PHEB505 Existentialism


The aim of this course is to introduce and develop some of the major topics of Existentialism. It begins with the question about the specificity of thought: Existentialism is cultural and literary movement rather than a restricted and systematic philosophical position. This requires to identify the basics points depicting his “image”, the provocative questions relevant to many fields of human expression, especially the literature and the narrative arts. Topics include the human condition, being, freedom, the desire of meaning, absurd, authenticity, anxiety, resoluteness, but also the “lost beauty” – all sophisticated issues of existential formula “Existence precedes essence”. Authors discussed range from Kirkegaard and Nietzsche to Sartre, Camus, Jaspers, Ricoeur, Merleau-Ponty, Ortega-y-Gasset and the Philosophy of life. This course will help students become better skilled in understanding and intelligently discussing many difficult problems of human existence, which today are problems of distinguishable and worthwhile worldviews.

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Prof. Lidia Denkova, PhD

Course Description:


After completing successfully this course the students will:

1) know:

• The central existential writings and authors with their concepts and profound impact on the development of contemporary thought;

2) are capable of:

• Understanding and approaching in interdisciplinary context the most valuable philosophical ideas in the mainstream of modernity.

• Good general knowledge in the field of the History of Ideas


Full-time Programmes

Types of Courses:

Language of teaching:


  1. The Existentialism in the intellectual history of XX century. Postwar years in France and the literary emergence of philosophical movement.
  2. Precursors of the movement: from Augustine and Pascal to Kirkegaard and Nietzsche
  3. Metaphysical foundations of existentialist views: Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.
  4. Major philosophers representative of Existentialism: Heidegger, J.-P. Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty
  5. The old question of human “nature” and human “condition” in relation to individual “freedom”, to “absurd” and “will”. The foundamental idea: “Existence precedes essence”.
  6. Two basic texts: Sartre’s definition of existentialism in work “Existentialism is a Humanism”. Hannah Arendt’s essay “What is existenz philosophy?”.
  7. Key existential notions. The phenomenological experience and the existentialist “theory”. Influence of ancient concepts for “theoria”, “praxis”, “doxa”, “ethos”, “techne”. “Facticity” In “Being and Nothingness”.
  8. The absurdity of human condition and the human desire for meaning: The myth of Sisyphus. Sense and non-sense.
  9. The question of the Other and the Gaze. Are the Others always “the hell”? Subjectivity, intersubjectivity, responsability and understanding.
  10. Existence and Authenticity, Anxiety and Resoluteness as ambiguous philosophical problems. The view of Hedegger: Temporality as the Ontological Meaning of Care.
  11. The narrative theory of self-construction: Paul Ricoeur and the recurrence of the question of Time.
  12. The question of “Style” and arts. Existentialist Aesthetics. The artist as philosopher. Albert Camus’s "The exile of Helene" – the lost Beauty.
  13. The Ideality of Values. What is valuable?
  14. The Theory of expression. Art as expression of human freedom. Sartre’s “What is Literature?”
  15. The Legacy of Existentialism. The Existentialism today and the Rise of the current worldviews. The question of engagement: Social and political impact of existentialism.


Suggested Readings:

1) Existentialism. Basic writings. Second edition. Edited by Charles Guignon and Derk Pereboom. Hackett Publishing Company, 2001.

2) Entries related to Existentialism in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (

3) The Phenomenology Reader. Edited by D. Moran and T. Mooney, Routledge, 2002.

4) Albert Camus. The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays, trans. by Justin O'Brien, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1979.

5) Albert Camus. The Rebel. An Essay on Man in Revolt, trans. by Anthony Bowen, London: Vintage, 1992.

6) Existentialism and Popular Wisdom, in Simone de Beauvoir: Philosophical Writings, M. Simons (with M. Timmerman and M.B. Mader) ed., Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004, 195–220.

7) Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. by David Carr Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1970.

8) Jean-Paul Sartre. Being and Nothingness, trans. by Hazel Barnes, New York: Philosophical Library, 1948.

9) Jean-Paul Sartre (1948). What is Literature?, trans. by Bernard Frechtman, London: Methuen, 1967.

10) Dreyfus, Hubert & Wrathall, Marx. A Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism, Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.

11) Martin Heidegger. “Letter on Humanism,” in Pathmarks. Ed. William McNeill. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

12) M. Merleau-Ponty. Phenomenology of Perception. Tr. Colin Smith. New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962.

13) H. Arendt, H. The Human Condition (1958). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

14) J. Collins, J. The Existentialists: A Critical Study, Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1952.

15) K. Jaspers. Reason and Existenz. Tr. William Earle. New York: Noonday Press, 1968.

16) S. Kierkegaard. Fear and Trembling. Tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, 1983.

17) John Searle. Philosophy in a New Century. Selected Essays. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

18) Blaise Pascal. Selected readings. Fleming H. Revell Co, 1991.

19) The Existentialist Reader: An anthology of key Texts, ed. By Paul S. MacDonald, 2001.

20) G. Marcel. The Philosophy of Existentialism. New York, Citadel Press, 1968.