinkers, with side trips to novelists like those I mentioned above. The course ends with an excellent lecture on the continued relevance and importance of existentialism in a post-modern world. I came away from this course with a much-better informed and quite favorable view of existentialism, as Professor Solomon put it, “invigorating”. The discussion of such issues as freedom, responsibility, authenticity, the role of the passions/emotions, and commitment/engagement are especially interesting and thought-provoking. Professor Solomon also does a great job in showing how existentialists can neither be easily pigeon-holed in such categories as atheists (Sartre yes, but not Kierkegaard, who most nearly seems like a modern “Christian fundamentalist”), nor as left wing types (again, Sartre was a prominent Marxist and played a role in the French Resistance, but Martin Heidegger was a Nazi, an unrepentant one even after World War II). Most would even bridle at being lumped together as “existentialist”. I found this course so interesting that I listened to it with considerable benefit a second time. Do not be turned off by existentialism’s “gloomy” reputation. Let Professor Solomon be your guide. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2016-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Almost a literature course I have never been a fan of Existentialism and this course did not change my mind. It still impressed me. I have long been a fan of Existentialist literature but I never really understood why the stories were called existentialist. This course helped me to understand. If you like the literature of Sartre and Camus there are several fine lectures devoted to some of those works. As strange as it is for a philosophy course to focus on literature this approach worked for me and helped supply a background for the progress in the remaining lectures. I opened by saying that Professor Solomon did not change my mind about Existentialism. Maybe that is too vague a statement. Professor Solomon certainly enriched my understanding Existentialism's place in philosophical history. For example I now see Sartre's Existentialism as the culmination of efforts to give the passions a legitimate place in philosophy. The heck with that stodgy old Kant. He also added detail to my understanding of the supporting arguments of Existentialism but I still do not think Sartre really pulls it all together. To be clearer I just don't think Sartre's philosophy of consciousness has any legitimacy to it at all. I don't think modern philosophers should go there. The scientist will eventually figure it out, or maybe not, but philosophers have no path whatsoever to the answer. However, Professor Solomon also argues that Existentialism is, "a philosophy of life, a philosophy about who we are." This is different and transcends the problems academic rigor. Individualism, passion, freedom, choice, responsibility, these are the working words of Existentialism. Though I do not identify with Existentialism as a guide in my life the words have been and are important to me. Maybe that's why I have long been a fan of the literature. Lastly, I have always found the philosophy courses to be among the most challenging of the Great Courses. This course is no exception. There are no easy answers here. This is not an easy course. I recommend paying close attention during the first lecture. Professor Solomon provides much detail of the history that fed Sartre's philosophy.
Date published: 2015-09-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Each lecture can stand alone This was my favorite of the 3 Prof. Solomon courses I listened to. Perhaps I liked it best because it involved so much literature and philosophy that I knew from years ago, and Prof. Solomon offered such coherent insights into those works. I also liked that many of the lectures involved close reading of parts of the texts. Prof. Solomon sent me back to many of the authors for another think on them, and moved me to finish Kierkegaard's 'Concluding Unscientific Postscript' that I had once found impossible, but which I made my way through after finishing the course. So while I had read most of the texts Prof. Solomon used, I had never taken a course on Existentialism proper. The recurring theme of individual responsibility, 'no excuses,' was a bracing breath of fresh air.
Date published: 2015-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear and lively presentation of complex philosphy Existentialism is a complicated philosophy with a simple underlying message: we are all ultimately free, we make choices, and we are responsible for those choices. Robert Solomon is an expert at explaining the material and keeping it relative to real life. I took Professor Solomon's course in Existentialism at the University of Texas when I was an undergraduate. It was my favorite course and he was my favorite professor. 30 years later, I am still infatuated by his delivery of this material.
Date published: 2015-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stunning We are adoring this series of lectures. The right length for each lecture. A great overview of existentialism.
Date published: 2014-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Existential: Consciousness and Freedom I recently completed the 16 part analog-version of this course. It was a profound and meaningful "experience" rather than a mere theoretical abstraction to engage with these existential philosophers which included religious, literary, aesthetic, atheistic, and ontological themes -- in short, EXISTENCE ITSELF -- within and without the self -- becoming a dialogue and search for an authentic awareness of historical and existential dichotomies. The professor offers no easy solutions to the existential questions raised but stimulates his listeners to incessantly question themselves concerning the material offered. Names, nouns, and verbs such as the plague, the stranger, the present age, a sickness unto death, being and time, being and nothingness, the origins of morality, beyond good and evil, etc. continuously hammer the philosophical Western tradition -- like Nietzsche's chant on how to philosophize with a hammer! As the course is named "no excuses" you will experience growing pains but the awareness gained is worth the struggle.The professor himself seems to struggle along with his listeners which I believe shows the weight and significance of individual choice in any situation : NO EXCUSES! Thanks professor -- I plan to survey your other courses...
Date published: 2013-10-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Does a poor job of explaining Existentialism Unfortunately, I agree with some of the negative reviews. After finishing this course, I didn't know much more about Existentialism than I did before (which wasn't much to start with). The lecture on Sartre was particularly unhelpful - I know that it is hard to understand Sartre, that's why I was hoping to get some clarity from this course.
Date published: 2013-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life changing Dr. Solomon's course is incredible. It's heavy - he will challenge you, especially if you don't have a philosophy background. But if you are patient and willing to rewind and re-listen maybe three, four, or ten times as needed, you will be rewarded. Understanding the world from this point of view has greatly improved my quality of life.
Date published: 2013-06-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Put me off the subject I just noticed that the first sentence of the course description claims that message of Existensialism is about as simple as can be. Well, Professor Solomon manages to prove this to be wrong. Having forced myself to sit through the entire course I have no better idea about what Existensialism is than when I started. For one thing Professor Solomon deliberately refuses to define what the subject is, allowing him to include a muddle of some great (Niietzche and Kirkegaard) and some greatly overated (Husserl, Sartre and Heidegger) European thinkers. He even throws in a few novelists. In nearly all cases he managed to put me off studying the thinker's ideas further. Professor Solomon's favorite phrase was "there is a sense that" which perhaps indicates his vague approach to the subject. The most satisfying lecture was the last when Professor Solomon explained that Existensialism is largely ignored in America these days This is a great relief as I can now devote my time to more interesting subjects.
Date published: 2012-11-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Philosophy at its worst! I am a fan of the philosophy courses and some are first class, such as the TLC titles philosophy of science and Philosophy of mind. Those courses are deep , and challenge the way you think about the world. This course is more like the equally poor Will To Power. There is too much focus on historical context of the philosophers and biographical details and little clear exposition of their ideas. After the first section of lectures on Camus, I felt the lecture was more like a book club review than a philosophy course. I have a good overview of the characters and plots of Camus' novels, but little idea of his philosophical viewpoint, it's strengths and weaknesses. KIerkegaard was the same, I now know he was a Christian and that he called off his wedding, but not much about his philosophy. The presenter is OK, but not inspiring. Having completed the course, if somebody asked me to summarise the key arguments of existentialism I would struggle.
Date published: 2012-11-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing Many people liked this series, but I was disappointed. In the interest of making his subject accessible to a general audience, the speaker (perhaps inadvertently, perhaps inevitably) simplifies Existentialism to a few rather unchallenging life-lessons. The delivery style is (again, perhaps inevitably given the purpose and context) extremely slow and repetitive. I also couldn't help but notice a persistent politically conservative slant in the interpretation (eg Existentialism as an ostensible response to "victim" ideology? Where is the fear and trembling? And the Myth of Sisyphus as a lesson in taking responsibility for your actions? Please!). To be honest, I gave up around lecture 7 or 8. There are better print sources that take less time to read and present a more robust portrait of this (should be) difficult and provoking philosophy.
Date published: 2012-10-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from With some apparent bias I have not read Dr. Solomon's "About Love, Ethics, and Excellence". However, I infer from the title something that he makes rather explicit in the third lesson of this course: emotions and logic are interdependent. While my experience does not support this, I do not mean to suggest that Dr. Solomon is right or wrong - that is for each person to decide for themselves. BUT, I believe it has a bearing on the course's subject. Nonetheless, the course - and his presentation, seem to be an excellent overview of the subject. So, YES, I recommend the course; but with the cavaet that he does not present the subject without some apparent bias.
Date published: 2012-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from superb, challenging The professor's style and presentation is very engaging and the content mixing with style holds attention to every word. An expert on existentialism, presenting all sides and issues in a thought provoking manner. I found myself time and again stopping the lecture to think about what was said, formulate MY thoughts and ideas, and prepare an agreement or a challenge. Not common to have this much engagement even with the best lectures.
Date published: 2012-06-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, not great philosophy course I enjoyed this course. It is not the best of the several teaching company philosophy courses that I have completed (modern intellectual tradition and great minds of the western intellectual tradition are better), but it is solid and worth completing. I liked Professor Solomon's presentation style and clear presentation with frequent use of real life analogies. This course examines the basic tenants of existentialism as developd by some of its main proponents, Camus, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre. It highlights the similarities and differences between these key philosophers, and it does a good job of showing the later philosophers indebtedness to earlier ideas and how those ideas evolved or changed with the later writers. Strengths included the sections dealing with Heidegger and Sartre, because here these two philosophers' dense writing styles and frequently obscure meanings are helpfully unpacked and clarified. I felt that the sections on Camus, Kirekgaard, and Nietzsche were comparatively more simple exposition and less analysis. However this may be due in part to these philosophers writing more lucidly than Heidegger and Sartre. Overall, anyone interested in modern philosophy in general and existentialism in particular will appreciate this course which I feel is especially strong in the analysis of Sartre and Heidegger.
Date published: 2012-03-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from worthwhile -great intro to Camus and Sartre Not quite as strong as the Meaning of Life; however, still a very strong course. I found Solomon excellent on Camus and Sartre; he also provides a good intro to Nietzsche and Heidegger. Occasionlly there is some repetition but this is a helpful feature in explaining philosophy to novice listeneres. The style is conversational and if he sometimes circles back, well, no harm done, and this style may even reinforce. Good combination of literature and philosophy. If ever you wanted to learn more about Sartre or Camus, this course is for you. Certainly if you have any interest in eastern or western philosophy, much less both, listen to Solomon's Meaning of Life course
Date published: 2012-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Lecturer I really like the lecturer. The course content was also good, but as some others said, I feel that he could have stayed with Camus, Sartre and Nietzsche and really explored those and did away with the detractors and it would have been more effective.
Date published: 2011-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Who AM I? "Who am I" is the essential question of existentialism. When I ordered this course, it was to familarize myself with existentialist philosophy to broaded my liberal education. However, once I began the course, I began to ask: "Who am I?" This was not a searching question, but rather measuring myself against the various philosophers: Kierkgaard's Christian philosophy, Nietzsche's atheistic philosophy, Heidegger's Nazi philosopy and Sartre's post-war philosophy. Each philosophy had elements that I accepted and rejected. I read Thus Spoke Zarathustra and No Exit--books I never exepcted to read. Dr. Solomon is low-key and soft-spoken. He does not give his opinions, but lets the philosophers speak for themselves. Only in the last lecture, does he give his personal opinions. His last statements about the relevance of extistentialism to modern American society are worth the entire course. One cannot appreciate them without completing the twenty-four lectures.
Date published: 2011-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course Passionate, soft-spoken, and self-effacing, Professor Solomon lectures on what is arguably the greatest western philosophy since foundational Christianity. As Christianity shifted to Deism to Naturalism, man took a turn for the worse with nihilism. Existentialism is an answer to a world without meaning. It has been four years since I've taken this course, and I still ponder the liberating thoughts presented in these lectures.
Date published: 2011-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Find your own "Meaning of Life" This was the first course that I finished and I couldn't be more pleased. Dr. Solomon gives you a variety of perspective from several well known philosophers, theologians and religious historical figures of what the "Meaning of Life" is and in the end, leaves it up to the listener to construct their own meaning with the knowledge of several different ideas. Dr. Solomon is very well spoken and thoroughly explains every concept that he expresses. I look forward to listening to his other courses.
Date published: 2011-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Affirming This course was interesting. I'm glad that I just went to this site to post a review for another course. It reminds me that I want to listen to it again. (Purchased it on Tape several years ago)
Date published: 2011-06-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Existential Severity The essential focus of this course is “The Dark Night of the Soul.” I recommend Lecture 7 and Lectures 10-17.
Date published: 2011-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoughtful Presentation I was a student of Professor Solomon's at the University of Texas at Austin in the early 1970s. I took every course he taught on Existentialism at the time because he was the best Professor I ever had in college. He displayed a depth of knowledge and passion for philosophy and a measured demeanor in his lectures. I highly recommend these lectures to you if you want a deep understanding of this important philosophical tradition. His untimely death in Zurich, Switzerland has taken a great philosopher from us.
Date published: 2011-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Liked the Course I enjoyed the course, it made me think and do extra research. I bought the MP3 version, I don't know what the presenter looks like. Others have commented on his voice, I had no problem with it, He'll probably never be a talking head for the national news, but hey, that's not what we're here for. I'd like to have him for a coffee friend. The course made me think and want to learn more. It explained many of the difficult concepts with which I have never connected because other lecturers and books seem to think you know it all in the first place, sort of an in-crowd-ism.
Date published: 2011-02-15
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