Existentialism: Search for Self

Humanities & Social Sciences
Course Code
PHIL 2250
Semester Length
Max Class Size
Method Of Instruction
Typically Offered
To be determined


Course Description
Existentialism is a philosophy which focuses upon human existence and the ways in which humanity is unique. Our human situation is unique because, despite our similarities with other kinds of entities, both natural and artificial, we alone bear some responsibility for the fate of all things, including ourselves. Existentialism is concerned especially with the human predicament: our freedom and responsibility, the possibility of selfhood and the inevitability of death, the nature of time and the process of existing. Existential philosophers emphasize the place of emotions and imagination, myth and poetic truth in human experience, along with the traditional roles of reason and understanding. In addition to these themes, this course may consider topics such as: the death of God, nihilism, inwardness, authenticity, self-deception, ideology and technology. Representative thinkers may include: Kierkegarrd, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Jaspers, Buber, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, de Beauvoir, and Camus.
Course Content

This course is designed to deal with:


  1. A systematic survey of the philosophical, historical and cultural backgrounds of the existentialist movement.  In particular, it will study Kierkegaard and Nietzche, considered as pioneers of the movement.
  2. The phenomenological method which the representatives of existentialism claim to employ.  This study will entail an examination of the idea of phenomenology as originally conceived by Husserl and of its later modification by existential thinkers such as Heideffer and Sartre.
  3. A systematic survey of the common main themes of the movement: “the experience of nothingness”, “existence”, “being”, “the absurd”, “death”, “the problem of time”, “freedom”, “authenticity”, “the other”.
  4. The central ideas of major modern existential thinkers such as Sartre, Kierkegaard, Jaspers and Heidegger.
  5. An examination of some major commentaries on existentialism, for example those of Walter Kaufmann and Colin Wilson.
  6. An examination of some contemporary attempts to rehabilitate and reinterpret existentialism in the light of criticisms raised in 5).
Methods Of Instruction

The course will employ a variety of instructional methods to accomplish its objectives, including some of the following:


The course invites (but does not insist upon) student-participation through seminars.  An informal, open lecture method, with ample opportunity for discussion will be provided.  There are two major assignments, either two essays or one essay and one seminar.  A core of basic books on existentialism will be placed on reserve in the library and a supplementary reading list for any desired additional study.

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be based on course objectives and will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College policy.  The instructor will provide a written course outline with specific criteria during the first week of classes.

An example of a possible evaluation scheme would be:


Essary one  20%
Essay two or seminar  20%
Other evaluation
(consisting of options determined by instructor)   
General instructor evaluation
a) Participation
b) Improvement
c) Quizzes, etc. as specified by instructor
Total 100%




Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of the course the successful student will be able to:


  1. Identify the major themes of the existentialist movement.
  2. Be familiar with the phenomenological method, as it is employed by existential thinkers, and be able to discuss and explain it.
  3. Relate the traditional problems of moral and political theory, and of religion, to contemporary social issues by means of the “methodology” of existentialism.
  4. Relate the major themes of existentialism to other major philosophies.
Textbook Materials

Textbooks and Materials to be Purchased by Students:


Texts will be updated periodically. Typical examples are:


Michael Novak.  The Experience of Nothingness.  Harper, 1971.


Walter Kaufmann.  Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre.   Meridian, 1956.


William v. Spanos.  Existentialism 2, A Casebook.  T.Y. Crowell Co., 1966.



No prerequisite courses.


No corequisite courses.


Course Guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester / year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

Course Transfers

These are for current course guidelines only. For a full list of archived courses please see

Institution Transfer Details for PHIL 2250
Capilano University (CAPU) CAPU PHIL 221 (3)
College of the Rockies (COTR) COTR PHIL 202 (3)
Langara College (LANG) LANG PHIL 2225 (3)
Simon Fraser University (SFU) SFU PHIL 280 (3)
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) TRU PHIL 2XXX (3)
Trinity Western University (TWU) TWU PHIL 2XX (3)
University of British Columbia - Vancouver (UBCV) Any 2 of DOUG PHIL 1102 (3) or DOUG PHIL 1103 (3) or DOUG PHIL 1151 (3) or DOUG PHIL 1152 (3) or DOUG PHIL 2250 (3) or DOUG PHIL 3300 (3) = UBCV PHIL 100 (6)
University of Northern BC (UNBC) UNBC PHIL 2XX (3)
University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) UFV PHIL 1XX (3)
University of Victoria (UVIC) UVIC PHIL 211 (1.5)
Vancouver Island University (VIU) VIU PHIL 2nd (3)

Course Offerings

Fall 2022