Introduction to Existentialism

PHIL 219, Spring 2010

Tues/Thurs 10:30-11:45

Prof. Jacqueline Mariña

Department of Philosophy

Office:  BRNG 7134, 4-4833


Office Hours:  I will generally be in my office after 2:45 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Description of Course:

This class will be an exploration of existentialist themes through an analysis of the philosophy of four major philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries:  Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre.  These themes will also be explored through their expression in literature and film:  we will read literature by Dostoyevsky and Kafka, as well as view and discuss the contemporary film District Nine.

Required Texts:

1.Existentialism:  Basic Writings, edited by Charles Guignon and Derk Pereboom, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis:  2001.  ISBN:  0-87220-595-9.

2.Other material will be posted on Blackboard.

Our main text should be available at the following bookstores:  Follet’s, University Book Store, and Von’s.  Supplementary readings will be either on reserve at the undergraduate library or will be available on Blackboard, or both.

Course Requirements:

Quizzes (15%). A series of short 15-minute essay quizzes will test whether you are keeping up with the readings and understand the philosophical issues at stake in the material covered.  Unannounced quizzes may be given at any time.

Attendance and class participation (10%).  You are expected to attend every class and to participate in discussions.  Students will be penalized for excessive absences.

One short 4-5 page discussion starter (25%) that you will present in class.  The paper will explore an issue in the day’s reading and present three questions for discussion. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. 

Exams.  There will be an in-class mid-term (20%) and a much longer take-home final examination (30%). Exams will be comprehensive and will consist of essay questions. 

Tentative Course Outline and Readings:

Assignments and deadlines may be modified during the course of the semester. Reading of primary sources is absolutely essential.  I have provided links to on-line encyclopedia articles providing a very general background to the figures, as well as some other suggested background reading that will be very helpful to you in both your short papers as well as your take-home final.  In the event of a campus emergency, schedule and requirements are subject to change.

Week One:  Introduction to Existentialism:

January 12th:  Introduction to the course; Fundamental themes of Existentialism.  Please read:  Steven Crowell, “Existentialism,” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

January 14th:  Existentialism and the First Person Point of View.  Please read:  “Introduction to the Legacy of Existentialism,” in Existentialism, xiii-xxxviii.

Week Two:  Kierkegaard and the Reaction against Hegelianism.

January 19th:  Introduction to Kierkegaard:  Hegelianism and Kiekegaard’s Reaction Against it.  Please read:  Existentialism, p. 1-25 (This includes the excerpt from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit).

Also see:  William McDonald, “Søren Kierkegaard,” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

January 21st:  Religious Existentialism:  Fear and Trembling, “The Teleological Suspension of the Ethical,” in Existentialism, 26-66.

Week Three:  Religious Existentialism

January 26th:  Kierkegaard and the Absolute Duty Towards God.  Please read: Fear and Trembling, Problema II:  “Is there an Absolute Duty Towards God?” in Existentialism, 66-77.

January 28th:  Kierkegaard:  Subjectivity, Inwardness, and Despair.  Please read:  Fear and Trembling, Problema III, “Was it Ethically Defensible of Abraham to Conceal his Purpose from Sarah, from Eleazar, from Isaac?”  This section of Fear and Trembling available on Blackboard.

Please also read excerpts from Sickness unto Death and Concluding Unscientific Postscript, in Existentialism, 78-92.

Week Four:  Dostoevsky and Religious Existentialism

February 2nd:  God and Freedom:  Please read “The Grand Inquisitor,” from The Brothers Karamazov; available on Blackboard.

February 4th: Taking Stock:  Comparing the Religious Existentialism of Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky.  Class presentations (4).

Week Five: Nietzsche’s Genetic Account of Morality

February 9th:  Introduction to Nietzsche.   Please read:  Existentialism, 93-118.

Supplementary:  Robert Wicks, “Nietzsche,” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

February 11th:  A Genetic Account of Morality and “Ressentiment.”

Please read excerpts from Beyond Good and Evil and The Geneology of Morals posted on Blackboard.

Week Six:  Nietzsche

February 16th: Nietzsche, Geneology of Morals, continued. Excerpts from Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, posted on Blackboard. Presentations (3).

February 18th:  Nietzsche on the Death of God.  Please read Existentialism, 119-144.  Presentations (3).

Week Seven:  Nietzsche

February 23rd:  Nietzsche:  The Death of God and Perspectivalism.  Please read:  Existentialism, 144-171. Presentations (3).

Additional materials are posted on Blackboard.  

February 25th: Nietzsche:  The Overman and the Creation of Value.  Please read: Existentialism 172-181.  Presentations (3).

Week Eight:  Heidegger


March 4th: Introduction to Heidegger: Please read Existentialism, 183-210.

Supplementary:  “Martin Heidegger” in the IEP:

Week Nine:  Heidegger

March 11th:  Heidegger and the Question of Being.  Existentialism, 185-189; 211-221.

March 13th: Heidegger and the Phenomenological Tradition:  Critique of Husserl; the Worldhood of the World. Existentialism, 189-210; 221-230. 


Week Ten:  Heidegger, Alienation, and Thrownness.

March 23rd:  Heidegger:  The “They” & Everyday Being in the World. Existentialism, 231-236; additional material will be posted on Blackboard.  Presentations (3)

March 24th: Heidegger:  Language, Interpretation, Fallenness & Thrownness. Existentialism, 236-243; Also read Kafka, The Metamorphosis, on Blackboard. Presentations (3)

Week Eleven:  Heidegger, Care & Authenticity

March 30th:  Heidegger:  Care as the Being of Dasein. Existentialism, 243-246; additional material on Blackboard.

April 1st:  Authenticity and Being Towards Death.  Existentialism, 246-254.  Presentations (3).

Week Twelve:  Sartre

April 6th:  Introduction to Sartre.  Existentialism, 255-275.

April 8th:  Transcendence and the Nature of Consciousness: Sartre’s response to Husserl.  Existentialism, 276-289; 309-328.

Week Thirteen:  Existentialism and Film*

April 13th:  Showing of District Nine

April 15th:  Continuation of District Nine, presentations (4).

* During this week students are expected to read ahead for our continuation of Sartre (see the substantial amount of reading for weeks fourteen and fifteen) and to think about how existentialist themes, especially those having to do with Sartre and “the look” are illustrated in this film.

Week Fourteen:  Sartre:  Freedom, Determinism, and Bad Faith.

April 20th:  Freedom, Determinism, and Bad Faith, Existentialism 328-349.

April 22nd:  Bad Faith and “the Look.” Excerpt from Being and Nothingness posted on Blackboard, 340-375.

Week Fifteen:  Reflections on Sartre, Kafka, and District Nine.

April 27th:  Bad Faith and “the Look,” continued.  Excerpt on “the Look” from Being and Nothingness continued, 375-400.

April 29th:  The Look & Reflections on District Nine.   Presentations (4).

Books on reserve:

1.The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard, edited by Alistair Hannay and Gordon D. Marino, Cambridge: Cambridge Univerisity Press, 1997. (HSSE: 198.9 K54Z H195a 1998.)

2.The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche, edited by Kathleen Marie Higgins and Bernd Magnus, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996 (HSSE: 193 N558Z M275 1996.)

3.The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, edited by Charles B. Guignon.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1993.  (HSSE: 193 H362Z G943 1993.)

4.The Cambridge Companion to Sartre, edited by Christina Howells, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2008. (HSSE: 194 Sa77Z H839 1992).