Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
First-Year Seminar


FYS Section A16. Proletariat and Supermen

Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche are two of the more provocative and influential thinkers in Western history, but they are also two of the more misunderstood. Marx’s deep criticism of vast power structures of society—especially capitalist society—have been overshadowed by the failure of actual communist regimes that took Marx’s work as inspiration, but that never approximated Marx’s ideal. Nietzsche’s devastating critiques of religion and morality and his life-affirming individualism are often obscured by the Nazis’ misappropriation of some parts of his thought. Nevertheless, these two thinkers, whose work helped spawn all kinds of new schools of thought, from existentialism to feminism to postmodernism, are perhaps even more relevant today in an age of pervasive media and a growing global culture than they have ever been.

In this course, we will examine key works from Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche, taking care to draw out historical, political, and philosophical connections and contrasts between their views. With the use of some literary and film works relating to the primary texts, we will also explore the implications of each author’s views on the following issues: the role of God/religion in the modern world, the individual’s role in society, the social and cultural significance of science and technology, and the meaning of life. In addition to regular writing assignments, students in this course will be expected to conduct some of their own background research on Marx and Nietzsche.

Stephen MathisStephen Mathis
Associate Professor of Philosophy