Philosophy 25B

Summer 2019 Session D

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
25B Modern Philosophy Ryan TuWTh 1-3:30 200 Wheeler

This course explores some of the major metaphysical and epistemological views of four of the most important early modern philosophers: Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, and Hume. Time permitting, we will conclude with an extremely brief introduction to Kant. Descartes and Spinoza have traditionally been grouped together under the label “Rationalist” because of their willingness to rely upon rational reflection as guide to the very nature of the world and our place in it. On the other hand, the British “Empiricists,” Locke and Hume, have a rather more deflationary estimation of the powers of the human mind. In particular, they argue that all knowledge must derive–in some way or other–from sensory experience. We will examine and evaluate the conclusions drawn by each group from these fundamental presuppositions. These conclusions will often be surprising: even the relatively innocent-sounding assumptions of the Empiricists, to which many may be sympathetic, lead to rather radical theses about the nature of reality. In addition to asking how such conclusions are reached, we will ask whether they are plausible and in fact so radical. We will also examine to what extent this rather coarse division in philosophical camps (Rationalist vs. Empiricist) is a helpful or accurate one. Particular topics will include: philosophical method, skepticism, the nature of substance and matter, the relationship between mind and body, causation, and induction. Finally, we will attempt to understand the relationship between the various philosophical positions presented and their historical context, especially that of the scientific and mathematical revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries.