PHIL 4450: Special Topics:

Student Materials


First Paper

Second Paper

Final Project

What does it mean to exist in the world? Are we all alone? Is God dead, as Friedrich Nietzsche infamously declared? And, if human life is without intrinsic meaning, how should we proceed? How, in the end, should we live?

These are huge philosophical questions, and they are questions that existentialist thinkers take very seriously. In this course, we will explore these fundamental questions and how various existentialists have responded to them over the years. We will look at atheistic existentialists like Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre, who reject religious answers as absurd; and we will look at religious existentialists like Søren Kierkegaard, Simone Weil, and Keiji Nishitani, who defend faith, however absurd, in an otherwise meaningless world. We will also study existentialist literature – from Fyodor Dostoyevsky to Miguel de Unamuno – and how existentialist concerns can affect us in everyday life. And finally, we will consider the possibility of an existentialist ethics. After all, if we are free, as most existentialists claim, how should we treat each other?

Many philosophers ignore (or even deny) the significance of human existence. Existentialists, however, do just the opposite: They affirm human existence and ultimately defend a radically optimistic conception of humanity.

These are the materials that we will cover:


Existentialism: An Introduction by Kevin Aho;


Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard;

Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky;

On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche;


14 – I and Thou by Martin Buber (1923), pp.

15 – I and Thou by Martin Buber (1923), pp.

16 – I and Thou by Martin Buber (1923), pp.

San Manuel Bueno, Martyr by Miguel de Unamuno

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

“The Love of God and Affliction” by Simone Weil

Existentialism Is a Humanism by Jean-Paul Sartre

The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir

“The Lived Experience of the Black Man” by Frantz Fanon

“Douglass as an Existentialist” by Lewis R. Gordon

© Douglas Ficek