Module HPS-1005:
Existentialism

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Lucy Huskinson

Overall aims and purpose

Widely thought to have originated in the 19th Century with Kierkegaard’s refutation of organised religion and systematic philosophies and the need to focus on individual experience as the principal source of meaning, Existentialism has blossomed into one of the most vibrant philosophical and cultural movements to explore the fundamental meanings and experiences of life and human existence. Its impact on other disciplines—such as literature, art, theatre, cinema, and psychology—has been huge since its heyday in Europe immediately after the second world war. By examining philosophical prose, literature, and contemporary films, this module we demonstrate how existentialism is as much a viable outlook on life today for all of us, as it was to those darkly-dressed caricatures who debated existential theories passionately in the cafés of post-war Paris. Ideas such as the meaning of existence, consciousness, the burden of freedom, anxiety, finitude, the absurd, the existence of others, and authenticity will be explored in light of such thinkers as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, José Ortega y Gasset, Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Søren Kierkegaard. Students will develop an understanding of the fundamental unity that underlies the different theories of existentialism, before subjecting them to critique.

Course content

The module will begin with an overview of the meaning of existentialism, its key themes and thinkers. The module is then divided into five parts. In part one we examine the philosophical groundwork that underpins existentialism as a theory. Here students will be introduced to such ideas as Sartre’s concepts of consciousness, being, nothingness, facticity and transcendence. In part two we explore the importance of freedom to the human condition, and the meaning behind Sartre’s famous slogans, ‘we are condemned to be free’, and ‘existence precedes essence’. Here we will examine the first of our contemporary films, The Truman Show, in order to demonstrate the validity of these ideas within society today. Part three then surveys the notion of the ‘absurd’ as a philosophical concept and identifies its trace in literature, art, and film. Students will examine a variety of responses to the absurd, including those outlined by Kafka, Camus, and Kierkegaard. We will then watch the film Ground hog Day with a view to identifying how these responses can be portrayed in contemporary film. Part four examines Sartre’s notion of bad faith, and the ease in which we fail to respond adequately to the demands of existentialism. Finally, part five considers the effect that others have on our existence and in our capacity to engage our lives authentically.

Assessment Criteria

good

Good C- - C +. Submitted work is competent throughout and occasionally distinguished by superior style, approach and choice of supporting materials. It demonstrates: - Good structure and logically developed arguments. - At least in parts draws on material that has been sourced and assessed as a result of independent study, or in a way unique to the student. - Assertions are, in the main, backed by evidence and sound reasoning. - Accuracy and presentation in an appropriate academic style.

Very Good B- - B+. Submitted work is competent throughout and distinguished by superior style, approach and choice of supporting materials. It demonstrates: - Very good structure and logically developed arguments. - Draws on material that has been sourced and assessed as a result of independent study, or in a way unique to the student. - Assertions are backed by evidence and sound reasoning. - Accuracy and presentation in an appropriate academic style.

threshold

D- - D +. Submitted work is adequate and shows an acceptable level of competence as follows:

  • Generally accurate but with omissions and errors.
  • Assertions are made without clear supporting evidence or reasoning.
  • Has structure but is lacking in clarity and therefore relies on the reader to make links and assumptions.
  • Draws on a relatively narrow range of material.

excellent

A - - A*. Submitted work is of an outstanding quality and excellent in one or more of the following ways: - Has originality of exposition with the student’s own thinking being readily apparent. - Provides clear evidence of extensive and relevant independent study. - Arguments are laid down with clarity and provide the reader with successive stages of consideration to reach conclusions.

Learning outcomes

  1. Critically evaluate the guiding themes, and the range of perspectives in which the existentialist tradition expresses its ideas and arguments.

  2. Display detailed knowledge of major texts that comprise the existentialist tradition.

  3. Display some knowledge of the ways in which these texts have been variously interpreted and developed by existential thinkers.

  4. Understand the cultural contexts in which existentialism developed in order to appreciate ways in which they reflect those contexts or add new perspectives to them.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
REPORT Case Study

Choose a film and explain and critique its existential themes.

50
ESSAY Existential Essay 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Hours
Lecture

Interactive lectures with individual/group activities.

25
Tutorial

Optional tutorials to provide feedback on assignments

1
Private study

Study to consult reading materials, and to prepare, research, and write assignments.

174

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Mentoring - Able to support, help, guide, inspire and/or coach others
  • Caring - Showing concern for others; caring for children, people with disabilities and/or the elderly
  • Management - Able to utilise, coordinate and control resources (human, physical and/or financial)
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in

Subject specific skills

Philosophy

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: