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Modern Philosophy from Descartes to Kant: Its Issues and Genesis
Instructor: John Hymers


This course will treat the history of modern philosophy as the result of Descartes’s towering presence. By closely investigating Descartes’s project as laid out in the Meditations, we will see how his ideas of substance, autonomy, and God snake through modern philosophy and find expression in Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant.

Material Goals:

- To gain a basic familiarity with the issues and genesis of classical Modern Philosophy. - To understand the contemporary influence of classical Modern Philosophy.

Formal Goals:

- To learn how to read a text critically. - To understand how thinkers develop their thoughts through dialogue with other thinkers.


Short lectures followed by guided discussion. If class size permits, the discussions will be based on student presentations of the daily readings.


2 short papers (5-7 pp.), a midterm, and a final examination. Each is worth 25 percent of the final grade. Weekly readings from Descartes' Meditations will be assigned, and they will form the basis of the papers.

Required Texts:

Brenner, William H. Elements of Modern Philosophy. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1989.
Descartes, René. Meditations on First Philosophy, and Replies to Objections. With Selections from the Objections and Replies. Trans. John Cottingham. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986. Any other edition, such as the Hackett edition, is fine.
Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature. 2nd Ed. Ed. Peter H. Nidditch. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990.

Selections Recommended from the following:
Spinoza, Benedict. Ethics and Treatise on the Correction of the Intellect. Trans. Andrew Boyle. London: Everyman’s Library, 1997.
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. Philosophical Essays. Ed. and trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 1989.
Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Ed. Peter H. Nidditch. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1979.
Hume, David. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Ed. Richard H. Popkin. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 1980.
Berkeley, George. Berkeley’s Philosophical Writings. Ed. David M. Armstrong. New York: Collier, 1965.
Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Ed. and trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. More economical editions also available.



Late Scholasticism
Italian Pantheism
Bacon’s Philosophy of Science
Readings: Brenner, chapter 1. Handout.

Descartes: Rationalism

The Cogito: Doubt as Ground
The Idea of Infinite Substance
Plurality of Substances
The Ontological Argument for the existence of God
Natural Philosophy and Dualism
Readings: Brenner, 18-23.

Spinoza: Rationalism

Unity of Substance
Modes and Attributes of Substance
The Ontological Argument revisited
Readings: Brenner, 30-38. Recommended: Part 1 of the Ethics (pp. 3-37).

Leibniz: Rationalism and Idealism

Monad As Substance
Leibnizian Optimism (and Voltaire)
The Ontological Argument grounded
Readings: Brenner, 43-35.

Locke: Empiricism

Knowledge and Perception
Primary and Secondary Qualities
The Empirical Proof of God
Readings: Brenner, 59-72.

Berkeley: Empiricism and Idealism

Being and Perception
Critique of Locke
Readings: Brenner, 81-88. Recommended: Berkeley, 45-60.

Hume: Empiricism and Skepticism

Skepticism and Science
Skepticism and Religion
Skepticism and the Proofs of God
Readings: Hume, Treatise on Human Nature, 69-176.

Kant: Critical Philosophy

Review of pre-Kantian Philosophy:
Apriori and Aposteriori Knowledge
Analytic and Synthetic Knowledge
Empiricism and Transcendentalism
Kant’s Breakthrough: Synthetic Apriori Knowledge
The Critique of Pure Reason: The Bounds of Sense
The Ontological Argument destroyed
Readings: Brenner, 138-145; Recommended: Kant, 127-152; 172-192.

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