Syllabus: Existentialism

Professor: Craig DeLancey
Office: CC 212A


This class is an introduction to existentialism, and to the questions with which the existentialist movement was concerned. Existentialism was a movement in 20th Century Continental philosophy which 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 one of the most interesting and challenging philosophers of its time -- Martin Heidegger -- and also was in various ways influential in 20th Century art.

Our approach will be roughly historical. We will start with Nietzsche as a philosopher who first articulated some (but not all) of the concerns that the existentialists shared. Then after a brief review of Husserl, we will spend the bulk of the course discussing the first half of Heidegger's Being and Time. We will follow this with a look a few of Heidegger's later essays, some of the essays and plays of Sartre, and the literary works of Camus and Beckett.

If you have a disabling condition which may interfere with your ability to successfully complete this course, please contact the Disability Services Office.


We will read a lot of material. There is simply no way to study existentialism without being willing to struggle with some difficult texts. If you won't read, don't take this course. Please understand: I want you to take this course and I think that this course is about some of the most exciting topics you can study -- but it is just too hard to understand if you are not willing to put in the time to do a lot of reading.

The following texts should be available in the book stores and are required for the course:
F. Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals.
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time.
J. P. Sartre, No Exit and Other Plays.
Albert Camus, The Plague.
The following text is not required but is very highly recommended and should be available in the book stores:
Richard Polt, Heidegger.
There will also be short readings on reserve. These will likely include:
A selection from Kierkegaard
Sartre, "Existentialism is a Humanism"
Heidegger, "Letter on Humanism"
Heidegger, "The Question Concerning Technology"
Beckett, "Waiting for Godot"
I'm still looking for some suitable short works by Husserl, so will likely expand this list also.

Assignments and exams

You will have two exams, periodic (nearly weekly) reading quizes or homeworks, two very short papers, and a class presentation (just a time when you'll be responsible to lead discussion on a section of text). The exams will ask basic questions about the theoretical aspect of the philosophies we will study. The papers will ask you to explain and perhaps apply some of the insights or methods of existentialists.

The weekly quizes or homeworks are to provide you with the chance to grapple with the readings in a critical way. For many readings I will post reading questions to consider while you read. Something very like some of these posted questions might then appear as questions on quizes.

I regret that I cannot accept homework by email. Also, I delete all the following emails unanswered: "I missed class today, can you tell me everything you said?" "I don't have the book, can you type up the problems/readings and email them to me?" "I know you don't accept homework by email, but can I email my homework to you until I come to class sometime and give you the hardcopy then or because that was cheaper for me than printing?"


The raw grade will be determined in the following way:
Exams: 30% (15% each)
Class quizes and assignments: 20% (evenly divided among quizes or assignments)
Class presentation: 10%
Papers: 40% (20% each)
If we skip the presentations, that 10% will go to quizes and assignments.

See my grading policy for an explanation of how I turn the raw grade into a final grade.

If you miss an exam and have an excused absence for the day you miss the exam, you may make it up, by special appointment with me, when you are able to come back to class. It is your responsibility to arrange any make-up exams as soon as you know you are going to miss the exam. Otherwise you may lose the opportunity to take the test, since I cannot give make-up exams after the class has gone over the answers.

Here is how you secure an excused absence: Only prior notification with credibly documented or easily verifiable reasons (e.g., medical visits to Mary Walker, documented participation in official sporting events, etc.) will result in excused absences. You must notify in writing, call, or email me prior to your absence from class. You must notify the Philosophy Dept. secretary, Jane Santore, before you are going to be absent, via email at, or by phone at x2249. However, you must make sure she knows your name, the number of the course, the date, and your easily verifiable reason, along with a request to forward the information to me. It is better to give your information to me, except when you are unable to communicate with my phone or email for some reason.

Please hold onto all of your assignments and exams. Sometime before the end of the semester I recommend that you ask me to review the grades that I have recorded to make sure that I have not made any mistakes.

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.

Pre-Reading and Additional Readings

I get often asked what other things might be helpful to read or what can be read before class starts. Here are some suggestions.

Before class, over break, you might consider reading: I wouldn't try reading Heidegger before class -- it might be discouraging!

Additional reading which you might try, in a rough order of relevance:


By the end of this class, you should know:


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