Philosophy | Early Modern Philosophy
P211 | 3234 | Morgan


This course is about the development of early modern philosophy.  The period we will
focus on begins in the sixteenth century, with the Reformation and the Renaissance, and
concludes in the eighteenth century and the age of Enlightenment.  Modern philosophy in
these centuries includes figures like Descartes, Hobbes, Malebrancche, Spinoza, Locke,
Leibniz, Berkeley, Hume, and others.  We will look at some of these figures and others
who influenced intellectual culture during these years.  Our goal is to understand what
early modern philosophy is, what problems and issues it investigated, how problems
arose and why, the arguments and analyses that were used, the debates that mark the
period, and overall the ways in which religion, science, philosophy, ethical thought, and
political thinking interacted and produced various pictures of the world and the place of
human beings in it.

The Reformation and the fragmentation of Christianity in the sixteenth century, the age of
discovery that led to world-wide empires and vast mercantile networks, the rise of the
new science, and the revolutions in politics that involved conflict between those
committed to monarchies and advocates of constitutionalism  all of this is the setting for
the emergence of what we now think of as early modern philosophy.  We shall begin by
looking at these developments and especially at texts by John Calvin, Justus Lipsius, and
Michel de Montaigne that represent important religious and philosophical themes that
reverberate throughout the next century.

We will then turn to a series of major philosophical figure  Rene Descartes, Thomas
Hobbes, Barucch Spinoza, John Locke, and Gottfried Leibniz.  They represent one part of
the tradition of Cartesianism that is a centerpiece of the seventeenth century.  In each case
we will study central texts and examine key issues that have become classic components
of the tradition of Western Philosophy.  We shall try to understand ideas and arguments
in the historical and intellectual setting of the author and the work and try to appreciate
why the issues were of such great significance and the strengths and weaknesses of the
solutions proposed.  The issues that we shall focus on will cover a wide range, from
metaphysics and epistemology to the philosophy of religion, ethics, and the very nature
of philosophy itself.

I conceive of this course as an introduction to major texts, ideas, and themes in modern
philosophy, both for philosophy majors and for those with a strong interest in philosophy,
religion, politics, and their interaction in the modern world.  While there are no
prerequisites, it would be helpful to know something about Western European history,
philosophy, the history of religion, or something else.  Students will be evaluated on the
basis of papers and examinations.  The class will meet twice a week.  I will lecture a good
deal, but much of class time, especially as the semester proceeds, will be taken up with
careful examination of key passages in the texts we will be reading.  I doubt that this
class is for the weak of heart, but it will be fun.