About the 2017 Seminar
This is a three-week NEH Summer Seminar for School Teachers that will take place from July 16 until August 3, 2017. Its focus will be Existentialism, one of the most important philosophical movements of the twentieth century. The seminar will take place on the campus of Mount Holyoke College and be lead by philosophy professor Tom Wartenberg.
Existentialism is more than a technical philosophical subject. Although all the Existentialists wrote weighty philosophical tomes, many of them also wrote in a wide variety of other genres. For example, Jean-Paul Sartre, one of the key Existentialists, wrote plays, stories, reviews, and novels in addition to their strictly philosophical works. And many works of popular culture such as films bear the imprint of Existentialist thinking.
The seminar will focus on Existentialism both as a broad cultural movement and also as a specifically philosophical one. The crucial feature of Existentialism is its emphasis upon the distinctive nature of our human experience of the world. It draws far reaching consequences from this focus, as it places responsibility upon each of us for living our lives and criticizes a variety of different cultural expressions that it sees as concealed attempts to avoid the implications that our freedom has for us. Among the influential themes developed by the philosophers working in the Existentialist tradition are:
- an analysis of human freedom that explains not only why freedom is one of our most valued possessions, but why freedom is nonetheless something we seek to avoid;
- an account of the role that other people play in our lives that treats those others as both deeply significant and yet highly problematic in terms of our ability to live as we would choose to;
- a probing investigation of the significance of anxiety, an emotion that seemed to become central to human existence in the twentieth century;
- a more complete understanding of the nature of human finitude than that developed by previous philosophers;
- a recognition of the limitations of human reason for understanding the nature of reality and the importance of recognizing the absurd as an element in human life;
- an account of the possibility of living a more full and authentic life by acknowledging all the difficult and troubling aspects of human existence.
By developing a more comprehensive and detailed grasp of all of these aspects of Existentialism, participants will achieve a clearer understanding of a very significant intellectual and cultural movement in the twentieth century whose impact is still felt today.
Because of the synoptic nature of Existentialism, school teachers from a wide range of disciplines will find this seminar pertinent to their teaching and intellectual concerns.