Death, God and the Meaning of Life
Undergraduate: Level 4
Thursday 03 October 2019
Friday 26 June 2020
16 August 2019
Requisites for this module
BA VV56 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics,
BA VV57 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Placement Year),
BA VV58 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year),
BA VV59 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA VV5P Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Year Abroad)
In the first part of this module, we shall consider some of life's big questions, the problems each of us face as human beings. What, if anything, is the meaning of our lives? How can we become wise? Do we stand in need of salvation? Can we make sense of human suffering? How should we think about our own deaths? We shall approach these questions by taking a fresh look at some of the most powerful stories, myths and allegories in the history of reflection on the human condition. In particular, we shall examine the following, from a philosophical point of view:
The Trial of Socrates
Eden and the Fall
The Sufferings of Job
The Myth of Sisyphus
The Tragedy of Antigone
The Binding of Isaac
In the second part of the module we take up the problem of nihilism as experienced in modernity. We begin with Nietzsche`s account of the problem of nihilism as it emerges in the wake of the 'death of God', before turning to Weber`s account of processes of disenchantment and rationalisation, and Freud`s analysis of the repressive forces of civilization. We then examine responses to this `malaise of modernity` that emphasise the role of art, an authentic relation to one`s own death, the radical choosing of oneself, and collective political struggle. Topics we will focus on include:
The Death of God (Nietzsche)
The Iron Cage of Modernity (Weber)
Civilization and its Discontents (Freud)
Art as a Saving Sorceress (Nietzsche)
The Antinomy of Life and Art (Thomas Mann)
Confronting One's Own Death (Tolstoy)
Choosing Oneself (Sartre)
Collective Emancipation of Humanity (Marx)
The aims of this module are:
to introduce students to texts that are pivotal to Ancient Greek and Christian thought
to introduce students to modern responses to the problem of nihilism
By the end of this module students should to be able to:
* display detailed knowledge of the texts covered in the module;
* display some knowledge of the ways in which these texts have been variously interpreted and developed by different philosophers;
* engage orally and in writing with these texts in a philosophical way, considering arguments and ideas carefully and critically;
* display an understanding of the presuppositions of the question of the meaning of life in a "modern" context;
* recognise the variety of forms of philosophical inquiry and expression, and be able to assess their significance for the philosophical content.
By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:
* define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
* seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
* process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
* compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
* write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
* be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
* think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;
* maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;
No additional information available.
1 x one-hour lecture each week followed by a one-hour discussion class at which issues covered in the lecture will be discussed in smaller class groups. Weeks 8 and 21 are Reading Weeks. Revision sessions in summer term.
- Kierkegaard, Søren; Lowrie, Walter. (2013) Fear and trembling: and, the sickness unto death, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
- Weber, Max; Livingstone, Rodney. (2004) The vocation lectures, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.
- Mann, Thomas; Wilkinson, Elizabeth M. (1962) Tonio Kröger, Oxford: B. Blackwell. vol. Blackwell's German texts
- Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm; Williams, Bernard; Nauckhoff, Josefine; Del Caro, Adrian. (2001) The gay science: with a prelude in German rhymes and an appendix of songs, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. vol. Cambridge texts in the history of philosophy
- Freud, Sigmund; McLintock, David. (2002) Civilization and its discontents, London: Penguin. vol. Penguin classics
- Cooper, John M.; Plato. (1997) Complete works, Indianapolis, Ind: Hackett.
- Sartre, Jean-Paul. (2007) Existentialism and humanism, London: Methuen.
- (©2010) The new Oxford annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version : with the Apocrypha : an ecumenical study Bible, New York: Oxford University Press.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm; Smith, Douglas. (2000) The birth of tragedy, Oxford: Oxford University Press. vol. Oxford world's classics
- Taylor, Don; Varakis, Angie; Sophocles. (2006) Antigone, London: Methuen Drama.
- Tolstoy, Leo; Cook, T. C. B. (2004) The death of Ivan Ilyich and other stories, Ware: Wordsworth Editions. vol. Wordsworth classics
- Marx, Karl; Engels, Friedrich. (1998) The German ideology: including Theses on Feuerbach and introduction to The critique of political economy, Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books. vol. Great books in philosophy
- Camus, Albert. (1975) The myth of Sisyphus, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. vol. Penguin modern classics
The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.
Assessment items, weightings and deadlines
|Coursework / exam
||Early Assessment Exercise (1000 Words)
||Autumn Term Essay (2000 words)
||Spring Term Essay (2000 Words)
||180 minutes during Summer (Main Period) (Main)
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Steve Gormley (Spring and Summer), Dr Fiona Hughes (Autumn and Summer),
Dr Thomas Joseph Stern
University College London
Available via Moodle
Of 105 hours, 105 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).
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