PHL314 Existentialism
Professor: Craig DeLancey
Office: MCC 212A

Past Assignments
26 August
Reading: read sections 1 and 2 of David Strauss, the first Untimely Meditation. Optional are sections 4-6.

In class, we will review David Strauss, Nietzsche's background, and then the opening of this reading.
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. Then we will introduce the philosopher Schopenhauer.

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 it now makes it unclear how we are to find purpose and values. 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, 5, and 6 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.

I know I gave you a lot of practices already! I wanted to make you think about Nietzsche on your own. We'll have a breather while we discuss phenomenology and start Heidegger.
4 September
Some important contextual material:
  • Some last thoughts about the Untimely Meditations.
  • The method of phenomenology, and existential phenomenology.
  • Introductory background on Heidegger.
9 September
Hold onto your socks. Read chapter 1 of Being and Time, along with the little introduction to part one; this is likely pages 65-77 in your book (assuming we have the same pagination). We are skipping the introduction, which is valuable but about method and about Heidegger's long term goal. I recommend that you start reading Polt if you got a copy of that book.

You may find this first dip into Heidegger difficult -- don't worry. Do your best, and as we become comfortable with his way of writing, you'll find it is much easier to understand than you might expect.
10 September
Reading: read chapter 2 of Being and Time. This is the chapter on being in. Very important.
Reading: read chapter 3, sections 14 and 15, of Being and Time.
18 September
Reading: read chapter 3, sections 16 and 18, of Being and Time (section 17 is optional).

Practice: 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. Should only take a page or two.
(Note: up to now I've been giving little feedback on the practices because I only asked for your opinions. From hereon, I'll be asking you to correctly apply existentialist concepts, so I'll be grading more rigorously to be sure that you know whether you understand and can apply the concepts.)
21 September
Reading: read chapter 3, sections 19-21, of Being and Time (sections 22-24 are optional).

Practice: In section 16, Heidegger introduces three new technical terms for how something ready-to-hand can become present-at-hand for us. These are "conspicousness" (when some equipment breaks), "obtrusiveness" (when some equipment is absent) and "obstinacy" (when some equipment is in the way).
Do some phenomenology. When for you has some ready-to-hand bit of equipment become conspicuous and therefore present-at-hand for you? Describe this; how did the uses (the "towards which" and significance) of that equipment become clear to you when the equipment became conspicuous?
Do the same twice more, describing a case of obtrusiveness and a case of obstinacy.

NOTE: You can pick up your ticket to the Bacchae starting Monday. You need to go to the box office. I'm going to the play on October 30, and encourage everyone else to go October 30. That's a Friday, and we'll be discussing Nietzsche and the play for the 3 classes before then, so the timing is good. But you can get a ticket for another night if you have a conflict with the 30th. They'll ask you about your night when you ask to pick up your ticket.
25 September
Reading: read chapter 4 of Being and Time. NOTE: You can pick up your ticket to the Bacchae starting Monday. You need to go to the box office. I'm going to the play on October 30, and encourage everyone else to go October 30. That's a Friday, and we'll be discussing Nietzsche and the play for the 3 classes before then, so the timing is good. But you can get a ticket for another night if you have a conflict with the 30th. They'll ask you about your night when you ask to pick up your ticket.
28 September
I'll be out of town giving a talk. I recommend that you gather still in class, and discuss Das Man and authenticity. What is authenticity? Are you authentic? Do you ever obey Das Man? Or do you always create your own way of being in the world? (Remember: Das Man would sleep in on Monday, and not go to class, 'cause that'd be what the cool kids are doing.) Try as a group to come up with some questions for me, for when I return.

I'm trying to discover what the situation is with the tickets. I'll keep you informed.
30 September
Read sections 35-38, and that little intro to 35 under the label "B".
2 October
Read sections of 28-31 of Being and Time. If you can manage it, read all of chapter V.

Please note: I can't have office hours today.
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.
5 October
Read B&T sections 39-41, 43 intro, 43a, 43c, and 44b and 44c.

Practice! 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, das Man?
7 October
Read B&T Division II, sections 45 and 50.

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.

9 October
Read B&T Division II, sections 51-53.

12 October
Read B&T Division II, sections 54-58, 60.

Practice: 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.

BTW: note that in section 60, the paragraph that falls over pages 343-344 (297 in the German) is a paragraph summarizing what Dasein is.

14 October
Midterm. Heidegger and Nietzsche. Most of the test will require short answers. You may bring and use your copy of Being and Time and The Untimely Meditations. You may not use class notes or any secondary sources (such as the Dreyfus book or the Holt book).

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 reaction to Darwin (What does Darwin tell us about ourselves? What are the implications for Nietzsche of this revelation?)
  • Nietzsche's idea of the Saint, Philosopher, and Artist. See section 5 of Schopenhauer as Educator.
  • Dasein
  • World, Being-in-the-world
  • Circumspection (involvement)
  • Ready-to-hand
  • Present-at-hand
  • Towards-which and for-the-sake-of-which
  • Significance
  • What it means to say Dasein is: being-in, being-in-the-world, fallen, a they-self.
  • Das Man
  • Attunement ("State-of-mind")
  • Idle talk, curiosity, ambiguity (which together constitute fallenness)
  • Angst ("anxiety")
  • Existence, potentiality-for-being
  • What it means that Dasein must die alone
  • Resoluteness
  • Authentic and inauthentic ways of being for Dasein
16 October
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?
Practice. 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.

NOTE: We'll start class with a discussion of the "Heidegger problem." This might push us a bit off schedule; we'll see.
19 October
1. We'll start by reviewing the midterm. I will post soon, in the study questions, my rubric. I have already posted midterm grades; they are approximate and very sensitive to skipped homeworks. That is, some folks wrote very good exams but skipped a few homeworks, and this brought their grade down a letter. Also, if you give me a homework late, I will get to it, but it may take me weeks to do so. I don't rush to grade late homeworks. The midterm average was 42. The standard deviation was 14.

2. After reviewing the midterm, 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.

3. If you get a chance, look at:

21 October
Read our selection from Being and Nothingness.
23 October
Read: Sartre's No Exit.

Practice: 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?) Most importantly: try to look at their situation through Sartre's eyes. Give an existential analysis of their situation. Write up your answer in a (preferably typed) page or two, and turn it in at the beginning of class.

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 while reading:
  • 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?
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.
26 October
Read: Sartre's The Flies.
Practice: A homework. Answer the following questions. Your answer to these questions should attempt to be an existentialist analysis. That is: apply the concepts that Sartre has developed.
  • What role does guilt play for the people of Argos?
  • What is the source of Zeus's power?
  • Why does Zeus fear Orestes?
Remember please that these practices are 40% of your grade. I think that they're very important because by practicing and applying the concepts of existentialism, you get a deep understanding of their meaning, and how to use these ideas. People who have consistently done the practices are proving very adept at things like giving an existential analysis.

(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. Also, there is a version on YouTube, though I haven't watched it....)
28 October
Read: the selection from Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy.

This will be our Nietzschean interlude. We will consider any last thoughts about The Flies. Then, we'll interrupt our studies of Sartre to read some of Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy. This will culminate with our viewing of the The Bacchae. Rumor says that Nick C will be channeling the destructive spirit of Bacchus.

You might find this really fun! Three decent biopics by the bbc on Nietzsche, on Heidegger, and on our beloved Jean Paul Sartre. Some of these are at a few moments (especially in the narration) too simplistic, but they're mostly very good and quite fun.
30 October
Continuing our discussion of N's B of T. Also: do the exisentialists allow for any irrational force in human life? If not, should they?

The Bacchae, 7:30 p.m.
2 November
Read: the selection from chapter 1 of Simone De Beauvoir's book The Ethics of Ambiguity. You should have been emailed a scan of selections from the book.

Practice: in a page or less, what does De Beauvoir mean by "ambiguity"? And what justifies an existentialist ethics, according to De Beauvoir?

In class, we'll wrap up reflections on The Bacchae and Nietzsche; discuss papers and paper format; and then discuss Beauvoir.
4 November
Read: read the selection from chapter 5 of Simone De Beauvoir's book The Ethics of Ambiguity.

Practice: in a page or less: according to De Beauvoir, is violence ever justified? What are her reasons for her conclusions with respect to violence?
6 November
Summary of De Beauvoir and Sartre. Some first thoughts on Camus.
9 November
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....
11 November
Read The Plague, part I (pages 1-64). The following will be excellent quiz questions for me to ask you at the beginning of class:
  • 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 begin accepting first drafts of your papers, if you want me to read drafts. 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....)

13 November
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?
16 November
The Plague, parts III and IV (pages 165-266).

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?

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?

18 November
The Plague, part V (pages 267-308). 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?

20 November
Read the lecture by Heidegger, "The Question Concerning Technology." I will email a copy to you, but here also is a copy.

Homework: What is the essence of technology? What is challenging forth? What is enframing? What is Bestand (standing-reserve, inventory)? Why do you think that Heidegger sees this way of understanding beings as a kind of threat?
23 November
Continuing with the lecture by Heidegger, "The Question Concerning Technology." And we can get a start on Becket.