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EXISTENTIALISM
FINAL EXAM STUDY REVIEW
Exam date: Monday, 12/9/02
CB 431, 12-3 pm

 

I) CONTENT

A) JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (1905-80)

1. Definition(s) of existentialism: two kinds, human subjectivity, facticity and freedom, dignity, responsibility for one’s existence, atheism.
2. Essence and Existence: ontological categories referring to specific modes of being
3. Essence precedes existence: fixed, pregiven, predetermined, nature; being-in-itself (l’ętre-en-soi); manufactured object (paper-cutter); technical view of the world.
4. Existence precedes essence: atheistic existentialism (God is dead), subjectivity as starting point, two senses of subjectivism, anti-essentialism, man as “thrown project,” existence as self-transcending (ekstasis) temporal project or plan.


B) FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE (1844-1900)

1. Nietzsche’s Unifying Philosophical Focus: The Historical Problem of Nihilism
2. Diagnosis of modernity: an age of nihilistic décadence in which European man’s highest values have devaluated themselves.
3. Modernity as nihilistic décadence: the “death of God,” devaluation of highest values, transitional nihilism (loss of historical teleology and transcendent values), new modern idols, reductive leveling to the herd, the “death of God,” loss of higher types, the order of rank, or the pathos of distance (egalitarianism, democracy, rights, equality, etc.); modern myth of progress (cf. to strong ages like the Renaissance), pity, altruism/egoism, the Madman and the “death of God,” nihilism as disorientation and as despair, etc.
4. Platonic-Christian nihilism: dualistic and otherworldly metaphysics, historical teleology, slave morality, réssentiment, the ascetic ideal, decadent decline of natural instincts (décadence), otherworldly orientation, escapism, and life-denial (heaven, immortality, the afterlife as reward and punishment, devaluation of this world); Christianity, pity, hatred of the earth, genealogy of the “shabby origins” of morality (beyond good and evil)
5. Nietzsche’s project to overcome nihilism: the will to power, revaluation of all values, amor fati (love of fate), overcoming nihilism and man, age of the “last men,” Zarathustra and the overman (Ger., übermensch), “beyond good and evil” (slave morality), slave morality versus master morality, we higher types, we free spirits (the order of rank), freedom, Dionysus against the Crucified, affirmation of life,

C) SŘREN KIERKEGAARD (1813-55)

1. Diagnosis of modernity:
Modernity is a spiritless age plagued by the social-political, religious, and philosophical dissipation of the existing individual through a reductive leveling of spiritual tensions essential to authentic selfhood.
2. Social-political dissipation in the leveling crowd: negative equality of leveling (Danish, Nivellementet) to the herd or crowd, the existing individual and passion, bourgeois society, mass media, passionate disjunctions, universality over particularity, bloodless abstraction of individual (Danish, Individet) as a ghost, mirage, shadow, living dead, number in the crowd, numerical instant, etc.; passionless reflection as derived image and paralyzing deliberation (Danish, Reflex or Reflexion), envy (Danish, Misundelse), the public, the press, abstractions, etc.
3. Attack on Christendom: lifeless formalism, mechanized doctrinal conformity, bourgeois social institutions (domesticates and anesthetizes restlessness of existing individual [Enkelte]), conformism, social stability, leveling of passionate disjunctions (either-or), oppression of objectivity, etc.
4. The Dissipating Effects of the Reflective Philosophy of Objectivity: Hegel’s philosophy as reflective, objective, speculative, abstract, pagan; as a theoretical dissolution of the individual in the absolute system that precludes existing as a passionate individual with inwardness (Danish, Inderlighed); Hegel’s mediation of all distinctions absorbs all passionate disjunctions of the existing individual (homogenous uniformity), harmonization of all opposites and tensions in the speculative unity of reason, etc.
5. Proposed solution: restoration of restless, spiritual tensions (passionate either-or choices) necessary for spiritual existence (eternity/time, infinite/finite, sacred/profane, universality/particularity, etc.), the present age needs to reestablish oppositions, contradictions, and existential/spiritual tensions leveled by bourgeois Christendom and its philosophical expression in Hegelianism.

D) G. W. F. HEGEL (1770-1831)

1. Diagnosis of Modernity: Modernity is a spiritless age plagued by personal, social, political, religious and philosophical fragmentation, alienation, and conflict.
2. Social and Political Fragmentation: industrialization, commercialization, machinery of state, economic competiveness, class divisions, abstract specialization of cognitive spheres, abstract and atomistic individualism, etc.
3. Religion and Self-Alienation: subjective (folk, living, fully individuated, effective in the inwardness of one’s being, active in outward behavior, based on universal reason) vs. objective religion (formalistic, ceremonial, dogmatic, codified, abstract, positive, authoritarian, alienating, mechanistic, heteronomous); Folk religion vs. positive religion, unhappy consciousness (reified dualisms as unsurpassable oppositions rendering reunification impossible and self-alienation unavoidable), the oppression of objectivity, etc.
4. Reflective Philosophy of Subjectivity: reflection, understanding/reason distinction, alienating dualisms or dichotomies, fragmentation: estrangement, alienation, bifurcation, division, diremption;
5. Proposed Solution: Spiritless fragmentation (bifurcation, alienation, disunity) of the present time requires unifying philosophical comprehension in order to mediate the full range of conflicts characteristic of the age; sole interest of reason (German, Vernunft): reconciliation of fixed, absolute, rigid oppositions alienating human nature from itself and the world; dialectical unity of union and nonunion, identity and difference, self and other; etc.

E) RECURRENT THEMES

1. Rejection of Traditional Speculative Metaphysics: transcendent absolutism, essentialism, the spectator attitude, Nietzsche’s parable The Madman, Platonic-Christian nihilism, otherworldly orientation, dualistic metaphysics and the devaluation of temporal, embodied, natural, historical existence;
2. Critique of Modernity: Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche
3. The “Death of God”: Nietzsche and Sartre
4. Reductive Leveling: Kierkegaard and Nietzsche
5. Prominent Concepts and Distinctions: essence/existence, facticity/freedom, abstract/concrete, involuntary/voluntary, human temporality, situated interpretation, autonomy/heteronomy, subjectivity/objectivity, particularity/universality, spirit/spiritlessness, existing individual/anonymous and leveled herd, crowd, masses; being-in-the-world or being-in-situation,

II) FORMAT
1. 20 Multiple choice questions (40 points)
2. 8 Short answer questions (40 points)
3. 2 Essay questions (20 points)
4. Extra credit (5 points)


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