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 of philosophy: What is our purpose? What should our purposes be?

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.

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:
  • F. Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations
  • Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
  • J. P. Sartre, No Exit and Other Plays
  • Albert Camus, The Plague.
There will also be short readings or viewings available in various ways. These will likely include:
  • Nietzsche, selections of The Birth of Tragedy
  • Sartre, "Existentialism is a Humanism"
  • Beckett, "Waiting for Godot" and "Happy Days"
  • de Beauvoir, selections from "The Ethics of Ambiguity"
You will need to be able to apply these philosophical insights to your own life. We'll practice doing that in several ways: weekly practices of applications and a final paper. It is also useful to have some kind of test to discern what is, and is not clear to us, so we'l have two tests.

We also hope to integrate the study of the Bacchae and Nietzsche's work on tragedy into the course. The Bacchae is being done on campus during our semester, I will get you tickets so you can attend, and we may have an opportunity to talk with people involved in the play. This is a valuable opportunity to learn and apply some of Nietzsche's work on tragedy.

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 40%
  • Tests 30% (15% each)
  • Paper 30%

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;
  • how to interpret Sartre's plays, Camus's novels, and Beckett's plays in light of existentialist concepts.
  • basic features of de Beauvoir's application of existentialism to ethics.


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