PHL314 Existentialism
Professor: Craig DeLancey
Office: MCC212A

Current Assignments
28 August
Practice: in section 2, Nietzsche introduces the idea of the philistine. This is related to an idea that will be very important to all the existentialists, and which is typically called "authenticity". Here, Nietzsche is arguing that many people are like this cultural philistine, who is both uncritical of his own views, and also who "perceives around him nothing but needs identical with and views similar to his own" (8). Do you think that in our time, many of us suffer from such a preconception -- that we are both uncritical of their own views and also see only confirmation of our views? Can you give an example? Does such behavior matter -- that is, is it important (for example, is it harmful)? Write up your answer in a page or so and bring it to me in class.

Reading: read sections 7 and 8 of David Strauss, the first Untimely Meditation. Optional are sections 9-12.
31 August
We will be focussing on section 8 in our discussions.

Practice: Strauss sees in Darwin a way to propose his own ethics, which is really just the contemporary ethics of his Germany. Nietzsche sees in Darwin and in the death of God a catastrophe -- in the sense that we can no longer proceed as we have been, if we are to be honest with ourselves. Who is right? Do Darwinism and atheism tell us anything about ethics? Write up your answer in a page or so.
2 September
Reading: read sections 1 and 5 of Schopenhauer as Educator, the third Untimely Meditation. Optional are sections 2-4. Read section 5 very closely. It's the key to Nietzsche's thinking about these matters.

Practice: in Section 1, Nietzsche writes that "We are responsible to ourselves for our own existence" (128). Look closely at this passage. Is it fair? Are you responsible for your existence? Do you have to do something bold and dangerous in answer to this responsibility? Write up your answer in a page or so.

Tentative assignments (these will be revised)
4 September
Some last thoughts about the Untimely Meditations. The method of phenomenology, and existential phenomenology.
9 September
Hold onto your socks. Read chapter 1 of Being and Time.
28 September
I'll be out of town giving a talk.
3 October
Steinkraus Lecture. Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: Mill's Political Philosophy an American Ideals. 2:15 p.m. in the Historic Lecture Hall, room 222 Sheldon.
26-30 October
A Nietzschean interlude. We will interrupt our studies of Heidegger to read some of Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy. This will culminate with our viewing of the The Bacchae.
30 October
The Bacchae, 7:30 p.m.

Below are the assignment of the last time I taught Existentialism. Our assignments will be different but some will be similar.

28 January
Here's our rough outline of the course.

1. A shamefully brief exegesis of Kierkegaard. (Week 1)
2. Nietzsche, The Geneology of Morals, parts 1 and 2. (Weeks 2-3)
3. A shamefully brief exegesis of Husserl. (Week 4)
4. Heidegger's Being in Time. (Weeks 5-8)
5. Sartre: selections from Being and Nothingness; "Existentialism is a Humanism"; "No Exit" and "The Flies." (Weeks 9-10)
6. Camus: "The Myth of Sisyphus," The Plague. (Weeks 11-12)
7. Beckett: "Waiting for Godot" and "Happy Days." (Week 13)
8. Later Heidegger: "The Question Concerning Technology." (Week 14)

30 January
Our simple assignment is:
Homework 1

Go to the library, and find the works of Soren Kierkegaard. Do your best to estimate:
  • How many different works (books) are there by Kierkegaard?
  • How many pages in total (not double counting) do you estimate there are?
  • What are some of the pseudonyms that these works are written under?
Write this up (it should only take a page or so).

1 February
Start reading part I of Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals. Skip Nietzsche's introduction; and the editor's introduction is optional.

Tony provided us these links to Human All Too Human by the BBC. They are a little simplistic on some things, but interesting and have fun biographical and visual information.
BBC's Nietzsche documentary (this one has subtitles but seems the best quality).
BBC's Heidegger documentary
BBC's Sartre documentary

4 February
Finish reading part I of Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals.

BTW: I was talking with Dr. Wray, and he suggested that the "English psychologists" might refer to Herbert Spencer and his followers. This seems plausible, since Spencer wrote on psychology and is also mentioned later in the Genealogy.

6-11 February
Finish reading part II of Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals.

13 February
Read selection from the Husserl handout. Also, read section 7 part c of Being and Time (pages 58-63 in the M&R translation).

15 February
Reading and a homework.

* Reading: read B&T chapter 1 (pages 65-77) (you can go easy on sections 10 and 11, since they refer to scholars you won't know). Recommended are Polt chapters 1 and 2 (pages 1 - 21). (In the best of all worlds, we would read the introduction to B&T. However, given our time limitations, I'm going to skip it. Do try to read it later, after you've become accustomed to Heidegger.)

* Homework: this will seem odd, but it is relevant. I will collect this, and just mark it for completion, because I want to see your answers. Your homework is to answer six questions.
  1. Suppose someone asks you, "What are you?" How would you answer (truthfully)? (Don't try to predict what I or anyone else might expect or might want; just answer honestly and as unreflectively as possible.)
  2. How do you know you are that? (That is, why are you confident in your answer to question 1?)
  3. Complete the following sentence (in a way that makes it, in your opinion, true): "I am in _________."
  4. Find someone else, not in this class, and ask her or him the three questions above.
Write in complete sentences, please. Write cleanly, even if very briefly.

18 February
Read B&T sections 12 and 13 (chapter II, pages 78-90 in M&R).

20 February
Read B&T sections 14 and 15.

22 February
Read B&T sections 16, 17, and 18 (you should thus have read up to page 122 now).

An assignment due at the beginning of class. This should only take a page or so. It should be typed. Write in complete sentences. The homework is two tasks: (1) name one thing that is typically ready-to-hand for you, and describe when it is ready-to-hand (I mean, under what kinds of activities or conditions?). And (2) name one thing that is present-at-hand for you and describe when (that is, during which kind of activity) it is present-at-hand. Please apply the honor system and come up with your own example, working on your own. Don't just copy an example from Dreyfus or Polt or -- god forbid -- Wikipedia.

25 February
Read B&T sections 27; recommended but optional is section 26 (we're skipping 19 through 24 which are interesting but take us afield into spatiality and also a critique of Descartes's world).

27 February
Read B&T sections 28-32.

An assignment due at the beginning of class. This should only take a page or two. It should be typed. Write in complete sentences. All of these questions relate to the discussion in the brief section 16, so you can focus upon that section when writing this up. The homework is two tasks: (1) name how one ready-to-hand thing became present- at-hand through conspicuousness; (2) name how one ready-to-hand thing became present-at-hand through obtrusiveness; (3) name how one ready-to-hand thing became present-at-hand through obstinancy.

For one of these examples, explain how the totality of the towards-which of equipment became present to you in that case.

1 March
Read sections 35-38, and that little intro to 35 under the label "B".

4 March
Read from B&T chapter V, sections 35 through 38. Start on Chapter VI and read as far into that as doing the homework allows you.

An assignment due at the beginning of class. This should only take a page or two. It should be typed. Write in complete sentences. This one is tough! It will require you to do some serious phenomenology. Do your best. Heidegger argues in section 29 that "state-of-mind" (much better translation is Stambaugh's "attunement") is something Dasein always has. In 30 he gives an ontical analysis of the attunement of fear. An attunement has three features: it discloses (shows to you) your thrownness; it discloses being-in-the-world as a whole; and it allows for things to "matter" to you.

You must pick another attunement (anger, boredom, confusion -- you be the judge). In a page or two, write up how it discloses your thrownness and your being-in-the-world; and how it allows something to matter to you. Hand this in at the beginning of class.

6 March
Read B&T sections 39-41, 43 intro, 43a, 43c, and 44b and 44c. That's a lot, I know, but you all did say you were interested in reality.

8 March
Read B&T Division II, sections 45, 50.

When reading section 45, note: what have we left out of our analysis of Dasein? Heidegger identifies at least two features, which we will turn to next. Also, what do you think it means to say existence is potentiality-for-being?

Homework! Write a brief description of an instance of idle talk in your own life; and of curiosity (in Heidegger's sense of inauthentic greed for the new) in your own life. How do they arise from a they-self? Please remember I do not accept homework by email. If you sent me a homework by email, I treated it as idle talk.

11 March
Read B&T Division II, sections 51-53.

13 March
Read B&T Division II, sections 54-58, 60.

A short homework. Let's pressure test Heidegger. Spend half an hour thinking about your death. You'll be sore tempted to think about it for five minutes, but really try to think hard and long. Imagine ceasing to exist, the world continuing (perhaps) after you, and your projects now abandoned. How does it make you feel about your projects, your purposes? Do you feel like resoluteness towards death is possible? Write up your response in a page or so. (By the way: the reason I ask that these be typed is that I'm supposed to be ensuring that you sometimes turn on a computer, as proof that you have computer and information literacy. Asking that homeworks be word-processed lets me say that actually know how to use a word processor. Yes, I agree, that's silly. I didn't write the rules.)

15 March
Exam 1. Heidegger and Nietzsche. Most of the test will require short answers. You may bring and use your copy of Being and Time and The Genealogy of Morals. Topics will include but not be limited to (and so you'll be expected to be able explain accurately but to an intelligent roommate):
  • Nietzsche's history of Christian morality
  • Nietzsche's concept of Resentment
  • The Ubermensch
  • Dasein
  • World, Being-in-the-world
  • Circumspection
  • Ready-to-hand
  • Present-at-hand
  • Towards-which and for-the-sake-of-which
  • Significance
  • Being-with
  • Das Man
  • the They-self
  • Attunement ("State-of-mind")
  • Idle talk, curiosity, ambiguity
  • Angst ("anxiety")
  • Existence, potentiality-for-being
  • What it means that Dasein must die alone
  • Resoluteness
  • Authentic and inauthentic ways of being for Dasein

18-22 March
If you are looking to become a better human being over break, then read (if you have not already done so) the Oresteia of Aeschylus. This is the trilogy of plays Agamenon, The Libation Bearers, and The Kindly Ones. Every library will have them, and you can probably find them online in fair translations. (This is deeply relevant to Sartre's play The Flies.) Less important (because we will watch a production) but still valuable would be to read "Waiting for Godot," "Endgame," and "Happy Days" by Samuel Beckett.

25 March
Read "Existentialism is a Humanism." This is ubiquitous, but a free online translation is available at: This is our first non-technical reading, so you should be able to understand it pretty well before we sit down to discuss it. While reading, ask yourself:
  • What are the criticisms that Sartre sets out to answer?
  • What does Sartre really suspect causes critics to dislike existentialism?
  • What are the two kinds of existentialists, according to Sartre?
  • What does Sartre say all existentialists have in common? That is, how does he define existentialism?
  • How does Sartre interpret and explain "anguish" (which is a common translation for angst and anxiety), "abandonment" and "despair" ?
  • Why can existentialism allow a moral judgment?
  • What does he mean when he says that existentialism is a humanism? That is, what sense of "humanisim" is he ruling out, and what sense is he intending?
I might be tempted to have a quiz asking these questions, just to welcome everyone back from their week of reading Aeschylus.

27 March
Homework. Write this up, wordprocessed. It should take a page or more. You will interpret events in your own life using Sartre's version of existential features. (1) What is an example of anguish in your life? (2) What is an example of abandonment in your life? (3) What is an example of despair in your life? I mean, find everyday examples that illustrate this in your own experience.

We'll keep talking about "Existentialism is a Humanism." Time permitting, we might review some of the metaphysical views of Sartre, to help you with our reading selection.

If you get a chance, look at:

1 April
Read our selection from Being and Nothingness.

3 April
Read Sartre's No Exit. Come ready to describe the play, and to offer both a Sartrean and a general existentialist interpretation of it. Here are some questions to think about (and wouldn't they make great pop-quiz questions?):
  • Where are Garcin, Inez, Estelle? Or: where do they think they are?
  • Does it mean something that they cannot find a mirror (a "glass")?
  • What do you think of Garcin's plan to help each other?
  • Does Garcin's motive in fleeing the war matter?
  • What matters to Estelle? In herself and in others?
  • What should we think of Garcin's goal: to convince another he is not a coward, that he is good?
  • Does it matter that the room is in Second Empire style?

5 April
Brief homework. Where are Garcin, Estelle, and Inez? And, for each of them, why is he or she there? ("Because they are dead" is true, but not a very good answer. Can you say more about why they, in particular, are in this particular place?) Write up your answer in a typed page or two, and turn it in at the beginning of class.

I found this: a version of No Exit with the playwright Harold Pinter playing Garcin. The room is VERY much not Second Empire style; the play is interesting to see.

Also, we had (with some humor) brought up Sartre's encounters with the crabs, and his play "The Condemned of Altona." A brief NY Times piece on this is here.

8 April
Read Sartre's The Flies. (You really should read Aeschylus's trilogy of plays, The Oresteia, if you have not done so in the past. You can get a copy of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides just about anywhere, and you can't really claim to be educated without having read these.) While reading, ask yourself (these would be good quiz questions):
  • What role does guilt play for the people of Argos?
  • What is the source of Zeus's power?
  • Why does Zeus fear Orestes?

10 April
We'll wrap up any observations about The Flies, discuss papers and paper format, and then I'll give you background on Beckett. Any questions or observations about Sartre can also be raised.

12 April
Beckett Waiting for Godot, Act I, in class.

15 April
Beckett Waiting for Godot, Act II, in class.

17 April
No class. Quest.

19 April
Alas, we should probably finish our Beckett! That should leave us some time for discussion of Beckett.

22 April
Before class, read "The Myth of Sisyphus." A few copies are floating around on the web; e.g., here. We will discuss background on Camus, and this work.

Soon we're going to read Camus's The Plague. There is a decent recorded reading available also. For example, at: audible. Obviously it's not cheaper than the paperback....

24 April
Read The Plague, part I (pages 1-64). The following would make great pop quiz questions for me to ask you:
  • What is Oran like? Where is it? On what sea or ocean?
  • What does Rieux do for a living?
  • What is the meaning, or what is revealed, by Rieux's first exchange with the journalist Rambert?
  • What is the first sign of plague?
  • What is the meaning of the old man with the cats that Tarrou writes about in his journal? (I mean: the old man who spits on the cats?)
  • Why are the city leaders reluctant to declare a plague? What do you think is the significance of them trying to ascribe to Rieux a "view" and of Rieux resisting this?
This is also a good day for me to accept first drafts of your papers on this day. The paper should be 6-8 pages, on one of the following questions, or another you arrange with me. Use the "analytic philosophy paper format" guide. Here are some suggested topics. You may propose others.
  • Are Garcin, Inez, and Estelle acting in bad faith? Why? It is easy to find conventional moral failings for the three, but what existential failings do they have?
  • What are the benefits (what problems does it solve?) and what are the costs (what problems does it raise?) for Heidegger's notion of being-in-the-world as a solution to classical problems of epistemology?
  • What, if any, are the similarities and differences between Sartre's Bad Faith and Heidegger's Authenticity?
  • Sartre says that Heidegger is, like him, an atheist. Is this right? What reasons are there to think it is right?
  • How do the condition and the choices of the characters in No Exit exemplify choices and difficulties that Sartre describes in his existentialism?
  • How do the condition and the choices of the characters in The Flies exemplify choices and difficulties that Sartre describes in his existentialism? If you're writing about The Flies, I really believe you should take the time to read The Libation Bearers.
  • Orestes tells Zeus that it doesn't matter if Zeus created the universe. Would Sartre's existentialism remain the same if a god existed? Focus on one specific aspect of his existentialism -- for example, the idea that values are created by choice.
  • How do Heidegger and Sartre balance their notions of facticity with the claim that we are free?
  • What, if any, similarities are there between Beckett's work and existentialism? Where do they differ? (A good thing to consider is the notion of authenticity....)

April 26
The Plague, part II (pages 65-164). While reading, ask yourself the following questions; they'd make good pop-quiz questions:
  • What is the meaning of Paneloux's sermon? What does it mean the plague really is?
  • What is Rambert's primary goal? Contrast Rambert with Grand -- what are their relative motivations? What are they spending all their (free) time doing?
  • What is Tarrou's proposal to Rieux? Does it mean something that Tarrou proposes it (as opposed to, say, a government program)?
  • What is Rieux's view on God and the plague?

April 29
The Plague, parts III and IV (pages 165-266). While reading, ask yourself and be prepared to answer questions about:
  • How do they now have burials during the plague?
  • Why does Camus spend such detail upon the death of Othon's son?
  • What is Paneloux's response to the child's death?
  • Why do you think that people find superstition comforting?
  • Why is Cottard flourishing during the plague?
  • What does Rambert do when he gets a chance to escape? Why? Similarly, what does Othon do when he can leave the stadium? Why?
  • What does Grand do when facing death?

1 May
The Plague, part V (pages 267-308). Homework: type up your clear, brief answer(s) to the following questions, which are mostly about section IV:
  • What did Tarrou mean when he said he has plague?
  • Why does Tarrou say it's harder to be a man than a saint?
You should also think about (but need not write about) the following questions):
  • What happens to Rieux's wife? What happens to Tarrou?
  • The novel ends with celebration. Why? To what does Camus mean to draw our attention?

3 May
Read Heidegger's "Question Concerning Technology." You might bring your B&T to class, so we can review together for a few minutes what we learned in B&T.

I've not received many peer review requests....

6 May
If you want to participate in the peer review, then
  1. send me an email as soon as possible that lets me know you want to participate, and in that email give me a 3 digit number (like your street address) that you will put on your paper in lieu of a name;
  2. bring you paper to class with the number only on it (no name); and
  3. I will randomly distribute them after class; and
  4. be ready to return them to me with comments by May 8.
In class, we will continue our discussion of Heidegger's "Question Concerning Technology."

8 May
Return peer review drafts!

Finishing our discussion of Heidegger's "Question Concerning Technology."

10 May
Can existentialism help us better navigate politics, or our relation to the environment? What have we learned from existentialism? What is existentialism?

Papers officially due. I will accept them up to the 15th without penalty.

13 May
Office hours 9:00 - 10:00 a.m. and 1:30 -- 3:00 p.m.

15 May
Final exam, in our regular classroom, 8:00 a.m. -- 10:00 a.m.. Yes, you read that right. Well, I don't write the schedules.

You may bring B&T, The Plague, No Exit, The Flies, The Geneology of Morals, a copy of "Existentialism is a Humanism," your copy of "The Question Concerning Technology," and if you like a copy of Being and Nothingness if you have one. Consider the following as worthy of study, along with the study questions from the midterm and any study questions concerning our readings:
  • What does Heidegger mean by "anxiety"? What does anxiety reveal?
  • What does Sartre say all existentialists have in common? That is, how does he define existentialism? Would you agree with his definition? Why or why not?
  • How does Sartre interpret and explain "anguish" (which is a common translation for angst and anxiety), "abandonment" and "despair" ?
  • What does Orestes mean in The Flies when he says there is another way? What is his epiphany?
  • Why don't the characters of No Exit leave the room?
  • What would Sartre recommend the subjects in Milgram's experiment do? How should they understand their situation?
  • What are Vladimir and Estragon waiting for, in Waiting for Godot? Should they keep waiting? What does it mean (that is, what does Beckett appear to mean to assert by showing) that they wait without any result? Would Sartre recommend we wait? Would Heidegger? Would Nietzsche? Would Camus?
  • Why does Paneloux decide he will not accept the care of a doctor? Why does the death of Jacques Othun cause him to commit to this? Contrast his view with Rieux's notion that the job of a doctor is to resist the order of creation.
  • What does Tarrou mean when he says (in part IV, before he actually gets the biological plague) that he too suffered from plague? What kind of plague?
  • Nietzsche took as one of his tasks opposition to nihilism. What is nihilism? How do Heidegger, Sartre, Beckett, and Camus variously respond to (the possibility of) nihilism?
  • Consider Heidegger's "Question Concerning Technology." According to Heidegger: What is the essence of technology? What is challenging forth? What is enframing? What is Bestand (standing-reserve, inventory)? What is the possible saving grace that may exist within techne?
  • What is existentialism? Of the philosophers and writers we've read, who is an existentialist, who is not, and why?

16 May
Frolic, with anxiety.