Existentialism (PHIL) Professor David Dudrick
- Associate Professor of Philosophy
Who am I? How should I live? For what may I hope? In this course, we will confront these fundamental questions in our investigation of the philosophical movement known as existentialism. Existentialism came of age in 1940s Paris with the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus, but its roots extend at least to Pascal, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard in the 17th through 19th centuries. While they insist on rigor, these authors are no friends of abstraction: for them, philosophy must reflect our actual, concrete, everyday lives. As a result, they make use of literary forms uncommon in philosophy, including plays, novels, and short stories. Whatever means they employ, however, their goal is always to challenge readers to confront these questions for themselves, a challenge that we will seek to meet – individually and collectively – in this course.
Over the winter break, we will travel as a group to Paris, France, in an effort to better understand existentialism concretely. Doing so will take us to Lycée Henri IV and the École normale supérieure, where Sartre studied philosophy, and to the Cimetière de Montparnasse, where Sartre and Beauvoir were laid to rest. We’ll consider on the importance of the experience of the French Resistance to existentialism and visit sites celebrating its fallen heroes. We’ll think through existentialist themes in works housed at the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay. And we’ll journal our reflections while sitting in the cafés where so much existentialist work was produced.
Upon returning from Paris, we’ll use the spring semester to broaden and deepen our understanding of existentialism by considering its relevance in contemporary life. We’ll examine current work being done in philosophy, read recent novels, and see films new and old that explore and/ or challenge the assumptions of existentialist thought. Students will pursue projects that they will present to their peers in a salon.
In Professor David Dudrick's Own Words
View Dudrick's comments at a recent information session.
I love philosophy – it’s both my vocation and my joy. Philosophy poses some of the biggest questions human beings can ask: does God exist? Are we free? Is morality objective? Because there are no settled answers to these questions, one might think that philosophy makes no progress. In a certain respect, this is true. There is no “instructor version” of the text with the answers in the back, no database that you can access to discover what philosophers know. If the discipline doesn’t make progress, though, individuals who practice it certainly do: by reading and thinking about these issues, our answers come to be supported by reasons. And because these reasons are our own, the beliefs in question become our own as well. Philosophy isn’t a body of knowledge, it’s an activity – it’s something you do. Doing it allows you to take hold of your beliefs and, in doing so, your self. It allows you, in Nietzsche’s words, “to become who you are.”
But if philosophy is deeply personal in this way, it is also fundamentally communal. How do we assess whether there are good reasons to think that God exists or that we’re free? We can do so only by putting them into conversation, by talking through them. Our conversation partners span time and space – we engage with thinkers from Socrates to Sartre to see whether their ideas are worth taking seriously and let them respond through their texts. Most importantly, though, we talk with each other – our class is like a lab where these big ideas get put to the test. And here’s the thing: we won’t agree! But one of the purposes of a liberal arts education is to come to see that you can regard another’s position as reasonable and wrong at the same time. Philosophy is one way that the liberal arts train us not to agree all the time, but to disagree well.
It’s because I think of philosophy in this way that I’m so excited about teaching Existentialism in the SRS program. The existentialists aren’t simply interested in changing your mind – their interested in changing your life. Better put: they offer you the chance to your life. For them, philosophy is far from a disinterested pursuit of the truth: these issues matter.
I remember being disappointed as an undergraduate that the exciting ideas I was thinking through in class didn’t translate into the rest of college life. I wanted to be in a community where conversations didn’t stop at the classroom door, where the people I was hanging out with were also the people who I wanted to think with. That’s just what this program generally and this class specifically is designed to do: to allow you to be in a community where you don’t just learn the liberal arts, you live them.
Part of living the liberal arts – and of living existentialism more specifically – will involve traveling in Paris in January of 2014. When I directed the St. Andrews Study Group a couple years ago, students reported that as much as they loved being in St. Andrews, they valued the community they formed there just as much as any travel experience. We will have had a semester of living and learning together before we embark on our Parisian excursion. This will not be a sightseeing trip; we’ll be engaged in the project of trying to determine the effect this city and its culture had on existentialist thought and whether such thought is relevant, especially germane, or even possible there today. When we return, we’ll continue our conversation in a .25 credit class in the spring semester.
I think the SRS program will be an amazing way to do philosophy and, more importantly, to be part of a community that lives and learns together. I hope you’ll consider joining us. SRSly.
Coffee and Cigarettes (HIST) Professor Robert Nemes
- Associate Professor of History
How did Arabian coffee and American tobacco become global vices? How has the use and meaning of these everyday products changed over time? Why are so many people drawn to caffeine and nicotine – and why do they have such a hard time quitting them? In this class, we will trace the history of coffee and cigarettes from the 1500s to the present. Our readings and discussions will range from sixteenth-century Turkish coffeehouses to twenty-first century Starbucks, and from the prohibition by King James I on tobacco to contemporary debates on second-hand smoke.
The fall semester will also prepare us of a weeklong trip to Costa Rica in January, when the coffee harvest is in full swing. We’ll pick coffee berries and talk with growers, laborers, and traders. By visiting big plantations as well as eco-friendly family farms, we’ll learn about the production of an everyday good we take for granted. A larger goal of the trip is to see what globalization looks like through Costa Rican eyes.
In the spring semester, we will continue our conversations, placing an emphasis on meaningful discussions and on intellectual engagement. Our conversations will touch on coffee consumption, sustainable agriculture, and global fairness, and we’ll think about what these issues might mean for Colgate and for the surrounding region. Students will embark on a range of projects, including the creation of short videos, posters, or web-pages. View Nemes's comments at a recent information session.
Native Americans in the Southwest (NAST) Professor Sarah Wider
- Associate Professor of English and Women's Studies
Course description will be released shortly.
Hunting, Eating, Vegetarianism (ENST) Professor Ian Helfant
- Associate Professor of Russian
Course description will be released shortly.