The Spinoza Center’s Eighth Lecture Series
Conveners and moderators: Dr. Dror Yinon and Dr. Pini Ifergan
The term existentialism has been widely used to characterize an intellectual, literary, and cultural movement that was active mainly in Paris in the middle of the twentieth century. Undoubtedly, this movement left its mark on Western culture, but its time as a cultural phenomenon has passed, and it has become one subject among many in the study of cultural and intellectual history. Nevertheless, the movement also left a wealth of philosophical ideas and challenges whose importance stretches beyond the specific time and place. The questions that concerned the existentialists are topical again, and their ideas deserve a reexamination.
In a world in which the capability of gathering information and analyzing it makes it possible to shape the desires and direct the actions of individuals, it seems that the lives of human beings are being shaped in mechanical frameworks and that the existence of the individual is but the realization of a foregone plan. This again raises the question that underlies existentialist philosophy: “How can one be a human being?” The discussion of this question takes place in the course of the exploration of the issues of freedom, authenticity, alienation, the creation of meaning, our attitude toward the other, our relationship with the environment, the real possibilities that exist for us, and the acceptance of responsibility for our decisions. Other issues too, such as humankind’s physicality, are being reconsidered in light of the virtual spaces in which it acts and in light of the unprecedented development of the ability of changing the body and enhancing our powers technologically.
The lecture series will deal with existentialist philosophers whose thinking focused on these issues. It will open with a presentation of the philosophy of Kierkegaard, the first existentialist philosopher, and will continue with the philosophy of Sartre, de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, and Camus. The series will shed light on the special meaning and richness of the concept of existence that underlies existentialist thought and its relevance to contemporary thinking.