Course Syllabus

The Good Life

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Semester & Location:

Summer 2023, Session 2 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Elective Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

Philosophy, Literature



Minor Disciplines:

Ethics, Religious Studies

Study Tour:

The French Riviera/Provence

Faculty Member:

Nan Gerdes
Time & Place:

Time: see below in the course summary and in the course calendar
Room: V23-201 (Vestergade 23, room 201)

Description of Course

In this course, we examine the foundations of ‘the good life’ as they surface in Danish and French philosophy, with a particular focus on human freedom and the search for meaning, fulfillment, and happiness. While external conditions may bring satisfaction, as in a well-functioning state like Denmark, we quickly turn our attention deeper, to internal measures of human flourishing.

Our course takes us into the minds of 19th and 20th-century European thinkers, writers, and artists, like Kierkegaard, Beauvoir, Camus, and Nietzsche, who were deeply troubled by the existential conditions of despair, anxiety, and meaninglessness, but who also saw these trials as occasions to examine how we live. With them, we inquire into our relationships, activities, and commitments. And we ask whether freedom is key to happiness, and, if so, the freedom to do what? What makes a life well-lived? All of these philosophers, in their own ways, turned towards nature and the outdoors as a place to clear their minds from the stresses or human social life and reconnect with the world around them. As such, throughout this course, we too will move between the city and wild areas to experience how movement in nature can help one declutter and detach their minds from urban life. We may not all come to a common agreement on life’s purpose, but, together, we do partake in an age-old pilgrimage in search of the good life.

Learning Objectives

Together, we will be aiming to: (1) enter into dialogue with European philosophical, literary, and artistic traditions that have grappled with existential questions; (2) acquire academic skills in navigating and interpreting philosophical works, novels, and artworks; (3) develop abilities in nuancing and articulating our own views and positions in dialogue with those of others; and (4) relate our particular lived experience of the search for the good life to universal philosophical concepts that elucidate the human condition.


Nan Gerdes, Ph.D. (University of Copenhagen, 2017). Postdocs at University of Copenhagen and Roskilde University in Literature and Philosophy. With DIS since 2018.  


  • Beauvoir, Simone de. The Ethics of Ambiguity. New York: Open Road, 2018.
  • Beauvoir, Simone de. The Prime of Life. London: Penguin Books, 1965  (selections; study tour reading)
  • Brinkmann, Svend. "Living Well and Living Right". In Hill et al. Critical Happiness Studies. Oxon & New York: Routledge, 2020, pp. 131-143
  • Camus, Albert. The First Man. London: Penguin Books, 2001 (selections; study tour reading)
  • Camus, Albert. The Myth Of Sysyphus. London: Penguin Books, 2000 (selections)
  • Camus, Albert. The Plague. London: Penguin Books, 2020 (selections; study tour reading) 
  • Camus, Albert. The Stranger. New York: Vintage International, 1988 (selections)
  • Gosetti-Ferencei, Jennifer Anna. On Being and Becoming: An Existentialist Approach to Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021 (selections)
  • Kaag, John. Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are. New York: Farrar, Straus and Grioux, 2018, ISBSN  9787-1-78378-494-3 (selections; study tour readings)
  • Kierkegaard, Søren. Either/Or, I and II. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987 (selections, e-book in Modules).
  • Kierkegaard, Søren. The Concept of Anxiety. London: W.W. Norton, 2015 (selections).
  • Kierkegaard, Søren. The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016 (selections, e-book in Modules)
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy. London: Penguin Books, 1993 (selections, study tour reading)
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. London: Penguin, 2003 (selections; study tour reading)
  • Witt, Emily. "A Six-Day Walk Through the Alps, Inspired by Simone de Beauvoir." The New York Times Style Magazine, October, 13 2013 (study tour readings)


  • Niels Hansen Jakobsen
  • Auguste Rodin
  • Jean Gautherin
  • Marc Chagall

Study Tour to the French Riviera/Provence

On this week-long study tour, our classroom now moves to the French Riviera and Provence along the southern coast of France, as we follow this course’s authors, thinkers, and artists in search of the good life. People drawn to the Mediterranean are, like their “Nordic” counterparts, known for cultivating the art of living, though in contrasting ways. Some writers saw northern Europe as the land of the cold "philosopher kings," while Mediterranean civilization embodied for them the pursuit of well-being. While modern humans can seem out of touch with lived life, bound up in representational modes of thinking and instrumental ways of engaging the world, southern France inspires a rare ability to capture a raw and genuine experience of bodily encounter with the world.

Our pilgrimage takes us to the beautiful Alpes-Maritimes city of Nice, originally founded by the Greeks, and refuge to artists and thinkers since the nineteenth century. Excursions to the east and west, including idyllic coastal towns and secluded mountain villages, permit us to visit the sites where nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophers, writers, and artists sought solitude and rejuvenation, where they lived and wrote, and, not least, where they loved and died.

Please remember to pack the following for the tour:

  • Shoes that are appropriate for moderate hikes
  • Small backpack (for water bottle, snacks)
  • Sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses, hat)
  • Water bottle
  • Swim wear
  • Small towel
  • Entertainment for bussing
  • A notebook

Approach to Learning

We use the Socratic method in this course, which includes a close study of texts and persistent exploration of concrete life, always with a goal of raising everyday experience to a reflective level. We will employ an array of short lectures, student presentations, dialogue between partners, small group activities, full-class discussions, and assignments out and about in the city and nature. Our approach involves working together to mutually question assumptions, clarify positions, and help each other give birth to new thoughts and ideas. The focus is not so much on final answers as on good questions that open up further possibilities for inquiry.

Expectations of Participants

Active participation in all activities is essential for the success of the course. In each meeting, whether in the classroom or on tour, you are asked to raise questions in relation to the assigned texts or other material, to respond to your peers’ contributions, and to collaborate in group work. Full preparation before meetings includes close textual readings, note-taking, writing of discussion posts (see below), and reflection on possible directions for our dialogue once we are together.

On our study tour you will participate in a group with other students. Each group is responsible for leading one of our reading sessions. As responsible for a reading session, you and your group will coordinate the session, read the reading thoroughly, select passages to be read out loud, and prepare questions to discuss with the other students about the text. 

Classroom Etiquette

Dialogue involves candid questioning. Thus, the feedback we give one another may be penetrating and challenging, but it will truly thrive only where it also achieves respect and charity. A helpful measuring bar is to consider our procedure as tending toward questioning rather than asserting.

No computers or phones in the classroom, except for access to readings. Please keep use of phones to a minimum during all course-related activities outside of class. 


No previous experience in the discipline of philosophy is required, and you will be receiving substantial guidance in the learning process. Nevertheless, you will be challenged (whatever your starting point) to apply yourself in developing your fluency in the genre, both as a thinker and a writer. The purpose of the course assignments is to deepen and nuance your understanding of particular topics that deeply interest you, while acquiring tools for philosophical thinking useful across life.

Discussion Board Posts

In preparation for each class, you are asked to contribute to a discussion thread on Canvas. After having engaged with the assigned material, but before we meet in class, you will post your reflections and questions on the reading in paragraph form (ranging from 1–3 substantial paragraphs each time). This is a great opportunity to read the contributions of your peers as well. The discussion posts serve as preparatory work for your final paper.

Final Paper

The final paper (5-7 pages + a reference page) will draw from and comprise content from your own discussion board posts. It will be a chance for you to bring together your reflections on the various themes we have touched upon throughout the course – into one paper. While the content of your final paper can overlap with your previous submissions (what you wrote in your discussion board posts), you must write a unique introduction and conclusion, edit the paper for clarity, and update your reflections wherever relevant. Include a unifying idea, addressed in the introduction and conclusion, and emphasized throughout wherever relevant. Don't worry if some of your content does not tie back directly to this theme; that is to be expected in this sort of assignment. 


Grading Breakdown



Attendance & Participation:


Study Tour participation


Discussion Posts:


Final Paper:


Academic Regulations  

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on: 


DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -


Course Summary:

Date Details Due