Phenomenology and Existentialism

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 18 December 2020
16 May 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module explores two deeply related philosophical traditions that came to prevalence in the 19th and 20th centuries – existentialism and phenomenology. Existentialism is a philosophical movement associated with thinkers and writers as diverse as Sartre, Nietzsche, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Camus, Heidegger, and Kierkegaard – though not all of figures grouped under that heading accepted that designation.

Broadly speaking, however, Existentialism is unified by the belief that human existence cannot be adequately understood using the traditional categories provided by the philosophical tradition or the natural sciences. In light of this belief, many existentialists were committed to profound disruptions in the style in which philosophy is to be practiced – turning to poetry and literature to capture the nature of the human instead.

Existentialism is also unified in its commitment to take seriously the first-person quality of experience – arguing that purely third-personal categories fail to capture the nature of human existence as it is lived. For this reason Existentialism has close ties to Phenomenology, which is a philosophical methodology defined by its insistence on examining meaning as it is experienced first-personally in order to uncover the structural necessities governing the possibility of those meaningful experiences.

Briefly put, Phenomenology questions how experience can show up as meaningful. This module is dedicated to one or both of these philosophical approaches and/or the relationship between the two.

This term will be devoted to an in-depth study of Martin Heidegger's magnum opus, Being and Time. The publication of Being and Time in 1927 immediately established Heidegger as a major philosopher. Combining his study of Husserl's 6th Logical Investigation (on categorical intuition) with his reading of Aristotle's Metaphysics (especially book Gamma, which states that "Being has many significations"), Heidegger focused on clarifying what it means to 'be'. By doing so, he meant to recover what had been forgotten by the metaphysical tradition of the West : the question of Being. But how should we understand the difference between Being and beings? What is it that Heidegger calls 'Dasein'? Why not talk of 'human beings' or of 'subjects' instead? What does it mean to be 'in' the world? What is the role of moods in our interface with the world? What does it mean for Dasein to be free? How (if at all) can it be authentic? This module will investigate such questions while relating Heidegger's early hermeneutic ontology both with the Continental tradition and with the later development of his thought.

Module aims

By the end of the module students should be able in their essay and exam work to:

* summarise in their own words central discussions in Existentialism and Phenomenology; in doing so, develop the ability to establish logical - and other- connections between various parts of these discussions and therefore become able to present well thought-out syntheses in their essays; acquire the critical skills necessary to such an approach; develop the ability to analyse complex philosophical discussions and become more critical towards the assumptions that underlie them.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

* define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
* seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
* process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
* compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
* write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
* be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
* think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;
* maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;
* think critically and constructively.

Module information

Incoming Study Abroad students must have already taken two Philosophy modules at their home institution.

Learning and teaching methods

1 x two-hour lecture and 1 x one-hour seminar each week, except for week 9, when there will be 1 x two hour seminar, and week 11, when there will be no seminar. Week 8 is Reading Week. All teaching events will be accessible to students on and off campus either face-to-face or remotely through online teaching.



Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Essay plan     15% 
Coursework   Essay (2500 words)     60% 
Practical   Presentation     25% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Beatrice Han-Pile, email:
Professor Béatrice Han-Pile



External examiner

Dr Thomas Joseph Stern
University College London
Senior Lecturer
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.