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Topics in Philosophy: Existentialism




Admissions requirements

History of Philosophy.


The purpose of Topics in Philosophy courses is to allow advanced students with philosophical interests to focus on a specific issue in greater detail than is possible in some of our more basic survey courses. In this particular course, we will be reading and discussing the work of the greatest thinkers in the European existentialist tradition, and considering their influence on the so-called Kyoto School in 20th century Japan. Each of these thinkers has tried to understand what life can and should amount to in our modern world. We shall explore such topics as: the loss of faith in a secularized world, the possibility of commitment, the ultimate nature of being and nothingness, the place of the individual in society, the possibility of authentic existence, the human capacity for free will, and the limitations of morality in determining how we should act. Students should be prepared for extensive reading, thinking, and writing, as well as active participation and engagement with the readings in the classroom, if they would like to do well in this course.

Course objectives

By the end of this course students should: *Have cultivated a set of reading, writing, and discussion skills that allow them to engage texts and other people in an informed and conscientious manner. *Be able to demonstrate a deeper understanding of a major movement or development in the history of philosophy. *Be capable of critically reflecting on and examining both shared and diverse human experiences so that they can recognize similarities and differences across cultures and historical periods.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

Each teaching week of the course will consist of two 2-hour interactive discussions on the weekly topic, with reading to be completed prior to the meeting. This course depends heavily on group discussion of significant primary texts. Each class will begin with the instructor introducing the key issues and readings for that day and offering an interpretation of the works being discussed. Students should join in the discussion at any time, asking questions, making suggestions, or making comparisons with other texts we have read. For each meeting, each student should mark out a short passage (1-3 sentences) from the day’s reading that especially stood out.


  • Participation and attentiveness in classroom discussions is worth 18% of the overall course grade. This will be assessed throughout the course, and is meant to encourage constructive and active engagement with course materials and fellow students.

  • A 300-word reflection will be due in four different weeks, and each will be worth 6% of the overall course grade (totaling 24%). These will help to assess the capacity to articulate questions, concepts, and arguments based on individual engagement with course readings.

  • One in-class “midterm” short answer and/or essay exam will be worth 18% of the overall course grade. This will encourage a clear comprehension of objective course content.

  • One final paper (due during reading week) will be worth 40% of the overall course grade. This will encourage analysis of concepts covered throughout the course, and force students to express their ideas clearly and organize them coherently.


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

Required text: EXISTENTIALISM: BASIC WRITINGS, eds. C. Guignon and D. Pereboom
Others available online

Suggested: A. Buben, Meaning and Mortality in Kierkegaard and Heidegger: Origins of the Existential Philosophy of Death


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact