PHIL 109: Existentialism

Instructor: Chris Latiolais

Course Goals:

The primary goal of this course is to introduce students to existentialism as a philosophical movement critical of the predominance of Graeco-Hellenic philosophy within the Western tradition (See detailed course description after Reading Schedule). Films are used as cinematographic artworks that raise important issues associated with particular existentialist figures. Paper assignments allow students to offer philosophical interpretations of such artworks.


Students will be evaluated on the basis of class participation, vocabulary quizzes, midterm examinations and a final paper.

Breakdown of Points of Evaluation

  • Participation: Classroom discussion, office hour conferences, email correspondence, and discussion with classmates (20%)
  • Responses: The purpose of a response paper is to hold us accountable to our reading. In the paper, identify core concepts from the readings and clarify, present, and explain them via artistic examples, personal experiences or other tangible material. One to three pages in length, double spaced. (5 @ 8 = 40%)
  • Midterm Paper: (1 @ 20 = 15%)
  • Final Paper: (1 @ 25% = 25%)


Students are expected to follow the reading schedule and to come to class prepared to actively discuss the texts they have read. More specifically, students must bring their texts to class with marginal notes, highlighted or underlined passages of particular importance, and pages marked where they have encountered difficulties in understanding the material. Quizzes offer students the opportunity to identify and to clarify central terms and concepts. The midterm assignments allow students to write response and an essay on key philosophical issues and arguments, and the final paper offers students the opportunity to respond in depth to a single topic. The final paper is due on the day scheduled for the final examination.

The following are basic policies:

  • Three unexcused absences will result in a full course grade reduction (exceptions allowed only with proper documentation).
  • Late papers are marked down a half grade per day (exceptions allowed only with proper documentation)
  • No active electronic devices such as computers, mobile phones, Blackberries, Blueberries, or any other electronic fruits and vegetables are permitted in the classroom, although recording devices are permitted if permission is granted.
  • All documented disabilities will happily be accommodated upon the student’s request.
  • An act of plagiarism will result in a failing grade for the specific assignment. A second act will result in an F course grade.
  • During seminar discussions, students must attend to the person holding the floor, responding to his or her contribution. In other words, no one-on-one lateral comments, which divert attention from the ongoing discussion.
  • All work must be turned in at the end of term, unless alternative assignments have been given by the instructor.

Required Texts:

  • Guignon, Charles & Pereboom, Derek: Existentialism Basic Writings: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre (Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 2001).
  • Zupancic, Alenka. The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2003.
  • Handouts:
    • Kierkegaard, Soren. Two Ages: The Age of Revolution and the Present Age: A Literary Review. Ed. & Trans Howard V. Hong and Edna H Hong. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978.
    • “The Wound,” Zizek, Slavoj. Absolute Recoil: Towards a New Foundation of Dialectical.

Recommended Literature:

  • Dreyfus, Hubert: Being In The World: A Commentary on Division One of Being and Time (Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1991).
  • Olafson, Frederick:
    • Heidegger and the Philosophy of Mind. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.
    • Principles and Persons: An Ethical Interpretation of Existentialism (John Hopkins Press, Baltimore 1967).
    • What is A Human Being? A Heideggerian View (Cambridge University Press, 1995).
  • Beauvoir, Simone de, The Second Sex (New York, Vintage Books, 1989).

Possible Films: (Shown on Wednesday Evenings)

  1. Network (American, 1976, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet).
  2. Babette’s Feast/Babettes Gaestebud (Danish, 1987: directed and written by Gabriel Axel, adopted from Isak Dinesen’s (Karen Blixen) story.
  3. The Hairdresser’s Husband (French,1990: written by Patrice Leconte and Claude Klotz, directed by Patrice Leconte)
  4. Nobody’s Fool (American, 1994: written and directed by Robert Benton, adapted from Richard Russo’s 1993 novel of the same name)
  5. The Conversation (American, 1974: directed by Francis Ford Coppola)
  6. Ikiru [To Live] (Japanese, 1952: written and directed by Akira Kurosawa)
  7. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Czech, 1984: adapted from Milan Kundera’s novel by the same name)
  8. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (American, 2003, directed by Gore Verbinski)

Schedule of Readings:

Historical Introduction: Western Philosophy between Athens and Jerusalem.

Week One:
  • Tuesday: Definition of Existentialism as the Voluntarist Critique of Intellectualism: The Aesthetics of Individual Existence:
    • Introductory Lecture.
    • Guignon, Introduction.
  • Wednesday Evening Film: Network (Dewing 103, 8:00 PM).

Kierkegaard’s Critique of Modernity: The Leveling of the Present Age:

  • Thursday: The Leveling of the Present Age & Pseudonymous Authorship as Rhetorical Strategy:
    • Two Ages: The Age of Revolution and the Present Age: A Literary Review
Week Three:
  • Tuesday: The Leveling of the Present Age & Pseudonymous Authorship as Rhetorical Strategy:
    • Two Ages: The Age of Revolution and the Present Age: A Literary Review

Kierkegaard’s Analysis of Defining Relations: Love of Another as Analogy for Faith

  • Thursday: The Demands of Pseudonymous Authorship Upon Kierkegaard’s Readers & Johannes de Silentio’s Admiration of Abraham.
    • Kierkegaard Introduction.
    • Fear and Trembling, Preface, “A Panegyric Upon Abraham” & “Problemata: Preliminary Expectoration”.
Week Three:
  • Tuesday: Knights of Faith; Knights of resignation.
    • Fear and Trembling, Preface, “A Panegyric Upon Abraham” & “Problemata: Preliminary Expectoration” [Continued].
  • Wednesday Evening Film: Babette’s Feast
  • Thursday: The Teleological Suspension of the Ethical & Religious Absolution.
    • “Problem 1” & “Problem 2”.
    • First Midterm Assignment.
Week Four:
  • Tuesday: Anti-Climacus’s Definition of the Self and Johannes Climacus’s Concept of Subjective Truth.
    • Sickness Unto Death.
    • Concluding Unscientific Postscript.
  • Wednesday Evening Film: The Hairdresser’s Husband
  • Thursday:
    • Discussion of The Hairdresser’s Husband
    • Review.

Nietzsche’s Early Dualism and His Later Concepts of Nihilism and the Will-to-Power:

Week Five:
  • Tuesday: The Apollonian and Dionysian
    • Nietzsche Introduction.
    • The Birth of Tragedy.
  • Wednesday Evening Film: Nobody’s Fool
  • Thursday: The Will-to-Power
    • The Gay Science.
Week Six:
  • Tuesday: Nihikism
    • Twilight of the Idols.

Allenka Zupancic’s Psychoanalytic Account of Nietzsche’s Concept of Truth and the Will-to-Power: The Shortest Shadow:

  • Thursday:
    • Introduction: The Event “Nietzsche”
Week Seven:
  • Tuesday:
    • “Nietzsche the Metapsychologist”
  • Thursday:
    • Noon: Troubles with Truth
Week Eight:
  • Tuesday:
    • Noon: Troubles with Truth (Continued)
  • Wednesday Evening Film: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (American, 2003, directed by Gore Verbinski)
  • Thursday:
    • Noon: Troubles with Truth (Continued)
    • Discussion of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Heidegger’s Concept of Being in the World: Care, Conscience and Authenticity:

Week Nine:
  • Tuesday: Husserl’s Phenomenology: Philosophy as Contemplative Reflection
    • Husserl Extract.
    • Lecture: Husserl’s Phenomenological Philosophy as the Foundations of Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence.
    • Editors’ Introduction to Heidegger Being and Time.
    • Introduction, Being and Time
  • Wednesday Evening Film: Ikiru (Dew 103, 8:00 PM)
  • Thursday: Heidegger’s Concepts of Authenticity: The “Concrete Situation”.
    • Being and Time.
Week Ten:
  • Tuesday: The Experience of Disruption Reveals Our Situation & Heidegger’s Critique of Transcendental Reflection
    • Being and Time (Continued)
    • NB: Additional Excerpt from Being and Time: Sections 54-60 [Handout]
  • Wednesday Evening Film: The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • Thursday: Heidegger’s Concepts of Authenticity: The “Concrete Situation”:
    • Being and Time.
    • Discussion of movies and text.