PHIL 220.001 – 17th and 18th Century Western Philosophy

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Instructor: Zach Thornton. This course meets MWF 8:00 – 8:50 a.m. via remote only instruction.

Western philosophy from roughly 1600-1800 is dominated by attempts to integrate traditional systems of theology and politics with the rapidly developing, revolutionary understanding of the natural world. The scientific image that emerged during this time upended the traditional philosophical and theological worldview inherited from Aristotle that had been the status quo for a millennium. Philosophers of this era constructed radically new theories about the world and humanity’s place in it, making for one of the most exciting periods of intellectual development in human history.

This class will focus on the Rationalists, philosophers that believed human reason had a special place in discovering the answers to questions about God, mind and soul, mathematics, morality, and the nature of reality. The main philosophers we will be reading are Descartes, Leibniz, Conway, and Spinoza. The aims of this class will be for students to develop an understanding the intellectual paradigm shift that began modern philosophy and the enlightenment period, an appreciation for the systematic worldviews created by of the Rationalist philosophers in response to this paradigm shift, and for student to recognize the influence of these philosophers on our contemporary worldview.

Some questions we will investigate are: Can we prove that there is a real world outside the mind, or could we always be dreaming (or be living in the Matrix) for all that we can tell? Is the mind Identical to the brain, or are mind and body two different substances? Can we prove that God exists? How can we know mathematical truths about numbers or triangles? And what is the basis for our knowledge about what is possible and what is necessary?

This course has no prerequisites; no previous courses in philosophy are required.