Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Fidel Castro, 1960
At the end of the 19th century and continuing into the next, Europe became a crucible in which its convictions, morality and values—some reaching back more than 3,000 years—were tested in the conflagration of two World Wars. Existentialism was the first cultural and philosophical movement to emerge from that historical moment to become a major factor in the shaping of modern intellectual thought about the meaning of human existence. This absorbing seminar examines four of its major themes, guided by Francis J. Ambrosio, an associate professor at Georgetown University who specializes in 20th-century European philosophy.
9:30–10:45 a.m. The Crucible: Cultural Revolution and World War
Cultural movements, such as Marxism, Darwinism, colonialism, Freudianism, quantum mechanics, and relativity challenged the traditional concept of reason as the final measure of reality.
11 a.m.–12:15 p.m. The Question of Values: Morality and Religion
From the challenge to the supremacy of reason followed the questioning of a range of religious and moral claims. Philosophers Kierkegaard and Nietzsche spearheaded existentialism’s repudiation of the “unholy” alliance of faith and reason.
12:15–1:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own).
1:30–2:45 p.m. The Age of Anxiety: Freedom and Human Dignity
Existentialism insists on human freedom of choice and responsibility for one’s identity as the authentic source of meaning and value in human existence. Sartre, De Beauvoir, and Camus explored the apparently chaotic world of human freedom to discover the universality of its inner law: All legitimate authority rests on absolute respect for the dignity of responsibility for one’s own identity.
3–4:15 p.m. Existentialism 2.0: The Age of Terror and the Future of Hope
Existentialism is often criticized for a morbid fascination with death. Referring to the work of Viktor Frankl, Ernest Becker, Noah Harari, and Steven Pinker, Ambrosio reflects on the nature of hope in the face of death as existentialism’s most enduring legacy.