This course has concessions available

Intermediate Philosophy Part 2: Nihilism, Phenomenology and Existentialism

One unexpected outcome of the Enlightenment period was the rise of nihilism, a crisis of finding any real meaning in the emerging scientific worldview. The development of the new philosophical movement of phenomenology can be seen as, in part, a response to this crisis. Husserl sought to analyse the role of consciousness in constituting meaning in experience in a way which united our daily experience of the world with the scientific world view. The approach he developed was swiftly challenged in the name of a more embodied and historically situated account of meaning by the work of Heidegger, de Beauvoir, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. This course will explore how the emergence of phenomenology as a philosophical method came to be inextricably linked to the wider issue of Existentialism as a response to the urgent problems of the 20th Century.

Who is this course for

This is not a course for absolute beginners to philosophy. Students joining this course would benefit from having some previous experience of studying philosophy. Graduates of other humanities or social-science disciplines, however, with experience of complex theoretical frameworks, should find it very challenging yet potentially intellectually manageable to begin their philosophical studies with this course. All students will need to have reached at least Level 2 standard (equivalent to GSCE) in the English language.

What does this course cover

One unexpected outcome of the Enlightenment period was the rise of nihilism, a crisis of finding any real meaning in the emerging scientific worldview. The development of the new philosophical movement of Phenomenology can be seen as, in part, a response to this crisis. Husserl inaugurated a new approach to meaning and human experience that proved to be extraordinarily influential throughout the 20th century. This course will chart how Phenomenology quickly gave rise to Existentialism, pioneered by Heidegger in Germany and developed by Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Merleau-Ponty in France. We will focus on the analyses of the meanings of the concepts of being and nothingness proposed by Heidegger and Sartre, and will attempt to understand how these analyses allowed the Existentialists to develop distinctive (and divergent) strategies for dealing with the intellectual and moral abysses opened up by nihilism.

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

Analyse some of the key aspects of philosohical nihilism from the 19th Century on
Explain some of the key concepts and themes of phenomenology (e.g. in relation to Husserl, Hiedgger and Sartre)
Explain and analyse some of the key concepts and themes of existentialism

What will it be like

The course will be taught in a seminar style, and there will be lots of opportunity for discussion and debate. Optional exercise will be set as homework, to help you explore and consolidate what you have learned and discussed in class, and extracts from the writings of some of the thinkers covered will be made available as preparatory reading for some of the classes. Explanatory handouts will also be provided to help you understand some of the more difficult concepts and arguments covered. How will you be able to assess your progress on the course? At the start: tutor and student self-assesment to establish previous experience of the themes and thinkers covered on the course. On the course: Tutor and student self-assessment through class exercises, discussion and debate.

What else do you need to buy or do

Notebook and pen, for taking notes in class. Students may find it helpful to have Robert Solomon's book Continental Philosophy Since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self (about £17.99), as useful background reading, but this is not a requirement of the course. Extracts from the work of some of the thinkers we are studying will be provided as preparatory reading at home, and exercises will be set as homework for some classes. Students who undertake the reading and exercises will find that they gain more from the course.

What this course could lead to

This course is designed as the second of a series of three term-long courses, and therefore students can enrol on the Summer Term course to continue their studies. Students who are unable to continue onto the second part of the course will find this term a good preparation for general intermediate level courses in Continental Philosophy, German Idealism, or Existentialism at institutions such as Birkbeck or other colleges.

mwc logo

I've been to many Centres to study in London and the Mary Ward Centre is one of the nicest I've studied in.

MWC student


This course has concessions available for people who meet certain criteria

Got a Question about this Course?

Contact The Departmental Administrator.

Unavailable Classes:

Why come to Mary Ward Centre?

Mary Ward Centre is the adult education centre with a difference. We provide a wide range of subjects for people at all levels and run courses during the day, evening or weekend to suit your timetable.

Get inspired and enjoy excellent teaching in an environment where each individual’s learning experience is valued. That’s what makes Mary Ward Centre ‘the friendly place to learn.’