AP/PHIL3125 3.0 A: Contemporary Existentialism

Offered by: PHIL


Fall 2019






Calendar Description / Prerequisite / Co-Requisite

The views of such recent philosophers as Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, and de Beauvoir have had a great impact on contemporary society. This course explores their views on self, freedom, action and personal relations. Prerequisite: AP/PHIL 2120 3.00.

Course Website

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    Additional Course Instructor/Contact Details

Professor Jim Vernon


Office Location:  S427 Ross Building

Phone Number:  (416) 736-2100 Ext. 33519

Office Hours:  TBA

    Expanded Course Description

Being human is, to put it bluntly, hard. Like everything else in the world, we just happen to exist, contingently kicked out by the collapse of stardust billions of years ago; however, like nothing else within that sea of randomness that we know of, we are nevertheless essentially driven to give our lives a kind of meaningful purpose, with no firmer guide to rely upon other than our own capacity for rigorous self-reflection.  Born in the wake of the seeming collapse of the world’s value systems represented by the two World Wars, existentialism names the philosophical project of confronting the brute fact of our conflicted humanity head-on. Above all, it asks what it means to be a free being, confronted with choices for which we alone are responsible, and what it means to live authentically, or to take responsibility for creating ourselves and our world.

In this course we will work through two of the most original, influential and challenging thinkers/texts in the existentialist tradition: Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time and Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity. Ultimately, both amount to sustained and courageous reflections on what it means to be responsible for oneself in a world one never asked to be born into, which provides no guides for action and seemingly thwarts our efforts to act within it. It is highly recommended that student take PHIL 2120 – Introduction to Existentialism to familiarize themselves with the general tradition of existential thought before taking a deeper dive into these highly challenging texts.

Because this is a course that concerns some of the most profound and difficult problems of human existence, the readings we will consider will touch upon topics that can be quite discomforting. This fact should be kept in mind as we all work to ensure respectful dialogue about them throughout the term.

    Required Course Text / Readings

M. Heidegger, Being and Time, Trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (New

York: Harper and Row, 1962).

S. de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity (New York: Citadel, 1976).

    Weighting of Course

25% Mid-Term Exam

35%Term Paper

40% Take-Home Final Exam


    Organization of the Course

Reading/Lecture schedule, tba, but it will be Heidegger first, then de Beauvoir

    Course Learning Objectives
  • Students should be able to understand and critically appraise key argument from the existentialist tradition of philosophy, and present their views in rigorous and compelling written form.
  • Students should be able to compare and analyze arguments from the existentialist tradition of Western philosophy.
    Relevant Links / Resources