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Existentialism and the Authentic Life

Dive into the great works of existential thinkers to see how they defined their philosophy—and what it can teach us about our own lives.
Existentialism and the Authentic Life is rated 4.9 out of 5 by 7.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent delivery Afteer listening to a couple of interviews with professor Cleary I just had to take this course. I wish I could thank her in person for these thought provoking lectures. She gives plenty of resources to explore further on the subject and I'm excited to approach life with a new lens.
Date published: 2024-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling Professor! The professor is obviously passionate and knowledgeable about the subject. She hooked me into wanting to learn more and more. Beautifully presented. I hope she presents more courses. Please.
Date published: 2024-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling course I viewed the entire course in a few days, a first for me with a Great Course. I suspect that the lectures spoke to me because of where I'm at in my own life. I'm looking forward to reading the guidebook so that I can home in on book titles that I might like to read or re-read, and technical terms that I'll look up. There's so much content that I'm afraid that I have much more to ponder before I can write a coherent review except to say that I found the portentous theme music for the course ironic in light of Jean Paul Sartre's concept of "seriousness."
Date published: 2024-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Existentialism and The Authentic Life Excellent course covering the philosophy of many of the existentialism luminaries. Professor Skye C Cleary delivers each lecture with energy and passion, as though she is presenting directly to the individual learner. Skye's accent and voice pitch made it a bit difficult for this writer to capture the full delivery and had to resort to Closed Caption mode. It may be challenging for the learner using a workout machine. That was the only downside. This is an outstanding course which provides the student with deep and rich insights into the life and existential rationale of the selected philosophers. Many of the philosophers I was unfamiliar with, and because of the professor's extensive research, pushed this learner to purchase the philosopher's writing. I thoroughly enjoyed the five lectures on Simone de Beauvoir; and those on Richard Wright, Frantz Fanon and Jose Ortega y Gasset. As a fourth quarter of life person, the comprehensive lectures drives one into a rearview mirror consideration of their management of life. This is what makes Wondrium/The Great Courses so valuable. I have enjoyed close to 1200 lecture sets since 2002 and could imagine a day without this learning. The course research presented and Professor Skye Cleary make this a must experience investment. Excellent in every way!
Date published: 2024-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Time Well Spent! Since I find their books impossible to read, I always love to hear fresh perspectives on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre. I find the lecturer fun and easy to listen to, and she loves her topic and explains it well. She has made me want to read Simone de Beauvoir. :)
Date published: 2024-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Demystifying, Clear, Concise. Existentialism always seemed esoteric to me, but as I take this course it is slowly demystifying what others believe, and this promotes tolerance of dissimilar belief systems, and also mutual respect when I "agree to disagree" with someone. TY
Date published: 2024-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Deep and Worthwhile Existentialism is a deep subject that pervades and strongly influences Western culture; a course that explains it is an important resource. Unfortunately, after a very strong start, I got lost. Dr. Cleary opened by explaining how existentialism is a reaction to religion that was rejected by Modernism and the failure of science to provide transcendent moral guidance. This provided valuable context to me but I soon became dizzy with the discussions of individual Existentialists. The course focuses on the pillars of Existentialism: Soren Kierkegard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. It also includes lesser-known Existentialists such as Jose Ortega y Gasset, Frantz Fanon, Richard Wright, and even Toni Morrison (an author who is not normally grouped with the Existentialists). Omitted were such Existential luminaries such as Martin Buber, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Paul Tillich. Dr. Cleary generally devotes one or two lectures per philosopher although Sartre gets three, Camus gets four, and de Beauvoir gets five. Generally, each lecture features what one philosopher says about how to be authentic about a particular topic such as racism, sadomasochism, sex, love, or absurdity. (One of the reasons that I got lost is that I never understood what is meant by existential absurdity or authenticity. The best that I could figure is that absurdity is the cause of our frustrations in life – she quotes Kierkegaard that “The absurd is an expression of despair -- and authenticity is the assertion of self over community standards – she quotes Heidegger that authenticity is “anticipatory resoluteness”, but I don’t know.) Dr. Cleary generally speaks as a proxy for the philosopher being studied in that lecture. For example, in a lecture about Albert Camus, she presents almost as though it were Camus himself speaking rather than taking a third-party analysis of his thoughts. This format makes the communication more personal and perhaps more intense (she might describe it as “authentic”) but it does not allow room for analysis or alternative views. The course guide is above average by TGC standards. It is written in good paragraph form as opposed to outline or bullet format and thus serves as a good reference or synopsis. The course guide averages about seven pages per lecture, which is about TGC average. There is only one useful graphic in the course guide. The appendix has a bibliography but no glossary or biographical notes. I used video streaming. There are no significant graphics so one could listen in audio-only mode such as when exercising or commuting. However, the material is so deep and nuanced that any distraction causes significant loss of content communication. The course was published in 2024.
Date published: 2024-03-08
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In the 24 fascinating lectures of Existentialism and the Authentic Life, Professor Skye C. Cleary will lead you through the writings of many existentialists to show how they addressed the biggest of all questions. Writing about love, death, sex, war, plagues, intrigue, murder, deception, and more, these thinkers guide you toward living an authentic and meaningful life in a world that often seems absurd.


Skye C. Cleary

Existential thinking gives us a language and an intellectual framework to approach challenges with lucidity, to explore potential solutions, and to encourage us to get constructive and creative, for ouir own sake as well as humanity's.


Columbia University and The City College of New York

Skye C. Cleary is a lecturer at Columbia University and The City College of New York. She earned a PhD in Management from Macquarie University. She is a philosopher and writer whose books include How to Be Authentic: Simone de Beauvoir and the Quest for Fulfillment, Existentialism and Romantic Love, and How to Live a Good Life. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, the Times Literary Supplement, TED-Ed, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among other outlets. She also won a New Philosopher Writers’ Award and was a MacDowell Fellow.

By This Professor

Existentialism and the Authentic Life
Existentialism and the Authentic Life


How to Think like an Existentialist

01: How to Think like an Existentialist

Explore the fundamental themes of existentialism—issues you’ve probably thought about with respect to your own life: anxiety, ethics, freedom, responsibility, and more. And perhaps most significantly, what is the meaning of your life, and where exactly does that meaning come from? Meet Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir as these existentialists begin to share their thoughts about these questions.

30 min
Søren Kierkegaard on Existential Crises

02: Søren Kierkegaard on Existential Crises

Explore why Søren Kierkegaard is often considered the first existentialist philosopher. And learn why he suggested that the path to self-fulfillment includes three phases: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. But you don’t have to be religious to incorporate Kierkegaard’s attitude, living will be richer when we learn the truth for ourselves rather than follow anyone else’s directives.

33 min
Kierkegaard’s Leap to Faith

03: Kierkegaard’s Leap to Faith

If you’ve heard of Søren Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith,” you might think his philosophy is only for people of faith. To the contrary, discover how Kierkegaard’s philosophy keeps the door open for a purposeful leap that doesn’t land in religion at all, but still leads to a meaningful life. The secret is to keep leaping and searching for that “one thing” that unites your existence and brings meaning to your life.

33 min
Friedrich Nietzsche on Authentic Greatness

04: Friedrich Nietzsche on Authentic Greatness

If you’ve heard of the German writer and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, you’re probably familiar with one of his most famous statements: “God is dead.” But what did he really mean by that and how is Nietzsche relevant to your life today? Learn about the Übermensch, the person who embraces life on their own terms and stretches themselves into this life right now—without counting on any life after this one.

31 min
Nietzsche on Creating Super-Relationships

05: Nietzsche on Creating Super-Relationships

Nietzsche knew how easy it is to spiral downward in anguish when you think about the state of the world—even as it was in the 19th century. One of his solutions was the gift of friendship. Discover how Nietzsche defined this special type of friendship that authentically benefits both participants, as well as the vital role that friendship plays in love and marriage.

30 min
Martin Heidegger on Authentic Being

06: Martin Heidegger on Authentic Being

The work of German philosopher Martin Heidegger is filled with tensions—life vs. death, authenticity vs. inauthenticity, anti-Semitic rhetoric vs. advocacy of care and questioning, his poetic prose vs. use of purposely convoluted language in Being and Time (1927), and more. To understand his influence, it’s important to explore the path he identified as falling into inauthenticity, and the steps we can take to break free into our authentic selves.

34 min
José Ortega y Gasset on Authentic Destiny

07: José Ortega y Gasset on Authentic Destiny

Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset argues that we philosophize because we are aware of our ignorance about human existence. Explore his theory that existence presents each of us with multiple potential trajectories into various potential selves. And learn why Ortega says it’s important to feel lost in this world—even shipwrecked. Can the relaxed and satisfied person ever become truly authentic?

32 min
Karl Jaspers on Authentic Communication

08: Karl Jaspers on Authentic Communication

Karl Jaspers was a German psychiatrist who made significant contributions in psychiatry before turning to philosophy—which he described as a process of self-development, of disclosing our very being. Discover why Jaspers believed authentic communication can lead to our brightest moments in life, and why he said, “Communication is the path to truth in all its forms.”

32 min
Albert Camus on Authentic Happiness

09: Albert Camus on Authentic Happiness

We all know that happiness can sometimes be elusive. But French philosopher Albert Camus suggests everyone can create happiness—if we just learn how. Explore Camus’ theories about authentic happiness and learn why he suggests happiness must be continuously and deliberately planned. Authentic happiness doesn’t wait for you to attain more things and achievements. You can be happy now.

31 min
Camus on Absurdity

10: Camus on Absurdity

The existential philosophers point out something many people have observed: Life can be absurd. But if that’s the case, does it necessarily follow that life has no meaning? And if life does not have any inherent meaning of its own, does that mean it isn’t worth living? Discover how Albert Camus answered these questions, and how we can use his philosophy to enrich our own lives.

32 min
Camus on Authenticity amid Chaos

11: Camus on Authenticity amid Chaos

Is it possible to find joy in a world filled with tragedy and suffering? Camus struggled with that question in his 1947 book The Plague. As we dive into the book’s plot, characters, and message, you’ll see that Camus believes it’s not only possible to create joy and love even in the midst of dreadfulness—it’s absolutely vital.

27 min
Camus on Authentic Rebellion

12: Camus on Authentic Rebellion

Camus did not believe murder is ever justified, even the murder of a tyrant. Neither did he support terrorism that could hurt innocent civilians, even in response to authoritarianism. But Camus did believe in rebellion. Discover why Camus’s rebel says no to the absurdity of existence and no to nihilism—but yes to clarity, unity, order, and the value of human life.

33 min
Frantz Fanon on Restoring Human Dignity

13: Frantz Fanon on Restoring Human Dignity

In his 1952 book Black Skin White Masks, philosopher Frantz Fanon from Martinique asks the existential question often posed by those who experience discrimination and the legacy of slavery—Why continue to live when the world is so intensely cruel? Learn what Fanon believed to be the appropriate response to that cruelty, why he challenged Sartre to change his lifestyle, and how he inspired the founders of the Black Panther Party.

31 min
Jean-Paul Sartre on Why Hell Is Other People

14: Jean-Paul Sartre on Why Hell Is Other People

When French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote “Hell is other people” in his 1944 play No Exit, what exactly did he mean? Explore Sartre’s thoughts on our relationships to other people and the constant judgment we all face from those around us. And yet, Sartre asks, do we really want to escape other people’s opinions of us? He says no—because those judgments can help us understand new depths of our being.

27 min
Sartre on Sex and Sadomasochism

15: Sartre on Sex and Sadomasochism

For Sartre, love was always infused with anxiety. After all, even if someone said they loved him, how could he ever really know what they meant? Discover Sartre’s thoughts about the role sex and sensuality can play in a person’s movement toward authenticity and lovers’ deep understanding of each other, and how expressions of pleasure and pain can tell us something meaningful about ourselves.

27 min
Sartre on Authentic Work

16: Sartre on Authentic Work

Sartre did not believe in defining oneself by work; humanity is much more complex than that. Learn why Sartre argued that you are radically free to choose whether to work on any given day, why he later reconsidered that idea, and what he believed about your “fundamental project” in directing your work life.

27 min
Richard Wright on Overcoming Alienation

17: Richard Wright on Overcoming Alienation

Richard Wright’s 1953 book The Outsider is often described as the first existentialist novel written by an American. Explore the many existential leaps—to music, art, love, politics, religion—Wright’s characters make as they try to bring meaning to their absurd situations. As his characters face myriad dire challenges, Wright suggests that honest communication can help us feel less alone in the world.

30 min
Simone de Beauvoir on Authentic Love

18: Simone de Beauvoir on Authentic Love

French writers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir often lived their philosophies, their lives, and their loves as open books. While they were each other’s “primary” relationship, they also maintained the freedom to love others. Learn what Beauvoir means by “authentic love,” why she believed it is central to a meaningful life, and the challenges lovers face in maintaining that authenticity.

30 min
Beauvoir on Authentic Friendships

19: Beauvoir on Authentic Friendships

Beauvoir wrote in bits and pieces about her deep friendship with classmate Élisabeth (“Zaza”) Lacoin, but the novella she devoted to her, The Inseparables, was published posthumously. Learn how Beauvoir explores the concept of authentic friendship in this short work, and the many intellectual and emotional benefits and challenges she ascribes to the relationship.

26 min
Beauvoir on Raising Children Authentically

20: Beauvoir on Raising Children Authentically

Beauvoir not only asked how to live in an absurd world, but how to raise children in that world—young people who had no role in creating the world they find themselves in. Explore the many layers of childhood from Beauvoir’s point of view and learn how authentic parenting can help children creatively seize possibilities for their own lives, as well as doing something about the suffering of others.

27 min
Beauvoir on Authentic Aging

21: Beauvoir on Authentic Aging

Even Beauvoir was not immune to the complications of the aging process, which she said she had difficulty understanding. She tackled the subject head-on in her 1970 book Old Age. Discover the difficulties and benefits of aging as she saw them, and how her existentialist view can help us accept new versions of ourselves while continuing to pursue projects that give our lives meaning.

22 min
Beauvoir on Loving Your Mortality

22: Beauvoir on Loving Your Mortality

We all know we’re going to die one day—but what if we didn’t have to? Wouldn’t immortality solve all our problems? Beauvoir was just one of many existentialists to grapple with this question. Explore her 1946 novel All Men Are Mortal to learn about the problems she believed immortality would bring—and why she suggests you don’t just learn to accept your mortality, but to love it.

29 min
Toni Morrison and the Sources of Self-Regard

23: Toni Morrison and the Sources of Self-Regard

Toni Morrison, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, railed against judging ourselves by how we look, rather than by who we are. Dive into her 1970 novel The Bluest Eye, which addresses several existential issues, including standing up to those who would objectify us, taking responsibility for our own authentic self-regard, and creating authentic communities.

29 min
Everyday Existentialism

24: Everyday Existentialism

Existential questions are abiding. Philosophers and artists continue to explore these themes and reveal their own interpretations and answers, as in the 2022 Oscar-winning film Everything Everywhere All at Once. Learn how existentialism intersects with technology, ecology, ethics, and more—and how it gives us a language and intellectual framework with which to address some of the 21st century’s greatest challenges.

32 min