Here's a syllabus from a section two years ago, which will give you and idea about the course. 



Philosophy 324


MTWTH January 7--January 31, 2002, 7:00-9:45 P.M.

Class meets in H-412 (also H-413 & H-414)


J. Michael Russell, Ph.D.

Professor of Philosophy and Human Services

California State University, Fullerton

Fullerton CA 92834

PHONE: (714) 278‑2752(Voice and Fax), Office:H 311-B

Web page: page, under construction, will provide a link to my outdated web page, which includes samples of articles written or in progress, course descriptions, vitae, etc..)


Catalogue course description: Prerequisite: Consent of instructor. An investigation of how themes in the writings of existentialist philosophers pertain to the life styles, actions, and feelings of the class participants.


For instructor's consent, attend first class, or or call Dr. Michael Russell (714) 278-3611



Course description:

This is an intensive experiential course that explores, on a personal level, how themes in the writings of Existentialist philosophers pertain to the lifestyles, actions and feelings of the class participants. The course entails interacting in a group format, about issues in ones personal life; these group interactions are interpersonal encounters which take place on a feeling level rather than one of abstract discussion.†† Not everyone would like, nor be well suited for, an experiential course of this sort. Therefore a pre-group interview and the instructor's permission to enroll are prerequisites which must be met.




†††† This experiential group is sufficiently unlike typical university classes that it seems fitting to take extra measures to fully inform and prepare potential class members for what the course entails.You are asked to read these remarks carefully and will be asked to sign something which acknowledges being informed and which also releases the State, University, and instructor from responsibility for your participation.


†††† The purpose of this group-format course is to provide a context for seeking to understand better and to express the personal experiences and choices and feelings of the participants, in connection with various themes of existentialist philosophy.The group will focus on and encourage paying attention to topics which are liable to be emotionally important to its members.Not everyone would like nor be well suited for this sort of introspective and emotional forum.Therefore, enrollment is limited to persons who have the consent of the instructor, and who indicate an understanding of the nature of the course and a readiness to be active participants.


†††† As a group member you may feel under situational or peer pressure to disclose feelings or experiences which you would prefer to not express.You are under no obligation to act on or talk about any specific matter which the instructor or anyone else suggests to you. You are expected, in general, to be a willing participant in the class, willing to focus your contributions on your own feelings about topics that may be awkward or sensitive. Persons who have a general unwillingness to participate in this way would be inhibiting to others, and are, therefore, not welcome in this course. This group‑format course promotes self exploration and expression for educational purposes.The same sort of thing is often done as a form of psychotherapy where the explicit objective is the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disturbances. This course is not offered with the aim of providing psychotherapy.Since the focus on discussion and expression of personal feelings and areas of personal conflict is identical with the sort of subject matter and expression that might also take place in psychotherapy, it is essential that you understand the difference, which consists in the explicitly stated objective.You will be asked to acknowledge in writing that you understand that this course is not offered as therapy nor for purposes of diagnosis nor treatment of psychological disorder.No systematic attempt is made to identify who in the group is or isn't "mentally healthy," and, in the absence of such a diagnostic context, no recommendation is made as to whether such exploration and expression is or isn't "good for" the persons involved.If you are currently in therapy you should discuss with your therapist whether a course of this sort is compatible with the diagnostic and treatment considerations being addressed there.If you suspect that the exploration and expression of emotional and personal issues might harmful for you, you should seek the advice of someone acting toward you in the capacity of a professional psychotherapist.†††


†††† Group members are expected to treat as confidential all personal disclosures made by persons in this class.Respect for confidentiality is of paramount importance, and is a condition for admission into the course.However, you should be cautioned that it is impossible to guarantee that members of the class will respect the confidentiality of what you say. There are further qualifications to confidentiality.I may have an obligation to inform appropriate persons or agencies in the event that I believe someone is at significant risk (e.g., if I learn of plans for suicide, homicide, or the likelihood of some situation in which there might be current child abuse).I may consult with other professionals about matters that pertain to things you have said in confidence.For purposes of teaching and scholarship I may draw from materials arising from this and other groups, guided by discretion and concern to protect privacy and anonymity.


†††† A possible risk of a class of this sort is that there may be persons who express themselves in ways that are hurtful to others.A presumption of the group is that each participant is fully responsible for their decision to be a member, and for decisions about what to do or to refrain from doing.


†††† Regular attendance is extremely important: you are expected to attend all meetings.If an illness or emergency is going to prevent you from attending a meeting it is important to call the instructor in advance of the class.Failure to make a reasonable effort to notify me that you are going to be absent may be grounds for your being dropped from the course.






I have read the preceding description of Philosophy 324, Existential Group, and understand the nature of the course.In consideration of being allowed to participate in the above‑described course, I hereby release and forever discharge the State of California, the Trustees of The California State University and each and every officer, agent, and employee of each of them (hereinafter collectively referred to as the "State") from all claims, causes of action, or demands of every kind which I may have in the future or that any person claiming through me may have in the future against the State by reason of any injury to person or property, or death, in connection with my participation in the above‑described activity.I understand and agree that the role of the instructor in this course is entirely and only in his capacity as an employee of the State and is utterly independent of any other profession or practice he may conduct.Further, I agree to indemnify the State for liability arising solely from my tortuous acts or omissions, and I assume the risk of traveling to and from the site of the activity.I have read this Release, and understand the terms used in it and their legal significance.This Release is freely and voluntarily given with the understanding that rights to legal recourse against the State are knowingly given up in return for allowing my participation in the activity described.


Participant's signatures and date:








RECOMMENDED:  Steven Luper, Existence: An Introduction to Existential Thought, Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000, ISBN 0-7674-0587-0)


 Tolstoy, The Death Of Ivan Illych, Bantam Press ISBN 0553 210 35 1

Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground, Bantam ISBN 0553211447

Kafka, The Metamorphoses & Other Stories, Penguin ISBN 0 14 02 8336

Camus, The Stranger, Vintage, ISBN 0 679 72020 0


Other materials will be zeroxed or downloaded, including:

Sartre, "No Exit"




You are to submit a paper to each class meeting, from the second meeting to the next-to-last one, which covers specific requirements I announce.It is possible that we will decide in class to exchange or share these papers.The general format for papers will be this:(1) You should respond to key points I may have made of a "lecture" sort, for each day prior to the day the paper is due.(2) You are to respond to and elaborate on key events from the group interactions focusing on you as a participant, or on your own feelings occasioned by what others bring in.For reasons of confidentiality, be careful about how much you say about others: in any case the focus should be on you, your feelings, your beliefs, your conflicts.(3) You are to respond in a personal way to key themes from the assigned reading, including reading due the same day the paper is due.The point here is not to establish your having accurately grasped the author's views, but to take the occasion to develop your own thoughts and explore your own experiences, in light of your understanding of some of what the author says.Some of the writings are extremely obscure.Even the philosophy students will have a hard time with some of this, and the non-majors will feel utterly lost.Usually I will offer some explanation before and after you have done the reading, but maybe Iíll lose you too!Just do what you can with the material.

These three parts should each be 150 words in length, typed.While there is considerable latitude to how you may go about these, I will not accept papers that are too insubstantial or do not evidence a serious effort to make personal application of the materials from lecture, group, and reading.††


Assignment schedule, assignments will be announced, typically 1 per class from the list below.I will try to give a "mini-lecture" before each of these reading assignments.With or without that assist, your job is to try and get something out of the reading that you can apply personally.I will suggest here some ideas to consider for that objective.


Dostoevsky, "Notes From Underground" (P. 411)

This Underground Man vacillates between wanting to be known and wanting to be an enigma.How does this fit you as a participant in this group?Are you willing to identify aspects of yourself that you anticipate you will be reluctant to explore?

The Underground Man thinks it's ridiculous that people always do what is to their advantage.Sometimes we do things just to assert that we are free and unpredictable.On the other hand, it would be gratifying to have some sort of identity, even something unpleasant, like "beinga sluggard."How does any of this fit you?

The Underground man claims to be motivated by "spite."Can you apply anything like this to yourself?



Sartre, "The Humanism of Existentialism" (P. 264)

Sartre thinks we run away from our freedom by claiming to have a fixed and settled "nature," or "essence."By now each of us inthis group has probably suggested a picture of ourselves to the others about who we "are".How do you think you have been portraying yourself so far.(E.g., too old, too young, too healthy, too this or that for this group of people to relate to.)

Sartre says when we choose, we choose for others.Looking at yourself in the context of this group, how do you think you have been inviting others to see you?


Tolstoy, The Death OfIvan Illych (in Neider)

Ivan led a most "ordinary" life, and yet seems in some way to have done it all wrong?What's wrong with his life?How do you compare?

Who in this story do you think a caring person?

What are your ideas about how you do or do not want to approach your own death?


Kafka, "An Imperial Message" (P 430)

Suppose this is a message to you.What's the message?


Kafka, "Before the Law" (Xerox distribution) from The Trial

Suppose you are, at once, the doorkeeper, the man seeking the Law, and that which is being sought.How do you stand in your own way, your own doorkeeper?


Kierkegaard, "Subjective Truth, Inwardness; Truth Is Subjectivity," from Concluding Unscientific Postscript (P. 81)

Kierkegaard's idea about a relationship with God also has application to interpersonal relationships: there is an inverse relationship between "objective evidence" and "subjective truth."How might this apply to you and significant relationships you have (or don't have)?


Kierkegaard, "Rotation of Crops," from Either/Or (P 30)

Kierkegaard presents a dialogue between an advocate of the "aesthetic" life of maximizing experience, and the "ethical" life of commitment.How does this apply to relationships you have had?


Kierkegaard, from The Sickness Unto Death"

How does Kierkegaard's account of despair over "having a self" fit you?


Nietzsche, "The 'Genius of the Species'" (P 134)

Nietzsche asks, "What then is the purpose of consciousness generally, when it is mainly superfluous?"By now, as a member of this group, you may have become distrustful of the idea that we are generally conscious of the nature of our engagements.Reflect on this.


Nietzsche, from A Geneology of Morals (P 177)

Nietzsche thinks that "slave morality" rationalizes powerlessness as being virtue.How might some of your values fit this description?


Heidegger, "The Existential Constitution of the There," from Being and Time(P 240)

Heidegger presents mood (affect) as a form of knowing or being attuned to our being.Many of us have been encouraged to disregard mood and feelings.How does this apply to you?


Heidegger, "Falling Prey and Throwness," from Being and Time (P 244)

Idle talk, curiosity,, and ambiguity are trademarks of being inauthentic.How does this apply to your participation in this group?

Do you think it is possible for you to comprehend the idea of your own death?When you try to address the question of what your death means to you, how do you find yourself looking at the way you are conducting your life?


Kafka, Metamorphosis

Suppose you awake from a dream in which you found you had, overnight, transformed into a huge cockroach.What would that mean to you, in terms of how you are living your life?


Sartre, "Negations," from Being and Nothingness(P278)

Sartre holds that all consciousness is negation: we experience our situations in terms of what is missing or lacking.How does this fit you?


Sartre, "Patterns of Bad Faith" from Being and Nothingness (P 293)

Try applying to something about yourself the analysis Sartre gives of the woman in "bad faith" who tries to run from "facticity" by affirming "transcendence" and vice versa.


Sartre, "Love, Language, Masochism,"and "Indifference, Desire, Hate, Sadism," from Being and Nothingness†† (P 309)

How does this fit you: that we vacillate between trying to get an identity from another by being loved, and give an identity to another through sexuality?


Sartre, from No Exit (P 432)

Hell is other people because they can see better than we can the choices we make.How does this apply to being in a group like this?


Camus, from The Myth of Syphus (P 389)

Reflect on the idea that you have been engaged in an absurd project, analogous to Sisyphus' being condemned to forever roll that rock up a hill.