You Choose Your Meaning

Wed, Apr 08

Perhaps the best response to nihilism to think that meaning is something you generate for yourself -- it doesn't depend on whether you make a permanent difference to the world.  And while your choices may be under your control, part of having a meaningful life means owning the consequences of your choices.  In this class, we will take another look at existentialism and in particular explore what follows from the view that there is no prescribed function or meaning for a human life.

By the end of class:

  1. You will be able to identify how and why Sartre rejects a crucial assumption of Aristotle's function argument.
  2. You will be able to explain the existentialist's value of authenticity and the corresponding view of the goals of a good life.
  3. You will reflect (critically and appreciatively) on the role that personal choice and commitment plays in shaping what your own good life is.

Read This:


Existentialism is a Humanism (Excerpts) (Jean Paul Sartre)


"Black or White?  Woman’s Story Stirs Up Furor." (NY Times)

Do This:

Complete the following reading reflection questions in your GGL journal:

  1. Sartre is famous for the slogan "existence precedes essence".  What does this mean for him?  How does it put him at odds with Aristotle?  
  2. How would an existentialist like Sartre or Beauvoir evaluate how you are living your life?
  3. What do you think are the key moral or philosophical considerations for Rachel Dolezal to pursue the good life?  How do you react to her story?

Watch This: