Existentialism: An Introduction

Jean-Paul Sartre proposes that: “Freedom is what we do with what is done to us... We are our choices”. Explore concepts such as The ‘authentic’ life; Existential ‘angst’; Human freedom; and The absurdity of existence.


  • Introduction: In this opening week we will define Existentialism and introduce the major concepts: freedom; angst; facticity/transcendence; the authentic life; the absurdity of existence.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: Sartre’s gift for psychological description and analysis are widely recognized, we will begin with his most important philosophical work Being and Nothingness in which he analyses two distinct categories or kinds of being: the in-itself and the for-itself, roughly the non-conscious and the conscious respectively, he then adding a third category: being for-others later in the book.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre – Black Orpheus: In this work Sartre analyses the problems of colonialism, racism and the role of art as a political praxis. Sartre explores how the new African poets used the colonizer’s language against their oppressors in poems of liberation. We will also look at Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism, his scandalous public Lecture delivered to an enthusiastic Parisian crowd in Oct 1945.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea: The novel Nausea is Sartre’s existentialism in action. He is both writing about a character faced with the challenge of meaningless existence, and showing in his work how that meaninglessness can be dealt with. Sartre’s point in the novel is to comment on our universal reaction to the self-doubt and metaphysical anguish. Roquentin’s confrontation with the chestnut tree draws one of the sharpest pictures of this psychological condition.
  • Albert Camus: Camus explores the idea that even if there is no God, humans still need a way to transcend mundane existence. He finds this transcendence in the struggle of life itself, and the meaning giving process of art. Camus' The Plague asks a number of questions relating to the nature of destiny and the human condition.
  • Albert Camus – The Stranger: The central character in Camus' novel finds himself struggling with the expectations of others and society. The novel asks: are these expectations justified and can one live an authentic life as an outsider.
  • Simone de Beauvoir – Theories of Self and Intersubjectivity: De Beauvoir develops existentialism to include the category of ‘Being with Others’, which is an exploration of our connection to the subjecthood of other humans. She deals with the dynamics of desire; our relationship to time; and the temporal structure of our relationship to ourselves and others. She also introduces the issue of violence and its legitimacy in the quest for freedom.
  • Martin Buber: A contemporary Jewish philosopher best known for his Philosophy of Dialogue a form of existentialism centered on the distinction between the I-Thou and the I-It relationship
  • Samuel Beckett: Life can sometimes be without hope, but it also can be lived with compassion and laughter, courage and dignity in the 'face of life’s absurdity'. The plays: Endgame; Krapp’s Last Tape; Happy Days, and the ever popular Waiting for Godot, are all infused with these philosophical concepts.
  • Samuel Beckett: Beckett can be critical, playful and often ironic, but he is never less than insightful. The epigraph to his 1964 silent film Film, with Buster Keaton is from the philosophy of Berkeley: ‘To be is to be perceived’, and is an insightful meditation on the nature of spectatorship, and how it relates to the construction of identity.

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Have gained an overall understanding of the key concepts in Existentialism.
  2. Have gained an insight into the ideas of Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir, Martin Buber and Samuel Beckett
  3. Relate existential ideas to our contemporary world and current issues.
  4. Apply these ideas to their personal lives and choices.
$270 Limited / $243

<p>Jean-Paul Sartre proposes that: “Freedom is what we do with what is done to us... We are our choices”. Explore concepts such as The ‘authentic’ life; Existential ‘angst’; Human freedom; and The

08 Oct

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