existential primer

Course Questions
questions from various university courses

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This document is a list of questions students have been asked by instructors. Notice there are no answers given; the goal is to encourage research. If you have questions that should be added to this document, please send them my way.

I wish to thank Christine, a website visitor turned friend, for contributing the first study questions to this site.

Revising Never Ends, Nor Should It…

Do not use this site as a study guide. The Existential Primer is a “living” academic project, unlike a static text. This primer is only a shallow introduction to the thinkers profiled. The incomplete nature of this website might result in misunderstanding the profiled individuals. These pages are revised often because scholarship is never ending. Consult any citations included because within them is where you will find the experts. Read their works!

NOTE: Citations are not in MLA or APA format to prevent “borrowing” from The Existential Primer. Full lists of citations appear at the end of each page. Present tense is used when referencing a published work, while past tense is favored on these pages because the major figures are… dead. Inline citations take the form (Author p. page) with no year. A title is included if there might be confusion as to the work. Quoted long passages appear indented with the <blockquote> tag and cited in the format:

Work; Author, p. Page

Study Guide

General Questions

What is existentialism?

Which writers and thinkers embraced the label “existentialist” and which did not?

Specific Thinkers


How is Camus’ absurdism different from that of Kafka?

Is Camus an existentialist?

How is Sisyphus an existential hero?


How does Hegel influence phenomenology and existentialism?


While criticizing religion at times, Heidegger’s writings border on theological mysticism. Did Heidegger recognize his mystical tone? Does it damage his scholarship?

Was Heidegger sorry for his role in the Third Reich? What were his regrets? For what did he never express regret?


Husserl’s phenomenology served as the basis for the works of Sartre and Heidegger. What does existentialism owe to phenomenology? How do the two differ?

What is the transcendental ego in Husserl’s philosophy?


How does Nietzsche’s classics education (philology) influence his philosophy?

How does Nietzsche define morality?


Sartre characterized human relationships as inescapably marked by conflict. Why is there a conflict? How is “The Look” related to “Being-for-Others” in Sartre’s writings?

What are the roles of masochism and sadism in Sartre’s works?

According to Sartre, why are humans drawn towards troubled relationships?

What is “nothingness” in Sartre’s works? How does the concept evolve throughout his career?

Specific to Being and Nothingness

What wrong conception of being has “modern thought” overcome? By what dualism was that conception replaced?

How does bad faith differ from a lie? What difficulties follow from this difference? How does psychoanalysis address these difficulties? What are two reasons why the psychoanalytic approach does not work?

What does it mean to say: “Every belief is a belief that falls short; one never wholly believes what one believes”? How is this relevant to bad faith?

What are the inadequate conceptions of the past? What is the true relation I have with my past?

What is the present? What is presence?

What is the future? Why is it that the For-itself “can never be its Future except problematically”?

What is knowledge? What is solipsism?

Why is it that “danger is not an accident but the permanent structure of my being-for-others”?

How can we “explain that unshakable resistance which common sense has always opposed to the solipsistic argument”?

How does the fact that I can be mistaken in thinking that I am looked at “help us in our investigation”?

What is absence? What is it not?

What is fear? How can it be resolved?

What is shame? How is God relevant to it?

What is pride? Why is pride in bad faith?

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