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No Excuses: Existentialism and Meaning of Life

Explore a unique philosophy that puts you in charge of your own life with this excellent introduction to Existentialism by a noted philosopher.
No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 102.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Changed my life I'm very glad to see this wonderful course has come to Wondrium. This was the first of the Great Courses to which I ever listened: It was a couple of decades ago and I was in my early 20s, struggling to find a path on life. I began listening to this course entirely on a lark, as something to keep me occupied during menial work hours. I'd never listened to an academic lecture outside of my own college classes before, but I immediately found Prof. Solomon's series utterly engrossing. I had until then only minor exposure to philosophy, having taken an "Introduction To" class in high school. After finishing this course, I went and changed my major to philosophy and eventually finished in that field as an undergrad. The series was that profound to me. Solomon's lectures are engaging, thought provoking and accessible. His presentation is relaxed and engaging but suitably academic and thorough. I eventually took "Existentialism" as a class in my actual University and Solomon's course compares highly favorably. The only proviso is that, as with all of the great courses (and especially the philosophy ones), there is no discussion to enhance the material. That's often half the learning process in the field, I find, but those who listen to Solomon's course will have as good a grounding as can be had from a lecture series on the subject. I can't recommend this highly enough and hope that, for the novice (as I was), it's as profound and life changing as it was for me. On a personal note, after listening to Solomon's other available courses (on Nietzsche and on the philosophy of emotions), I struck up a correspondence with him that lasted until his tragic, unexpected death. He was personally magnanimous and indulgent towards me, an enthusiastic but no doubt confused and scattered novice. One of the great regrets of my life is that I never made the trip to Austin to meet him in person. Thankfully we have his (wonderful) corpus of written works and these Teaching Company lectures to serve as something of a legacy for a thoughtful, kind and profound man.
Date published: 2024-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Probably the best course One of the best, oh no, probably the best course of Wondrium. Solomon, the philosopher in his own right, feels, knows and transfers the subject matter in such an powerful way that I deeply regret not having listened to these lectures before. Clear but not simple, concise but not superficial, scholarly but not pedantical. A gem.
Date published: 2024-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a gifted teacher!!! I'm extremely happy I purchased this course. Dr. Solomon's relaxed, friendly, personable yet thought provoking style is a gift.
Date published: 2021-11-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Guide book You need an easy means of printing the digital guide book. Alternatively a means of highlighting phrases of interest.
Date published: 2021-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I really like this course. I like it because of the depth with which the professor presents the course.
Date published: 2021-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Solid Overview I bought this course maybe a decade ago when I had only delved into Nietzsche, so far as Existentialist or proto-existentialist writers go. My impression at the time was that this course engaged me but left me unclear on what existentialism really is (a tough question). Since then I have read Camus and Dosteovsky and have dug into Kierkegaard with more diligence. I have also read Schopenhauer to better appreciate Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and even myself. Over the course of this journey I have revisited this "Great Course" with increasing satisfaction, particularly with regard to how it touches upon other philosophers, so while I think this course is an effective introduction, it also works for me at an intermediate level, both as a review and as roadmap by which I can pursue new paths of exploration, for example, what does Kierkegaard mean by self? Is it truly contextual, or is it also abstract? What is Kierkegaard's opinion about the virtue and/or anxiety of consciousness? How does his anxiety relate to Schopenhauer's thought? How does Kierkegaard's radical Jesus compare to the Jesus who opposed Dosteovsky's Inquisitor? Was the radical Jesus of the New Testament (not the only Jesus in there) an existential character in his own right? I can understand how this course can leave some listeners dissatisfied. I was dissatisfied too, but mine has proved to be a productive dissatisfaction.
Date published: 2021-02-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from biased and shallow These lectures are a shallow overview of existentialist thought, and contain biases which devalue the product. It says Sartre coined the term 'existentialism' when in fact, Sartre gave a famous lecture with that word in the title, but he took term from Heidegger. Solomon declares his personal disgust with Heidegger's support of the Nazi party, but dismisses Sartre's support of Stalin as merely "silly" -a double standard. From this lecture you would mistakenly take away that Sartre best articulated and explored the concepts of existentialism, when in fact they were reactions to Heidegger's fundamentally new and deep philosophical inquiries, terms, and worldview. This course was a real disappointment.
Date published: 2021-01-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting but somewhat indistinct Although I once served as a teaching assistant for a course on Existentialism, doing the readings, attending lectures, leading discussion groups and grading papers, I have always felt Existentialism was a slippery philosophical movement. It's hard to define, as compared with, for example, Rationalism, Empiricism or Utilitarianism. Unfortunately Prof. Solomon didn't nail the concept any better for me. The best definition I can now give of Existentialism, based on the lectures I heard, is "a mainly European philosophical movement culminating in the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre." That's pretty lame! Normally I don't pay any attention to the course booklets for Great Courses; I just listen to the lectures. This time I studied the written summaries in the course booklet after each lecture. The outlines there did help me to grasp the professor's main points for each philosopher, but they didn't add up to a running argument for the whole course or illuminate the essence of Existentialism (if it has an essence). With that said, I nevertheless enjoyed listening to the course for Prof. Solomon's take on the various figures discussed. I particularly liked how hard he was on Heidegger for being an unrepentant Nazi. I felt the course was well-organized, with a specific theme for each lecture. Prof. Solomon's manner is a bit understated, but he's admirably clear when he explains the views of some notoriously difficult figures such as Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. He speaks in short sentences and tries to describe easy-to-understand real-life examples to illuminate various abstract concepts. Much of the time that technique works well. When I read other customers' comments on this course, I was surprised to see that some people apparently expect that a lecturer on philosophy can be as exciting as, say, someone talking about the causes of the Civil War. The subject matter here is difficult, and it's a bit unfair to blame the professor for that, in my opinion!
Date published: 2021-01-10
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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 and responsible for whom we are. If you want to enrich your own understanding of this philosophical movement, the thinkers it brought together, and the prominent role it still plays in contemporary thought.

About

Robert C. Solomon

What I want to ask you is to look at emotions, as I have, as something wondrous, something mysterious, something exotic, as well as something dangerous, something profound, and something valuable.

INSTITUTION

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 University of Auckland, New Zealand; UCLA; Princeton University; and Mount Holyoke College. Professor Solomon won many teaching honors, including the Standard Oil Outstanding Teaching Award; the President's Associates Teaching Award (twice); and the Chad Oliver Plan II Teaching Award. In addition, he was a member of Academy of Distinguished Teachers at UT, which is devoted to providing leadership in improving the quality and depth of undergraduate instruction. Professor Solomon wrote or edited more than 45 books, including The Passions, About Love, Ethics and Excellence, A Short History of Philosophy with Professor Kathleen Higgins, A Better Way to Think about Business, The Joy of Philosophy, Spirituality for the Skeptic, Not Passion's Slave, and In Defense of Sentimentality. He also designed and provided programs for corporations and organizations around the world. Professor Solomon passed away in early 2007.

By This Professor

No Excuses: Existentialism and Meaning of Life
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No Excuses: Existentialism and Meaning of Life

Trailer

What Is Existentialism?

01: 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.

31 min
Albert Camus—

02: 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.

30 min
Camus—

03: 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.

31 min
Camus—The Myth of Sisyphus

04: 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.

29 min
Camus—The Plague and The Fall

05: 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.

30 min
Camus—The Fall, Part II

06: 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?

30 min
Søren Kierkegaard—

07: 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"?

31 min
Kierkegaard on Subjective Truth

08: 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?"

30 min
Kierkegaard's Existential Dialectic

09: 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.

31 min
Friedrich Nietzsche on Nihilism and the Death of God

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.

30 min
Nietzsche, the “Immoralist”

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.

32 min
Nietzsche on Freedom, Fate, and Responsibility

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."

31 min
Nietzsche—The Übermensch and the Will to Power

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.

31 min
Three Grand Inquisitors—Dostoevsky, Kafka, Hesse

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.

31 min
Husserl, Heidegger, and Phenomenology

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."

31 min
Heidegger on the World and the Self

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?

31 min
Heidegger on “Authenticity”

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?

31 min
Jean-Paul Sartre at War

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.

30 min
Sartre on Emotions and Responsibility

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.

30 min
Sartres Phenomenology

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?

31 min
Sartre on “Bad Faith”

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?

31 min
Sartre's Being-for-Others and No Exit

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."

31 min
Sartre on Sex and Love

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?

31 min
From Existentialism to Postmodernism

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?

32 min