PHL314 Existentialism
Professor: Craig DeLancey
Office: MCC 212A

Past Assignments
24 January
An overview of the course. We will think of our study within the following framework:
  • Pre-existentialism: Nietzsche, Dostoevsky
  • Method: Husserl's phenomenology and the Hermeneutic Circle
  • Existentialism:
    • Heidegger
    • Sartre
    • de Beauvoir
    • early Camus
    • Applications: Fanon
    • Contrasts: Beckett
  • Post-existentialism: late Camus
  • SPECIAL FOCUS: the politics and political theories (and big public political fights!) of the existentialists.
28 January
Read the handout I gave you from Nietzsche.
31 January
Read The Genealogy of Morals part 1 before class.
2 February
Read The Genealogy of Morals part 2 before class.

Totally optional: you may also find interesting these interviews with German scholar J. P. Stern on Nietzsche.
4 February
CLASS ONLINE: Given the apocalyptic snow predictions, let's meet online. Here is the link:

We'll discuss the method of the existentialists. Please note, on BlackBoard are some easy questions about The Genealogy of Morals, which will help you practice recall of his basic distinction. I'm also adding an extra-credit problem!
7 February
Reading: Read the selection from Husserl that is available on BlackBoard. It is called "The Idea of Phenomenology." You need only read pages 1-5; the remaining pages are optional.

Practice:Answer the questions on BlackBoard about Nietzsche.

Extra practice (deadline 2/11): Here's an extra-credit problem. Read selection, "The Grand Inquisitor," from The Brother's Karamazov. Or: watch the Gielgud dramatization that is here. An online readable version is at: here. Answer the question on BlackBoard which is: "What is the primary criticism that the Inquisitor makes of Jesus?"
8 February
Apologies! I have conflicts today and will have to move my office hours to Wednesday (which will then at least be in person!). I hope that's OK! Email me if you want to talk today, though, and I can make some time between appointments!
9 February
We begin Being and Time! Read section 9 of chapter 1 (we are going to skip the introduction of the book; also, sections 10 and 11 of chapter 1 are optional reading). Bring the book to class--we are going to examine the text closely together.

Practice:There are some questions on Blackboard.

FYI: an alternative perspective on Heidegger from Dreyfus:
Bert Dreyfus lecturing on Heidegger I

Bert Dreyfus lecturing on Heidegger II

Bert Dreyfus lecturing on Heidegger III

I don't agree with some of Dreyfus's interpretation of Heidegger, but it's interesting and valuable.

Office Hours: I will have office hours in my office from 3:00 - 4:30. First in-person hours! Sorry I have too many meetings.
10 February
Office hours 9-11 are at:
11 February
Reading: read chapter 2 of Being and Time (both sections 12 and 13). This is a short chapter, fear not!

Practice: There are some questions on Blackboard.

A few of you wrote to me that the questions are hard! Some hints: remember he is using "present-at-hand" as term for the kinds of things that are not Dasein, like rocks or chairs. How do those things interact with each other? Not through planned actions, for example--they don't plan! Nor through concerns or hopes or other kind of relations Dasein can have. And also: if we know about objects through theories, for example, then is that how we first come to understand those things and interact with them? If a small child uses a spoon, do they first have to have a theory about spoons, how spoons work, etc? And you may have a theory about how your bicycle works, but do you use that theory to ride your bicycle? Finally, remember that ontical features of you (as a Dasein) are facts that are particular to you; ontological features of you (as a Dasein) are things shared by all other Dasein.
14 & 16 February
Reading: read chapter 3, sections 14-16, of Being and Time.

Practice on BlackBoard: Two tasks: (1) name one thing that is typically ready-to-hand for you, and describe when it is ready-to-hand (I mean, under what kinds of activities or conditions?). And (2) name one thing that is present-at-hand for you and describe when (that is, during which kind of activity) it is present-at-hand.
18 February
Reading: read chapter 3, section 18, of Being and Time. (Section 17 is recommended but is optional.)

Practice: This is on BlackBoard. In section 16, Heidegger introduces three new technical terms for how something ready-to-hand can become present-at-hand for us. These are "conspicuousness" (when some equipment breaks), "obtrusiveness" (when some equipment is absent) and "obstinacy" (when some equipment is in the way).
Do some phenomenology. When for you has some ready-to-hand bit of equipment become conspicuous and therefore present-at-hand for you? Describe this. And: how did the uses (the "towards which" and significance) of that equipment become clear to you when the equipment became conspicuous?
Do the same twice more, describing a case of obtrusiveness and a case of obstinacy.

Class is online today. Here's the link for class: .

Office hours online from 3:00 - 4:30 pm, here's the link:
21 February
Reading: read sections 26 and 27 (you should read all of chapter 4, but I appreciate that you're busy!) of Being and Time.

The remainder of chapter 3 is very interesting and important but we are skipping it just because we have so much we want to cover together. But I recommend you read it if you have the time to do so.

Optional/Extra-credit Assignment: answer the question on Blackboard, which is: Heidegger claims that Dasein is for the most part Das Man. What do you think this "Das Man" is? Can you explain it in your own words?

Hey, I want to point out that this is as hard as it gets. Heidegger will get easier, and everyone we read after Heidegger is much easier to understand. So, work hard and you will understand Heidegger, and then you'll be well prepared to understand Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus and Fanon.
23 February
Reading: read sections 29-30 of chapter 5 of Being and Time.

I'll have office hours from 3:00 - 4:30 pm in my office in MCC212A.
25 February
I screwed up! Mina pointed out the extra-credit on section 27 was not up on BlackBoard. I fixed that! Try to do it this week if you can.

Reading: read sections 31-32 of chapter 5 of Being and Time.
28 February
Read sections 35, 36, 38.

Practice! This is on BlackBoard. Write a brief description of an instance of idle talk in your own life; and of curiosity (in Heidegger's sense of inauthentic greed for the new) in your own life. How do they arise from a they-self, Das Man?
2 March
Read B&T section 40! Super important section! If you can face up to the eternal return and be authentic, then also read 41, 43a, 43c, and 44b and 44c.

Practice:. This is on BlackBoard. Write in complete sentences. This one is tough! It will require you to do some serious phenomenology. Do your best. Heidegger argues in section 29 that "state-of-mind" (much better translation is Stambaugh's "attunement") is something Dasein always has. In 30 he gives an ontical analysis of the attunement of fear. An attunement has three features: it discloses (shows to you) your thrownness; it discloses being-in-the-world as a whole; and it allows for things to "matter" to you.

You must pick another attunement (other than the ones that we have discussed, which were anger, boredom, and fear). In a page or two, write up how it discloses your thrownness and your being-in-the-world; and how it allows something to matter to you.
4 March
Read B&T Division II, sections 45, 50, 52, 54, and 60.

Practice: Let's pressure test Heidegger. Spend half an hour thinking about your death. You'll be sore tempted to think about it for five minutes, but really try to think hard and long. Imagine ceasing to exist, the world continuing (for a while) after you, and your projects now abandoned. How does it make you feel about your projects, your purposes? Do you feel like resoluteness towards death is possible? Write up your response in a page or so. This can be handed in at class or via BlackBoard.
7 March
Before class, read "Existentialism is a Humanism." Answer the questions on BlackBoard.
7 March
Before class, read "Existentialism is a Humanism." Answer the questions on BlackBoard.
9 March
Midterm. Heidegger and Nietzsche and a tiny bit of Sartre. Most of the test will require short answers. You may bring and use your copy of Being and Time and "Existentialism is a Humanism." You may not use class notes or any secondary sources.

Topics will include but not be limited to (and so you'll be expected to be able explain accurately but to an intelligent roommate):
  • Nietzsche's response to nihilism
  • The Ubermensch
  • The eternal return
  • Dasein
  • World, Being-in-the-world
  • Circumspection
  • Ready-to-hand
  • Present-at-hand
  • Towards-which and for-the-sake-of-which
  • Significance
  • Being-with
  • Das Man
  • the They-self
  • Attunement ("State-of-mind")
  • Idle talk, curiosity, ambiguity
  • Angst ("anxiety")
  • Existence, potentiality-for-being
  • What it means that Dasein must die alone
  • Resoluteness
  • Authentic and inauthentic ways of being for Dasein
  • What it means to say Dasein is: being-in, being-in-the-world, fallen, a they-self.
  • Sartre's concepts of Anguish, Abandonment, and Despair.
An interesting video of Heidegger, 30 years after Being and Time.
11 March
Read: The Flies
before class.

Practice: answer the questions on BlackBoard about The Flies. These are:
  • What role does guilt play for the people of Argos?
  • What is the source of Zeus's power?
  • Why does Zeus fear Orestes?
21 March
Read the selection from Sartre's Being and Nothingness before class. Get a start on No Exit also!
23 March
Read Sartre's No Exit.

Practice: answer the questions on BlackBoard.

Come ready to describe the play, and to offer both a Sartrean and a general existentialist interpretation of it. Here are some questions to think about:
  • Where are Garcin, Inez, Estelle? Or: where do they think they are?
  • Does it mean something that they cannot find a mirror (a "glass")?
  • What do you think of Garcin's plan to help each other?
  • Does Garcin's motive in fleeing the war matter?
  • What matters to Estelle? In herself and in others?
  • What should we think of Garcin's goal: to convince another he is not a coward, that he is good?
  • Does it matter that the room is in Second Empire style?
Where are Garcin, Estelle, and Inez? And, for each of them, why is he or she there? ("Because they are dead" is true, but not a very good answer. Can you say more about why they, in particular, are in this particular place?) These questions on are BlackBoard. There are also some EC questions about The Flies.

I found this: a version of No Exit with the playwright Harold Pinter playing Garcin. The room is not in Second Empire style; the play is interesting to see; I very much disagree with the director's choice to have it end in laughter.

Also, we had (with some humor) brought up Sartre's encounters with the crabs, and his play "The Condemned of Altona." A brief NY Times piece on this is here.
25 March
Reading: get a start on The Ethics of Ambiguity, and read chapters 1 and 2. I know it's a long part, but it's not hard!
30 March
Homework: answer the question online about The Ethics of Ambiguity.

Read Ethics of Ambiguity, chapter 3. This chapter is where SdB develops her positive theory of existentialist ethics. Pay very close attention. Does she have a convincing argument that we are invested in the freedom of others?

Re-read section 28 of Being and Time.
31 March
Office hours 2:00-4:00 at .
1 April
Read "The Myth of Sisyphus," which is the short epilogue to the book by that name. We'll introduce Camus.
4 April
Re-do: If you want to rewrite any of the answers on your midterm, you may do so and turn them in during class this day (just a write up of your answer can be handed in to me). Answer the question correctly, but also explain what you did wrong in your previous answer, and why you got confused. Hand in your test and the new answers. I'll give you extra-credit. Just hand them in at the beginning of class like a homework.

Read "The Myth of Sisyphus." This is the final essay of a book-length essay called The Myth of Sisyphus. A copy is on BlackBoard. It's about 3 pages long--very short.

A fun video to listen to: Aragorn reads a translation of Camus's 1946 speech in New York, "The Human Crisis." You might decide the skip the introduction and background, which is 16 minutes and 18 seconds long.
5 April
Office hours 9:00-11:00 am at .
6 April
Quest. There's a philosophy session from 11:00 - 12:00 in MCC210. Why not join us for an hour!

I will have in-person office house in MCC212A from 1-3 pm. This will be instead of my Thursday office hours.
8 April
Read the selection from The Rebel that's on BlackBoard.
11 April
Reading: "The Communist Manifesto" before class. Skip the preface(s); read the preamble and parts I and II. I recommend also the short section IV. An online version can be found at .

In class: What is existentialism? Then: existentialism and Marxism.
13-15 April
Last thoughts on Marx. Can an existentialist be a Marxist?

Then: a discussion of The Rebel. The Big Public Fight.
14 April
Office hours 2-4 at:

The philosophy club will meet at 5:30pm to watch an episode of Black Mirror called "Nosedive" in MCC room 242. The episode focuses on what social media and the quest for popularity and social acceptance can do to people. Room TBA.
18-22 April
I'll be in Arizona giving a talk and attending talks at a conference. We'll have some asynchronous online classes this week! Here is your assignment for the week:
  1. Read Dirty Hands. This is in the collection that we used of Sartre's plays. It is also on reserves in the library. There are also various editions in the stacks.
  2. Read Sartre's introduction to Fanon's book. Optional but very highly recommended is to read Fanon's essay "On Violence." This is on BlackBoard.
  3. Write a short (e.g., 3 pages should be enough) answer to the following question: What is Sartre's view on political violence? Does Sartre's view about violence and revolution change from when he writes Dirty Hands (first staged in 1948) to when he writes his introduction to Fanon's book The Wretched of the Earth (in 1961)? Cite specific passages or examples from the texts to make your case. How does either view (if they differ) cohere with existentialism? If his views changed, is the change consistent with existentialism?
You can answer this question in groups of any size! That is, you can hand in a paper with any number of co-authors. I'm recommending you get together in our class periods and discuss and debate how to answer the question. Why not write one paper from all of you? You can give it to me in class on Monday.
25 April
The Sartre-Camus-Beauvoir battle. Also, we'll discuss your thoughts about Sartre's views on violence--is this straight-forward consequentialism?

I'll have office hours in my office MCC212A from 3:00 -- 4:00 pm.
26 April
Office hours online 9-11 am at: .
27 April
Reading: The Fall pages 3-41. Ask ourselves: is the Judge Penitent a thing?

This book is very mysterious! I want us to try to figure it out together. Bring your copy to class so we can read along together. The library has a copy in the stacks PQ2605.A3734 C513 1960, and also a copy on reserves. Every used bookstore has a hundred copies. Don't annoy me by skipping this one.
28 April
DeLancey office hours 3-5 pm at
29 April
Reading: The Fall pages 42-97.
2 May
Reading: The Fall pages 98-end.

The infamous letters on consent, if we can find a copy!

Then, we'll start with "Waiting for Godot."
6 May
Other explorations of The Absurd: Waiting for Godot. No reading! We'll watch it in class. Then: whither existentialism?