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Existentialism: Search for Self

Course Code: PHIL 2250
Faculty: Humanities & Social Sciences
Department: Philosophy
Credits: 3.0
Semester: 15
Learning Format: Lecture, Seminar
Typically Offered: TBD. Contact Department Chair for more info.
course overview

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.

curriculum 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 schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.