PHI 2204 History of Modern Philosophy

History of Modern Philosophy
Course Code: PHI 2204
Course Unit: 3
Course Description:
The course considers the history of philosophy that spans from the inception of the modern age
to our contemporary period. This modern period is introduced by the Renaissance that fostered a
return to the pre-eminence of ancient philosophy and a paramount attention to nature and by
Humanism that placed the human being at the centre of reality. This early period has the names
of N. Machiavelli, T. More, and G. Galilee. With R. Descartes and the rise of Rationalism,
modern philosophy begins. Rationalism considers reason as the source of knowledge and the
main names within this tradition are B. Spinoza, N. Malebranche, B. Pascal, and g. W. Leibnitz.
Rationalism is counteracted by empiricism emphasizing experience as the origin of knowledge.
The main empiricists are F. Bacon, T. Hobbes, J. Locke, G. Berkeley and D. Hume. The
Enlightenment or illuminism blended the previous trends of thought with philosophers such as F.
Voltaire, C Montesquieu and J.J. Rousseau. I. Kant tried to unify the two main modern schools
of Rationalism and Empiricism into his Transcendental Criticism.
Course Objective:
This course has the objective of teaching students the main philosophical ideas that specifically
shaped the ‘project modernity’. It aims at acquainting students with knowledge of these ideas
and capacity to analyse their impact on contemporary life.
Learning Objectives
At the end of the course students should be able to:
1. Critically discuss the philosophical ideas that shaped the modern era
2. Discern how discussions of modern philosophers laid the foundation for 20th century
movements such as liberalism, socialism, feminism, etc.
3. Relate the debate between European rationalism and empiricism to modern challenges of
4. Discern how scientific reasoning came to dominate modern thinking
5. Identify and analyze the fundamental flaws that underlies modern human society
Course Outline
1. The modern mind
2. The Enlightenment and Illuminism
3. Rationalism and empiricism
4. Descartes and the turn in modern philosophy
5. Spinoza and the question of determinism
6. Blaise Pascal and an alternative to the rationalism-empiricism duality
7. David Hume and Human understanding
8. John Locke
9. Immanuel Kant and the limit of metaphysics
10. Modernity’s idea of human rights
Lectures, guest lecturers, group work, individual presentations
Assessment Mode
Course work exercises 30%
End of semester examination 70%
Reading List
1. R. Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations, Hackett
2. Spinoza, Ethics, Hackett
3. Pascal, Pensées, Penguin
4. Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hackett
5. Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Hackett
6. Kant, Groundings for the Metaphysics of Morals, Hackett