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Intermediate Philosophy Part 2: Nihilism, Phenomenology and Existentialism

Mary Ward Centre
Course summary
12 weeks
Leisure / Fun Classes

Course description

Intermediate Philosophy Part 2: Nihilism, Phenomenology and Existentialism

One unexpected outcome of the Enlightenment period was the rise of nihilism, a crisis of finding any real meaning in the emerging scientific worldview. The development of the new philosophical movement of phenomenology can be seen as, in part, a response to this crisis. Husserl sought to analyse the role of consciousness in constituting meaning in experience in a way which united our daily experience of the world with the scientific world view. The approach he developed was swiftly challenged in the name of a more embodied and historically situated account of meaning by the work of Heidegger, de Beauvoir, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. This course will explore how the emergence of phenomenology as a philosophical method came to be inextricably linked to the wider issue of Existentialism as a response to the urgent problems of the 20th Century.

Suitability - Who should attend?

This is not a course for absolute beginners to philosophy. Students joining this course would benefit from having some previous experience of studying philosophy. Graduates of other humanities or social-science disciplines, however, with experience of complex theoretical frameworks, should find it very challenging yet potentially intellectually manageable to begin their philosophical studies with this course. All students will need to have reached at least Level 2 standard (equivalent to GSCE) in the English language.

Training Course Content

The course begins with four sessions on the history of the concept of nihilism. We start by looking at Gorgias' argument for why nothing exists, situating it in the context of Pre-Socratic philosophy. Then we look at modern discussions of nihilism in F.H. Jacobi, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Camus, Beauvoir and Deleuze.
In the main body of the course, we develop an account of the basic methods and concepts of Phenomenology and Existentialism, paying particular attention to how Husserl's Phenomenology became a discourse about Being (an ontology) in the hands of Heidegger. After exploring key ideas in Husserl's Phenomenology (eg. intentionality, the epoche, and phenomenological reduction), we examine the central doctrines of Heidegger's Being and Time (focusing on the difference between Being and beings, the analytic of Dasein and human temporality), and examine his approach to nothingness in the essay 'What is Metaphysics?' We will also assess the impact of the recently published Black Notebooks.
In the last third of the course, we turn our attention to French Existentialism. After an intensive introduction to the key ideas of Sartre's Being and Nothingness, we look at Simone de Beauvoir's development of Existentialist ethics, and Merleau-Ponty's attempt to rethink the Existentialist account of perception and embodiment in The Phenomenology of Perception.
The conceptual focus of the course is on being and nothingness, and so we conclude with a discussion of Emanuele Severino's The Essence of Nihilism and Badiou's Seminar on Parmenides, with the aim of integrating Pre-Socratic ideas about being and nothingness with Phenomenological and Existentialist approaches.

About provider

Mary Ward Centre

Mary Ward Centre

The first thing you will notice about the Mary Ward Centre is the stunning Georgian building, in the peaceful surroundings of Queen Square. An adult education centre with a difference, whatever you want to learn, you’ll find it here. From...

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Contact info

Mary Ward Centre

42 Queens Square
WC1N 3AQ London

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