In this course, we will read and interpret some of the major philosophical works of the modern period in Western philosophy (approximately the 16th –18th centuries), which was fundamental in shaping our contemporary philosophical and scientific outlook on the natural world. The authors we will focus on are Rene Descartes, George Berkeley, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant (perhaps with some assists here and there from Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, and John Locke). Our readings deal with the main metaphysical and epistemological theories offered in the period. In metaphysics, we’ll look at questions concerning the fundamental stuff of the natural world, the relationship between the mind and the body, and the nature of God. An important assumption of the authors we’ll read is that metaphysics is constrained by epistemology. That is, we must first determine the limits and scope of human knowledge and give an account of the best methods for finding truth before we form any grand metaphysical theories. Thus, we’ll spend a lot of time in class talking about the ways in which we can and cannot know the world around us.
The aim of this course is not necessarily to provide a sweeping survey of the entirety of the Early Modern period. Instead, we will focus on a few seminal and representative texts appropriate to those metaphysical and epistemological themes just mentioned.
TEXT: Modern Philosophy: An Anthology of Primary Sources, Roger Ariew (author) and Eric Watkins, eds.