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 were 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.
TEXTS: Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes, author and Donald Cress, translator; A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, George Berkeley, author and Kenneth P. Winkler, ed.; An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: with Hume’s Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature and A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh, David Hume, author and Eric Steinberg, ed.; Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics: That Will Be Able to Come Forward as Science: With Selections from the Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant, author.