Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy Course: An Introduction to Existentialism

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses online and in-person. Please check the delivery format of each class before enrolling.

Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

Join us for a beginner’s course in Existentialism – consider and discuss human existence in a social and supportive environment.

Existentialism is concerned with the drama of human existence. In this course we explore: the quest for a meaningful life, realisation of human potential, ‘authentic’ life, existential ‘angst’, human freedom, and the absurdity of existence.

This course introduces all of these themes through the philosophy, novels and plays of major 20th century Existentialists.


Learn to confidentially debate and discuss key concepts in Existentialism. This course aims to teach the ideas of major philosophers and writers.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • identify the key concepts in Existentialism
  • discuss and relate Existentialism to the ideas of Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir, Martin Buber and Samuel Beckett
  • relate existential ideas to our contemporary world and current issues
  • apply these ideas to your personal lives and choices.


Session 1: Introduction

  • The definition of Existentialism
  • An introduction to major concepts in existentialism:
  • freedom
  • angst
  • facticity/transcendence
  • the authentic life
  • the absurdity of existence.

Session 2: Jean-Paul Sartre’s, Being and Nothingness

This work explores the two distinct categories or kinds of being: the ‘in-itself’ and the ‘for-itself’. Roughly, this equates to the non-conscious and the conscious respectively. Sartre also adds a third category: being for-others.

Session 3: Jean-Paul Sartre’s Black Orpheus and Existentialism is a Humanism

In this work Sartre explores the problems of colonialism, racism and the role of art as a political praxis. Sartre looks at how the new African poets used the coloniser’s language against their oppressors in their poems of liberation.

We will also look at Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism, his scandalous public lecture delivered to an enthusiastic Parisian crowd in October 1945.

Session 4: Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea

This lesson explores Satre’s famous work Nausea, its themes and how we each experience these themes in our own lives.

The novel Nausea is Sartre’s existentialism in action. He is both writing about a character faced with the challenge of meaningless existence, and showing in his work how that meaninglessness can be managed. Sartre’s intention is to comment on our universal reaction to self-doubt and metaphysical anguish.

Session 5: Albert Camus' The Plague

Camus explores the idea that even if there is no God, humans still need a way to transcend mundane existence. He finds this transcendence in the struggle of life itself, and the meaning-giving process of art and creative expression. Camus' The Plague asks a number of questions relating to the nature of destiny and the human condition.

Session 6: Albert Camus' The Stranger

The central character in Camus' novel finds himself struggling with the expectations of others and society. The novel asks: are these expectations justified and can one live an authentic life as an outsider.

Session 7: Simone de Beauvoir Theories of Self and Intersubjectivity

De Beauvoir develops existentialism to include the category of ‘Being with Others’, which is an exploration of our connection to the subject hood of other humans. She deals with the dynamics of desire; our relationship to time; and the temporal structure of our relationship to ourselves and others. She also introduces the issue of violence and its legitimacy in the quest for freedom.

Session 8: Martin Buber

Martin Buber is a contemporary Jewish philosopher best known for his Philosophy of Dialogue, a form of existentialism centered on the distinction between the I-Thou and the I-It relationship.

Session 9: Samuel Beckett

Life can sometimes be without hope, but it also can be lived with compassion and laughter, courage and dignity in the 'face of life’s absurdity'. The following plays explore these philosophical concepts: Endgame, Krapp’s Last Tape, Happy Days, and the ever popular Waiting for Godot.

Session 10: Samuel Beckett

Beckett can be critical, playful and often ironic, but he is never less than insightful. The epigraph to his 1964 silent film Film, with Buster Keaton is from the philosophy of Berkeley: ‘To be is to be perceived’, and is an insightful meditation on the nature of spectatorship, and how it relates to the construction of identity.

Intended audience

Anyone with a general interest in philosophy and the topic of existentialism

Delivery style



Handouts are provided electronically.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

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