Existential Literature

Welcome to Existential Literature. Broadly, this course, its literature, and you will explore the human condition, but more specifically we will study existentialism not as a Philosophy but as a “timeless sensibility" (Kaufmann) preoccupied with universal characteristics of the human condition, such as suffering, death, anguish, dread, despair, guilt, responsibility, and authenticity.

Due 9/27: Albert Camus


Here’s what you should have completed thus far:

  1. Read the course syllabus
  2. All supplies should be in place
  3. Registered for class website
  4. Posted a response to the Welcome and Existentialism is a Humanism threads on the class forum
  5. Completed in-class essay on Man’s Search for Meaning
  6. Read and annotated Existentialism is a Humanism
  7. Read the guidelines for precis and annotating
  8. Critical discussion of Frankl
  9. Read and Discussed Kierkegaard

You should have the following handouts printed and in your binder:

  1. Course syllabus
  2. Existentialism is a Humanism
  3. Precis Handout
  4. Annotating Guidelines
  5. Kierkegaard, Ethics and Religion
  6. Kierkegaard, That Individual

Completed Last Class Period:

That Individual

Spend the first half of class outlining Kierkegaard’s argument in this essay. Start with his thesis and then outline how he develops the thesis.

Conclude class with a small group discussion. Practice intellectual accountability by ensuring that everyone in the group understands his argument. Then, move into a critical discussion.

9/26: To be completed in class today. One of the keys to success in this class is to make connections between the philosophers read. In this case we have read Frankl, Sartre, and Kierkegaard. Working in pairs, identify points of agreement and disagreement between and among them. The most intriguing discussions are the ones born out of nuanced philosophical observations. Write out your thoughts. Spend the last half of class discussing in small groups.


  1. Print out, read and annotate the following sections on Albert Camus:
  • Suicide, Absurdity, and Happiness: The Myth of Sisyphus
  • The Limits of Reason
  • Criticism of Existentialists
  • Happiness in Accepting One’s Fate
  1. The Stranger–If you would like to buy your own copy, buy this one!

My Apologies, One More Delay

Hello folks,

First off, let me apologize for the added delay. I love my job and am desperate to begin the year with you, but I must see to it that my family is ok first. So, hang in there. I will do my best to make it worth your wait. In the meantime, here is the plan for the next two days:

9/19: Frankl, A Critical Discussion

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl

Open class by thinking (independently) about Frankl’s point here. Then, write a critical response (20 minutes of writing) to Frankl. What do you think of his argument? Keep in mind Frankl’s points in development of his argument. Your response should be in paragraph format.

Close class with a small group discussion. Listen intently to one another. Please do not just go around and share your response. Talk to one another. Have a conversation.


  • Kierkegaard–Print and read this handout on Kierkegaard. Read the sections on Ethics and Religion!
  • Soren Kierkegaard–Print, Read, and annotate That Individual.

9/20: That Individual

Spend the first half of class outlining Kierkegaard’s argument in this essay. Start with his thesis and then outline how he develops the thesis.

Conclude class with a small group discussion. Practice intellectual accountability by ensuring that everyone in the group understands his argument. Then, move into a critical discussion.

So, if you have taken all assigned work seriously and completed it meaningfully, we will be good to go on 9/25! Can’t wait to meet you!

Due 9/14: Class Forum

Hello folks! The first week is almost in the books. If all goes as planned, I will see you on Monday and this class really begins! It is imperative that you have taken care of all responsibilities by then. This includes:

  • Registered for the website
  • Posted a response in the Welcome thread on the class forum
  • Completed the in-class essay
  • Read the course syllabus
  • You should have supplies for the class

Tomorrow, you will do the following:

Day 5: Existentialism is a Humanism Discussion

Please be sure to have a printed copy of your forum response in front of you. During this period, discuss each of the four reproaches and Sartre’s response to those reproaches. DO NOT get into a critical discussion until you think you have great control of his argument. Leave your printed response with the Sub at the end of class.

HW: Class Forum–Remember you must post by midnight before the next class period (in preparation for Thursday’s class)! AND REMEMBER TO BRING A PRINTED COPY OF YOUR RESPONSE IN TO CLASS. The responses should be added to the reading response section of your binder. Be sure to include the heading and title each printed response.

Due 9/13: Existentialism is a Humanism

1. Print and read a little over half of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism. (Through page 8B)
2. Print this handout on précis.
3. Annotating Literature: Print and closely read this handout on annotating literature. Keep it in your binder ALL TERM!

Due 9/12: In-Class Essay

Most of you have registered successfully and posted on the class forum! Good start! Those of you who have not, be sure to do it today. If you are having problems, email me at sleon@beaconschool.org. Remember:

Your username should be your Full Name (First and Last). Do not use nicknames and leave A SPACE between your first and last name. Be sure to capitalize the first letter or your first and last name. If you do not register in this way, the system will delete your account. This is a safeguard in place to protect against random spammers from registering for the sight. Take care.

So, to review:

  1. Use your first and last name
  2. Capitalize first letter of each name
  3. Leave a space between the first and last name

Today, you were to prep for the tomorrow’s essay:

You will answer the following question in this essay: Per Man’s Search for Meaning, what is Viktor Frankl’s view of the human condition?

Ultimately your objective for this essay is to craft a thesis reflecting Frankl’s view of the human condition. In doing so, you will demonstrate control of logotherapy (covered in Part II).

The following are major points to consider in his argument:

1. Frankl titles Part II of his text “Logotherapy in a Nutshell.”  Scholars suggest his thesis here can be reduced to the Freidrich Nietzsche quote (Remember, Frankl himself cites it on numerous occasions):

“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

2. Inner life/value and spiritual freedom

3. Discovering meaning in life in three different ways:

  • By creating a work or doing a deed
  • By experiencing something or encountering someone (Love)
  • By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering

*These are key elements and they are, frankly, obvious. Certainly, you can discuss them in your essay; however, do not limit yourself to the obvious. Engage the nuances of his argument (i.e. Noo dynamics). The more nuanced your discussion, the more textual control you have and the more interesting your discussion will be. That is what I am looking for. The less nuanced, the more I will call into question your actual reading of the text.

*In this essay do not merely write that Frankl believes we can attain meaning in three different ways. That is a gross simplification of his existential view and logotherapy. While I do not expect to see mastery in this essay, I do expect to see sophisticated control of his argument.

Your essay should demonstrate control/understanding of both Part I and Part II of the text. So both parts of the book should be explored in your essay. This essay is unlike English essays of the past!  Your thesis is actually what you believe to be Frankl’s argument. There should be no critical discussion!

HW: Be ready for in-class writing assignment!