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Philosophy 323, Existentialism

 Spring 2004 Tuesday & Thursday 1:00-2:15, EC 32


J.      Michael Russell, Professor of Philosophy and Human Services


Note:  this syllabus is subject to change and is meant to give you a rough idea of what to expect in this course.  It is not offered as a binding contract. 


Office:  H-311-B, mailbox in H-312. 

Phone:  (714) 278-2752

Email jmrussell@fullerton.edu

Web:   http://jmichaelrussell.org

Office hours: 12-1:00 MTWR, appointments strongly advised as I will sometimes be in meetings elsewhere at these hoursEmail exchanges are very welcome, and "electronic office hours" will probably be announced during the semester.   


Course description:

Philosophy 323, Existentialism. Introduction to existentialist perspectives on freedom, meaning, responsibility, authenticity and self-deception. The course typically includes discussion of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre.
Prerequisites:  Completion of General Education requirement III-B-2, Introduction to the Humanities.


General education goals:

This course satisfies General education requirement III-B-2, Introduction to the Humanities, and is to address the following learning goals:

a. To understand the distinctive characteristics of the humanistic perspective. 

b. To understand the historical and cultural factors, in a global context, that led to

the development of the humanistic perspective.

c. To understand the differences between the humanistic and other perspectives, as

well as the differences among the humanistic disciplines.

d. To understand and appreciate the contributions of the humanities to the

development of the political and cultural institutions of contemporary society.

e. To be familiar with and understand major texts (both written and oral), key

figures, significant traditions, and important themes in the humanities.

f. To analyze the meaning of major texts (both written and oral) from both Western

and non-Western cultures, either in English or, if appropriate, in the language of

the texts being analyzed.

g. To apply the humanistic perspective to values, experiences, and meanings in

one’s own life, and demonstrate how understanding the humanities can shed light

on what it means to be human today.  


Please note that while this course does appropriately address these General Education concerns, and in a manner which does not presuppose familiarity with the field of Philosophy, the course is offered at a level appropriate to the motivation and interest of serious students and philosophy majors.  The materials considered are often obscure and challenging, and are not "watered down" or compromised for mere general interest.  

Specific learning objectives for this course:
Be able to explain clearly (in well-written essay form) the nature of existentialist philosophy
Be able to identify roots of existentialist philosophy including key ideas from early Greek philosophy, Descartes, Kant and Hegel
Be able to explain the main ideas of Kierkegaard's philosophy
Be able to explain the main ideas of Nietzsche's philosophy
Be able to explain the main ideas of phenomenology
Be able to explain the main ideas of Heidegger
Be able to explain the main ideas of Sartre
Be able to explain the main ideas of DeBeauvoir
Be able to explain the main ideas of Camus and other selected representatives of existentialist literature
Be able to explain the main ideas from discussions developed in class not anticipated in this list
Be able to critically evaluate and compare the above ideas

Anticipated outcomes:

Students who complete this course should be able to express themselves reasonably well about the central ideas relevant to each of the "objectives" above. Broadly, they should be able to demonstrate understanding of the relevance of existentialism and phenomenology to the humanities in context of intellectual history; they should see the difference between existential and, say, causal perspectives; they should appreciate the role this thought plays in contemporary culture; they should be familiar with key figures and texts; they should have some increase in confidence in reading difficult philosophical materials; they should be able to explain diverse ways in which these ideas pertain to their own lives.

Means of assessment:

There will be in-class essay type examinations in the sixth, twelfth, and sixteenth weeks of the class.  Students can improve their writing by making it a habit to write practice essays, and are welcome to submit these by email for feedback. Students are also encouraged to discuss class issues by email to a class web-page on Blackboard.  This is not "extra credit". However, it will broaden the basis for grading by contributing to my overall impression of you.



You are expected to use Blackboard, and to be aware of announcements made there. It is possible that there will be on-line assignments in lieu of class meetings.   Once you are enrolled in this course you are automatically signed up for Blackboard with the email address provided to you by the University.  You can change this so that you use your preferred email address.  If you do not have access to a computer off campus there are computers available to you on campus.  For information on how to get to and use your Blackboard account, see:





For further assistance call the University’s computer help-line:  278-7777.



 As with in-class participation, and other forms of interaction with me (such as electronically or in office), all this figures into my overall impression of you, and I may take that overall impression into consideration in determining your final grade.  Poor attendance figures negatively into my overall impression of you.  If you must miss a class, your showing me the courtesy of informing me in advance, or shortly after your absence, will lessen the negative impression. 


Because grades emphasize quality of writing you are encouraged to prepare for exams by frequently writing practice essays which express, evaluate, and compare major ideas presented in lecture and readings.  You are very welcome to submit practice writing to me in hard copy or (preferably) by email. 


To receive at least a grade of D, or "poor," the student should be able to give some evidence of understanding some basic ideas from all the "objectives" identified above, be able to express these in at least minimally acceptable English, and be able to indicate some relevant personal opinion about some of this.
To receive at least a grade of C, or "acceptable but less than good," the student should be able to do the above, with an acceptable demonstration of understanding the material, expressed at an acceptable level of writing. The C student might have a better than C level of understanding, hampered by poor writing, or a better than C level of writing, hampered by poor grasp of content. In this course "C" does not mean "average" and there is no reason, in principle, why all students might not be graded as at least "good."
To receive at least a grade of B, or "good," students must have a generally good grasp of the material, generally express this well, and have some relevant and interesting ideas or formulations of their own. Strengths in two of these areas may balance out weakness in a third.
To receive a grade of A, or "excellent," students must express themselves very well, demonstrate an understanding of main points and subtleties, and demonstrate insight or creativity or formulations or personal application or something indicative of excelling beyond work that is good.
Your final grade in the course will depend not only on the specific grades on written work and examinations, but also my impression of your attentiveness, preparedness, and participation. NOTE: I expect regular attendance, and may reduce your final grade by ˝ a grade for every two unexcused absences or four excused absences. An excused absence is defined as one about which you do the courtesy of stating to me in a timely way that you will be or were absent. If you arrive after I have taken role it is your responsibility to inform me of this on that day. I will be strict about the University restrictions on grades of Incomplete. I do not think I do anyone a favor by granting incompletes, and will be strongly disinclined to give any. These syllabi are supposed to include mention of policies on dishonesty, and on make up examinations. Policies regarding academic dishonesty will follow those stated in the University Catalog, pages 95-96. Basically, I expect written work to be your own, with collaboration appropriately acknowledged. Cheating or plagiarism could result in failing the course. Late papers are subject to lowering the grade that would otherwise be received. Make-up examinations are possible when there is what I think a good reason for missing an exam; however, as stated above, "A" grades mean you excel by comparison with others who do good work, and it is hard to make that comparison if you don't take an exam under comparable conditions, so it is harder to convince me that you excelled.

I may have a former student assist me in grading your work.



Steven Luper, EXISTING:  An Introduction to Existential Thought (Mayfield, 2000, ISBN 0-7674-0587-0)

Assume you will be allowed to bring your text to examinations, along with anything you can write longhand in the book, which can be read with the naked eye.  Assume that I will typically assign more pages than I really think everyone will read, including material more difficult than I really think everyone can understand.  The initial reading schedule is extremely demanding.  I may cut this down as we go along, but it will be difficult reading in any case.  The student who wants to get the most will read the material before I lecture on it, see what I turn out to emphasize, and read it again afterwards.  The student more interested in "just getting by" may prefer to wait until I have lectured and then read the things I've focused on. 



Tentative schedule:

1st  two weeks:  Overview of existentialism and of highlights of western philosophy.   Key themes from the history of Western Philosophy.  Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle. Greek philosophy ŕ Descartes, Empiricism, Kant.

Reading: Chapter 1, also excerpts from Dostoevsky's "Notes From Underground" (pp. 410), Sartre's essay "Existentialism is a Humanism ((264-276) Sartre's "Nausea" (431), Sartre's "No Exit" (432 –434).

3rd – 6th weeks.  Hegel and Kierkegaard.  Reading:  Chapter 2 (spread over following weeks)

 6th week, Tuesday, 1st examination.  Thursday: Schopenhauer and Nietzsche

Reading: start chapter 3

7th week:  Lecture:  Nietzsche

Reading: Chapter 3 (note: when you get to the actual selections by Nietzsche you may find these don't "grab" you at first.  Push ahead.  Later is better.)

8th week:  Lecture: Nietzsche ŕ Brentano ŕ Husserl

Reading:  Chapter 3

9th week:   Phenomenology, Heidegger

Reading: Chapter 4 (spread over following weeks)

10th week: Heidegger

11th week: Heidegger and Sartre.  Reading:  Chapter 5  Possible on-line assignment.  Possible guest lecturer.

12th week:  Examination. Possible on-line assignment.  Possible guest lecturer..

13th week:  Sartre.  Reading: Chapter 5, maybe selections from Chapter 6

14th week  Sartre, Camus, maybe others

Reading: Chapter 5, maybe selections from Chapter 6 and 7

15th week: Sartre, Camus, other selections.  Reading: selections from Chapter 6 and 7

 16th week:  final examination:  Tuesday, May 25, 12:00—1:50.