Syllabus: Existentialism

Professor: Craig DeLancey
Office: MCC 212A
Office hours: MWF 1:30 -- 3:00

What is this course for?

In this class, we will be asking the most important questions: What is our purpose? What should our purposes be? If the universe is absurd, then what purposes, if any, are justified? By studying the answers of the existentialists, and by struggling to find your own answers, to these questions, you will develop the skills that are most essential to being a philosopher.

This class is an introduction to existentialism. Existentialism was a movement of 20th Century philosophy that focused on these questions, and offered powerful and difficult answers to them. By studying existentialism, you will acquire profound insights into your own existence.

Existentialism developed new methods of philosophy aimed to reveal the everyday nature of experience and of human existence; and which shared a set of concerns about the purpose of human being and the relation of this purpose to the nature of other kinds of being. Existentialism produced some of the most interesting and challenging philosophers of its time: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir.

Other goals of this class include to work on improving the following skills:
  • Writing. We will have many short writing assignments, and some longer ones.
  • Understanding complex texts.
  • Applying philosophical theories in new contexts.
We will work hard at these. Our goal is to ensure that you develop and improve these skills by the end of the semester.

How can you achieve these goals?

You must commit to studying the existentialist philosophers, and to applying their concepts to your own life.

This will require you to read closely these philosophers. The books we will be studying are:
  • A reader of selections from F. Nietzsche
  • Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
  • J. P. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, "No Exit"
  • Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity
  • Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
There will also be short readings or viewings available in various ways.

Knowing and Applying

As we study this material, we'll try to proceed always from understanding to application. That means you will have some practices that ask you to memorize certain terms and methods; and also some practices that ask you to apply that material.

Don't worry about grades, except as a way to determine what you need to put extra work into mastering. But the raw grade will be determined in the following way:
  • Practices and various in-class assignments 40%
  • Practice quizes 10%
  • Tests 30% (15% each)
  • Paper 20%


I am asking that no one use a computer or cell phone in class. I know that this is a catastrophe of some kind, but I have found that they always become terrible distractions. If you must use Snapchat or watch Netflix, just skip class.

College Policy on Intellectual Integrity

Intellectual integrity on the part of all students is basic to individual growth and development through college course work. When academic dishonesty occurs, the teaching/learning climate is seriously undermined and student growth and development are impeded. For these reasons, any form of intellectual dishonesty is a serious concern and is therefore prohibited.

The full intellectual integrity policy can be found at

Office Hours

In addition to the listed office hours, I encourage you to make appointments. I am available quite a bit. Please try to come to office hours with specific questions in mind. You can of course come with a general request for help, but it is always helpful if you spend a little time thinking about how I can best help you out.


By the end of this class, you should know:
  • Nietzsche's notion of what Darwin means for human purposes;
  • the basic concepts of Husserl's phenomenology;
  • the basic concepts of Heidegger's existentialism (e.g., Dasein, being at hand, present at hand, existential, existentiell, ontic, ontology, world, homelessness, reference);
  • Sartre's basic concepts of existentialism;
  • de Beavoir's attempt to create an existentialist ethics;
  • how to interpret Sartre's plays, Camus's novels, and Beckett's plays in light of existentialist concepts.


Our main themes can be outlined:
  1. Predecessors
    • Nietzsche faces nihilism
    • Kierkegaard embraces individualism
    • Freedom as burden: The Grand Inquisitor
  2. Method
    • Husserl and phenomenology
  3. Existentialists
    • Heidegger
    • Sartre
    • de Beauvoir
    • Almost: early Camus
  4. What is existentialism?
    • One perspective
  5. Post-existentialists
    • Late Camus


I will frequently update an online schedule. It is your responsibility to check the www pages for the class at least every other day!