Philosophy 147: Death and the Meaning of Life January Interim, 2003
Ed Langerak Office, H601C; phone, 3494 (home, 645-8321); e-mail: langerak
Office hours: T-F, , and by appointment. Class alias: philosophy-147
An introduction to philosophical ideas and methods through reading, discussing, and writing about some basic questions that arise when we reflect on the human condition. What is meant by “meaning” when one asks whether (a person’s) life has meaning? How do our beliefs about human nature, religion, and morality affect how we ask or answer the question? What is the role of work and vocation in living a meaningful life? How does the fact that we inevitably will die or that our universe eventually will disappear affect one’s outlook? We will analyze classical and contemporary writings--philosophical and autobiographical--to develop clearer, more informed, and better reasoned views about the questions, if not the answers. Since some important conflicts are likely to arise, we will discuss the ethics of compromise and the difficulties of living a principled and committed life in a pluralistic society that requires appropriate toleration and even respect for views with which one disagrees.
Texts include Leo Tolstoy’s Confession (T) and The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Short Stories, Thomas Morris’ Making Sense of It All (M), Langdon Gilkey’s Shantung Compound (G), Lee Hardy’s The Fabric of This World (LH), Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning (F), E.D. Klemke’s anthology The Meaning of Life , 2nd ed.(K), and over twenty ($3) handouts (H).
Student contributions: (1) Regular attendance and participation (10% of course grade); (2) Six response paragraphs and questions (100-200 words), due by e-mail before 9am on either (odds—last name A-M) Jan 7,9,13,15,24&29 or (evens—last name M-Z) Jan 8,10,14,16,20, and 22,(not 24); the 28th is voluntary or make-up (15%); (3) Test on Jan 17, (20%); (4) Paper: a “dialectical inquiry” (1000 words), first edition due Jan 23 and final edition due Jan 30 (30%); and (5) Final exam (25%).
6 Introduction to philosophy.
7 Crisis of meaning; suicide?. T, I-VIII; M, 1-5; Epicurus (H). Recommend: poems by St Vincent Millay and Hardy (H); Epictetus (H); Schopenhauer (K6); and sheet on Buddhism (H).
8 Searching and “wagering”. T, IX-XII; M, 6&7. Recommend: Descartes (H); Pascal snippets (H).
9 Tolstoy’s effort. T, XIII-XVI; Tolstoy’s “Father Sergius” (H).
10 Tolstoy’s “Death of Ivan Illich” from The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Short Stories; Read (H).
13 Pluralism. Nussbaum (H); Barber (H); Langerak talks(H); Bok (H); Midgley (H).
14 Civil Disagreement. Perry (H); Langerak articles on toleration (H).
15 Gilkey’s experience. G, I-VIII.
16 Gilkey con’t. G, IX-X; Langerak, “Covenantal Duties” (H). Review.
20 Gilky on a meaningful life. G, XI-XIV; Schlick (H); Nozick (H); Hardy on work and vocation, LH 1-3.
21 Discussion with Bobbie Spradley, survivor of Shantung Compound.
22 Frankl’s experience. F, “Experiences in a Concentration Camp.” Debate about using Man’s Search for Meaning (H).
23 First edition of paper due, 3pm.
24 Secular humanism and meaning. Russell (K7); Nielsen (K21, pp.236-42); and Baier (K11,pp.118-29, and also Hepburn, bottom of p.271&72).
27 Conferences on papers.
28 The human condition is absurd, and it’s a good thing? Camus (H&K10, esp. pp. 236-42); Taylor (K15); Nagel (K16 and Kpp.5-7). Recommend: Krystal and poem by Dylan Thomas (H).
29 Everlasting life? Swenson (K3); Jantzen (H); Taliaferro (H). Recommend K4 or K5.
30 Conclusion and review. Second edition of paper due, 3pm
31 Final Exam.