Existentialism (PHIL*2170) | College of Arts

Existentialism (PHIL*2170)

Code and section: PHIL*2170*01

Term: Fall 2018

Instructor: Josh Grant-Young


Existentialism is a school of thought that emphasizes the individual’s subjective pursuit of meaning. Existentialist thought finds its roots principally within the nineteenth century, popularized in the twentieth century and continues into the present. The primary concern for existentialists, despite their numerous differences, is understanding the possibility of meaningful human experience in a seemingly meaningless world. For the purposes of this course, existentialist thought will be chiefly defined as an effort to sufficiently answer the following question: how does reflection on and investigation of human experience and its creative capacities give meaning to one’s life – particularly in dark times?

Students will explore various themes within the course: death, love, anxiety, freedom, resistance and self-creation. In addition to the in-depth exploration of key figures (e.g. Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Jean-Paul Sartre, José Ortega y Gasset) and their critics, students will interact with paintings, poetry and film to explore themes in the course. This course aims to complement studies in social and political philosophy, aesthetics, environmental philosophy and ethics.

Course Outline

The University of Guelph resides on the land of the Between the Lakes Treaty No. 3, the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. This land is part of the Dish with One Spoon, a covenant between Indigenous nations to live peaceably on the territories of the Great Lakes region. We recognize that today this gathering place is home to many First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and acknowledging them reminds us of our collective responsibility to the land where we learn, live and work.