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Study information


Module titleExistentialism
Module codePHL3002
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Luna Dolezal (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module offers a critical introduction to existentialism, one of the most influential philosophical and cultural movements of the twentieth century. Existentialism takes as its starting point an individual’s existence and claims that thinking about human existence requires new categories not found in the conceptual repertoire of ancient or modern thought. While there is no consistent doctrine or methodology within existentialist philosophy, there are a number of common themes and problems, which revolve particularly around the issues of radical freedom, authenticity and nihilism. This module will trace the origins and development of existentialism in the 19th and 20th centuries through several key philosophical, social and literary thinkers: Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Albert Camus. Existential themes that will be critically explored through philosophical and literary texts include: nothingness, existence, facticity, angst, dread, being, bad faith, responsibility, despair, the Other, death, alienation, mass society and essence. Related social and political themes will be explored, including the influence of existentialism on questions related to political resistance, gender, race and religion.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is to introduce you to the place of existentialism as a philosophical tradition, while also exploring the cultural movement of existentialism that flourished in Europe during the 20th century. The module will situate existentialism within the history of philosophy and critically explore and investigate the challenges associated with the practice and method of existentialism as a philosophical movement. In addition, the module will explore the intersections between philosophical existentialism and literary existentialism. A further aim is to encourage you to be able to reflect existentially about your own lived experience and to explore the contemporary relevance of the existential approach to a variety of topics and disciplines. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Identify and cogently discuss the key methods, questions, themes and topics within the existential tradition and to critically compare this approach with other philosophical methods and traditions.
  • 2. Critically distinguish and evaluate various approaches to existentialism, both in philosophy and literature, and related critiques, within the 20th century

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Demonstrate a high level of understanding of the interrelation between theories, values and lived experience, with particular focus on existential themes.
  • 4. Engage in in-depth study of a text through detailed reading and analysis

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Demonstrate a significantly expanded philosophical vocabulary and understanding with respect to key ideas in twentieth century European philosophy and how this relates to philosophical approaches arising from the Anglo-Analytic tradition
  • 6. Conduct research independently engaging with complex ideas and problems while developing original research insights.
  • 7. Engage in complex and high level argumentation both orally and through writing.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction to Existentialism & Soren Kierkegaard
  • Friedrich Nietzsche – The Gay Science
  • Martin Heidegger – Being and Time 
  • Jean-Paul Sartre – ‘Existentialism as Humanism’
  •  Jean-Paul Sartre – Nausea and Being & Nothingness
  • Simone de Beauvoir – Feminist Existentialism and The Ethics of Ambiguity
  • Albert Camus – The Outsider and The Myth of Sisyphus
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Notes from Underground
  • Frantz Fanon – Black Skins, White Masks
  • Ralph Ellison – The Invisible Man
  • Soren Kierkegaard –  'Subjectivity is Truth, Truth is Subjectivity’

Martin Heidegger – Being and& Time – Dasein, Authenticity and being-towards-death

Jean-Paul Sartre – ‘Existentialism as Humanism’

Jean-Paul Sartre – Nausea Jean-Paul Sartre – Nausea and Being & Nothingness

Simone de Beauvoir – Feminist Existentialism and The Ethics of Ambiguity

Simone de Beauvoir – The Blood of Others 

Albert Camus – The Outsider and The Myth of Sisyphus

Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Notes from Underground

Frantz Fanon – Black Skins, White Masks

Ralph Ellison – The Invisible Man

Soren Kierkegaard – Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death'Subjectivity is Truth, Truth is Subjectivity’


Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities16.511 x 2 hours per week for lectures and seminars. Close readings of key texts will be part of lecture/seminar activities
Guided Independent Study45Preparation for lectures and seminar participation including reading and planning.
Guided Independent Study83.5Independent research for glossary entry and essay.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Glossary Entry Essay Plan300 words1-7Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Glossary Entry401,000 words1-7Written
Essay602,750 words1-7Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Glossary EntryGlossary Entry (1,000 words)1-7August/September reassessment period
EssayEssay (2,750 words)1-7August/September reassessment period

Re-assessment notes

For obvious reasons, re-assessments cannot be the same as the original assessment and so these alternatives are set. In cases where the form of assessment is the same, the content will nevertheless be different.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Indicative Reading List:
  • Readings will primarily come from the following two anthologies:
  • 1. Basic Writings of Existentialism, edited by Gordon Marino (Modern Library, 2004)
  • 2. Existentialism Basic Writings, Second Edition , Edited by Charles Guignon and Derk Pereboom (Hackett Publishing, 2001).


  • Indicative readings will include extracts from the following philosophical and literary works:
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
  • 3.   Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’
  • 4.   Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
  • Simone de Beauvoir, The Blood of Others
  • Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
  • 7.   Albert Camus, The Outsider
  • Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
  • Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
  • Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
  • Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death
  • Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man
  • Selected Secondary Texts:
  • A Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism – edited by H.L. Dreyfus and M.A. Wrathall (Blackwell Publishers)
  • The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism ¬– edited by S. Crowell (Cambridge University Press)
  • Iris Murdoch – Sartre: Romantic Rationalist
  • Iris Murdoch – Essays on “Encountering Existentialism” from Existentialists and Mystics. 

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

This module has online resources available via ELE (the Exeter Learning Environment).

Key words search

Existentialism, 20th Century Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Frantz Fanon, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Ralph Ellison.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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