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This course will cover the major authors in the rationalist and empiricist traditions of the early modern period in Europe: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. These thinkers were the first to articulate problems in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and moral philosophy that continue to shape the nature of philosophical inquiry today. For example, is free will compatible with the world described by modern science? Spinoza thought no; Kant thought yes. What of the reality of the external world? Here we will confront Berkeley’s argument for radical idealism – the notion that the world we perceive is a manifestation of our minds – and see that the case is not easy to dismiss. Causation is the most mundane thing in the world, but can you actually prove that one event causes another? You will think twice after we reckon with Hume.
The course will provide students with a solid grounding in the canonical texts of modern philosophy and introduce them to the issues raised by studying philosophy in its historical context. Beyond devoting attention to their arguments, the course will consider the self-understanding of these foundational figures in their efforts to accommodate the Scientific Revolution and to articulate a philosophical alternative to the religious concept of ‘truth’ that had dominated European thought throughout the medieval period. In short, we will address how and in what ways the contested relationship to science and religion is what makes modern philosophy ‘modern’ from its foundations.
Intended learning outcomes
Student who successfully complete this subject will:
- reflect critically upon debates in early modern philosophy and the philosophical problems that continue to influence debates in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind and ethics;
- identitfy key philosophical concepts and show awareness of potential problems that led to the revision and refinement of these concepts in the historical debates;
- interpret philosophical texts that were written in the 17th and 18th centuries;
- write well-structured and well argued essays that explain and critically assess philosophical views covered in this subject;
- articulate own responses to philosophical views, support them by reasons and defend them in light of criticism;
- collaborate effectively and respectfully with other team members, listen to and learn from others and make well considered team decisions
Last updated: 5 June 2022