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The Human Condition: Arendt, Nietzsche, Marx

COL 259
Spring 2022 not offered
Crosslisting: GRST 288
Course Cluster and Certificates: Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory Certificate

"God is dead," the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote at the close of the 19th century, "and we have killed him!" Nietzsche presents these words as being proclaimed by "a madman who in the bright morning lit a lantern and ran around the marketplace crying incessantly." Both the content of this famous quotation and its setting express a concern with the internal and external conditions under which modern humans live and make sense of their lives: without the certainty of divine guidance and order (internally), encountering one another only as impersonal buyers and sellers on the marketplace (externally). In this seminar, we will study three strikingly unique yet nonetheless intersecting ways of addressing the human condition after the death of god. We will start with Hannah Arendt's magisterial "The Human Condition" (1958), in which she presents the history of how in the Western philosophical tradition the active life (the vita activa, as distinguished from the vita contemplativa, the life of the mind) has been conceptualized. Drawing on Nietzsche's genealogical method, Arendt traces the genesis of concepts from their Greek, Latin, and Biblical origins to modernity. In doing so, she focuses on the activities of labor, work, and action: Labor is the "metabolism between humans and nature" (Marx), the process through which we appropriate the earth for our survival as a species; work is the transformation of the earth into a durable world; and plurality is the sharing of this world with others.

From Arendt's comprehensive conceptual history of the human condition, we will proceed in reverse chronological order to contextualize and challenge her claims. Arendt singles out Nietzsche and Marx as the paradigmatic modern "life and labor philosophers" and foremost representatives of philosophical "naturalism," and we will first examine Nietzsche's account of the devolution of European morality to nihilism and his critique of Western metaphysics as a "life-denying" death-cult, and will then, in the final third of the semester, investigate Marx's attempts to historicize and rethink the interdependence of humans and their natural environment in terms of an alienation of practice and the transformation (necessitated by the capitalist "law of value") of human labor into an abstract power of domination over humans and, eventually, the whole planet.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: HA COL
Course Format: SeminarGrading Mode:
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (COL)(CSCT)(GRST-MN)(GRST)

Last Updated on JUL-21-2024
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