Philosophy (PHIL) 367 (Existentialism and Phenomenology) is a three-credit Arts or Humanities course with no pre-requisite, however, previous credit in Philosophy is recommended. PHIL 367 is not available for challenge. Throughout this course, students will find themselves presented with a background in two major schools of modern European philosophical thought. The course is divided into two parts: Part I on Existentialism and Part II on Phenomenology.
Who Should Take This Course and Why
For this article, we had the opportunity to interview the course coordinator of PHIL 367, Dr. Wendell Kisner. Dr. Kisner is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as the Program Director for the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies Program. When we asked him who should take this course he said, “There is no particular type or kind of person who is drawn to philosophy. It’s more about willingness than already being a certain kind of person: willingness to critically examine one’s own assumptions and let them go should they turn out to be mistaken or one-sided.” In the course outline, students will find Dr. Kisner further elaborates on how assumptions of knowledge blind students from learning—to be open-minded to the possibility of being challenged in what you think. He continues to say that “this course in particular addresses questions about the meaning of morality and human existence … through genealogy and phenomenology. While both entail shifting away from metaphysical speculations, genealogy focuses on historical developments while phenomenology leads us to carefully attend to how things actually appear as opposed to how we may reflect on them. Both entail suspending the habitual assumptions and judgements we tend to make in our everyday existence.”
Course, Assignments, and Exam Details
The course consists of ten units divided into two parts. Part I covers Nietzsche and Existentialism and its units include (1) The Historical Context of Existentialism and Phenomenology, (2) Good, Evil, and Morality, (3) Guilt and Punishment, (4) The Ascetic Ideal and Western History, (5) Nihilism, Affirmation, and Eternal Recurrence, and (6) Jean-Paul Sartre, Freedom, and Atheistic Existentialism. Part II covers Heidegger and Phenomenology and its units are divided into (7) Existential Phenomenology and the Question of Being, (8) Human Existence, Anxiety, and Death, (9) Modern Technology, and (10) Earth and Sky, Gods and Mortals. As there is no textbook for this course, each unit has a written “lecture” covering the need-to-know information, as well as the Unit Objectives, Key Terms and Concepts, any required reading assignments, optional supplementary material, and study questions.
The final mark in PHIL 367 is based on the study questions for each unit and two essay assignments.
The study questions are weighted at an overall 20% of the final grade (2% for each submission). It is best to answer all of the provided study questions for your personal use, but only one question provided in the list must be submitted for grading. Study question responses should adequately answer the question in 300-500 words. It is noted in the instructions to utilize the provided course material and avoid outside sources when answering them.
There are two essays for PHIL 367, weighted at 40% each. Both essays coincide with each part of the course—essay one follows part one, and essay two after part two. Essays should be a minimum of 1600 words and the general outline and marking rubric are provided in the course. While you cannot access the essay drop box until it has been opened, students can find the topics for these essays in the “Professors Section” of the course outline.
Note that this course follows a sequential order, meaning study questions and essays must be submitted one after the next. The drop boxes for each assignment do not open until you have submitted the previous assignment.
There are no quizzes nor a final exam for this course. ITo receive credit for PHIL 367, all assignments must be submitted, and a composite grade of 50% (D) must be achieved.
Dr. Kisner states that success in this course “requires the willingness to think through arguments made in the readings, following them step by step so that it’s clear how we get from their premises to their conclusions. This takes patience and careful reading.” He continues to say that “often students come to philosophy courses with the mistaken expectation that they’ll be treated to a collection of various beliefs and opinions, and they must learn to let go of the habit of merely reporting beliefs and opinions as if that’s what philosophy is about.”
As someone who has taken this course, I can say that PHIL 367 is one of the heaviest reading courses I’ve yet to do. Each unit contains plenty of description and commentary, and there are multiple books and essays to be read throughout the course.
While the supplemental readings are optional, they came in very handy to further expand on the writings and aided in answering study questions. I often found myself re-reading sections a few times over, breaking down every piece of information and integrating it into the bigger picture. Students may struggle with the amount of reading in this course, or as Dr. Kisner mentioned, may struggle to let go of their own assumptions. Students need to be willing to be challenged, and not immediately think, “I disagree with this,” to find success in this course.