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PHI 91 — The Meaning of Life: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and More

Quarter: Winter
Day(s): Thursdays
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Jan 17—Mar 21
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm
Drop Deadline: Jan 30
Units: 2
Tuition: $480
Instructor(s): Frederick M. Dolan
Status: Open
7:00—8:50 pm
Jan 17—Mar 21
10 weeks
Drop By
Jan 30
2 Units
Frederick M. Dolan
We can easily state the purpose of the actions we perform in our lives. But what’s the purpose of one’s life as a whole, of life as such?

In this course, we will analyze and evaluate theories of the meaning of life. We will encounter a variety of fascinating themes: What are we asking when we ask “What is the meaning of life?” What sort of question is it and what sorts of replies count as plausible candidates for an answer? Is there a meaning of life? (Maybe life is pointless, absurd, or evil.) How should we think about living with death? What can usefully be said about how best to live or what makes life worth living?

Most of the authors we’ll discuss are philosophers: Aristotle, Arthur Schopenhauer, Albert Camus, Bernard Williams, Derek Parfit, David Wiggins, Thomas Nagel, Susan Wolf, and Shelly Kagan. We will look especially closely at how two iconic 19th-century thinkers—Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche—approach the question. In addition to philosophers, however, we will also consult psychologists, poets, and artists.

This course will not provide any easy answers to the question of the meaning of life. But it will provide an opportunity to learn your way around the neighborhood of the question and improve your ability to ask and answer it for yourself.

Frederick M. Dolan, Professor of Rhetoric, Emeritus, UC Berkeley

Frederick M. Dolan’s interests include philosophy of art, hermeneutics, and political and moral philosophy, in particular the relationship of modern political theory to the philosophical tradition and its critics (especially Nietzsche and Heidegger). He received a PhD from Princeton.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (Penguin Classics,1986) (ISBN 978-0140444490)
(Required) Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (Vintage,1974) (ISBN 978-0394719856)
(Required) Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (Vintage, 1989) (ISBN 978-0679724650)