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Rhode Island School of Design
Spring 2005



Instructor: Paul Leclerc, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, HPSS Office: CB 402
Office tel.: 456-6573
Location: CB 431 Office hours: Th, 6-7 pm
Day and Time: T, Th 7-8:30 pm E-mail:
Tel.: 886-4107 Web site:

Existentialism exercised an extensive formative influence upon several European cultural spheres throughout the early to mid-twentieth century. Literature, art, theatre, psychology and theology all applied or adapted selective features of existential philosophy. Accordingly, the ‘existentialism’ represented in these diverse disciplines was, to some extent, derivative in nature, even if creatively and productively so in some cases. In short, existentialism was first and foremost a specifically philosophical phenomenon.

Consequently, in this course we will primarily explore and evaluate existentialism in its original philosophical form. Specifically, after reviewing the general nature of existentialism, we will study its nineteenth-century origins (Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), followed by an examination of the very influential, twentieth-century work of Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. Finally, stepping beyond the strict limits of philosophy, we will explore existential motifs and issues in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. In contrast to a cursory overview of all or most existentialist philosophers, our more focused approach will facilitate a better understanding of the interconnected philosophical issues prevalent in existentialism. This focus will also render our review and assessment of critical objections to existentialism more manageable. In addition, it will enable us to discern significant comparisons and contrasts between, arguably, the most important, representatives of existentialism. Finally, our structured exploration of existentialism should establish a solid basis for assessing its contemporary cultural relevance, and in particular its potential as a form of cultural criticism.

For many of you this is your first encounter with philosophy. This general consideration, in conjunction with the specific nature of existential philosophy, suggests the following course goals.

  • Basic comprehension of the central themes, historical context, philosophical methods, and argued positions of existential philosophy.
  • Cultivation and development of critical reasoning skills.
  • Acquisition of a philosophically informed, reflective, and critical self-understanding of one’s personal philosophy of existence and of oneself.
  • Development of an initial sense of the contemporary cultural relevance—i.e., in relation to our high-tech, information, consumerist, mass-media, 'postmodern' age—of existentialism, particularly its potential as form of cultural criticism.
  • Improvement of various language skills, such as thinking, reading, speaking, writing, and attentive listening.


  • Søren Kierkegaard, A Literary Review, Penguin, 2002.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ, Penguin, 1990.
  • Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, HarperCollins, 1982.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, Essays in Existentialism, Citadel, 1993.
  • Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis, Bantam, 1972.

1. Readings
in the course texts and supplementary materials provided in class.

1. Brief written assignments (approximately 1-3 typed pages) based on critical study questions, reflective or philosophical exercises, and student questionnaires. Typed or word-processed papers are required. They should follow a standard usage guide. There will be four (4) written assignments worth 20% of your course grade. Standards of evaluation include:

  • Completion of assignment as directed
  • Evidence of conscientious effort
  • Appropriate degree of detail
  • Correct use of Standard English
  • Illustrative usage of concrete examples
  • Clear and coherent organization
  • Concise and straightforward style
  • Logically consistent and cohesive
  • Originality and insight
  • When applicable, careful citation of sources

2. Research paper: A 6 to 8 page paper due Monday, 12/8. Early in the semester I will give you a handout elaborating on the details of this assignment. You will be given several models or types of writing options to choose from (argumentative, application, elucidation, critical comparison, etc.). I will also suggest possible topics and how they would be incorporated in a particular type. See also the Existentialism and Modernity bibliography for select research resources.

There will be three (3) quizzes throughout the semester. They will consist of multiple choice and short essay questions and should take approximately 20-30 minutes. I will drop your lowest grade. Quizzes = 20% of course grade.

There will be a final exam on the Liberal Arts exam day Monday, 12/8. It will consist of multiple choice, short answer, and essay questions and should take approximately 1½ - 2 hours. A study review handout will be given at least one week prior to the final exam. It will be representative rather than cumulative. Approximately ½ of the final exam will cover a representative selection of prior course material, and ½ will cover new course material.


Quizzes and Final Exam Date
Quiz #1 9/30
Quiz #2 10/23
Quiz #3 11/18
Final exam 12/8, 12-3 pm

Permission to be excused from a scheduled quiz or exam will be granted ONLY for a family emergency or serious medical reason, and must be given prior to the quiz/exam. An unexcused absence from a scheduled quiz/exam will result in a failing grade for that quiz/exam.



Attendance/Participation 10%
Written assignments (4) 20%
Quizzes (2/3) 20%
Final Exam 25%
Research Paper 25%

Lecture, class discussion, and small-group discussion. Class participation is an integral part of the course and is highly encouraged (see Attendance/Participation above). A class debate is an option as well.

You are expected to attend class, be prepared to ask and answer questions, and participate in class discussions. If you miss a class for any reason you are still responsible for material covered and assignments given. On the basis of the RISD attendance policy, which stipulates that you may be withdrawn or given a failing grade for a week of unexcused absences, you will be granted two (2) unexcused absences. Each additional absence will result in a 2/3 reduction in your course grade (for example, a B+ to a B-). Attendance and participation count for 5% of your course grade.

You are strongly encouraged to visit my LOGOS web page for course materials and links to helpful online resources:


October 24..........................Mid-semester reports due
November 3.........................Final date for official withdrawal
December 4.........................Last class
December 8.........................Final exam and Research paper due