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Instructor: Will Kanwischer. This course meets MTWRF 1:15 – 2:45 p.m. via remote synchronous (RS) instruction.

This course is an introductory survey of 17th and 18th century moral and political philosophy. Philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries—commonly known as the “early modern” period—pursued questions about the nature of virtue, justice, and the good life against the backdrop of the groundbreaking discoveries of the scientific revolution. Inspired by the success and power of the natural sciences, early modern philosophers sought to reconcile their beliefs about morality and politics with a scientific worldview, and in some cases to apply the new and exciting methods of natural science to moral and political questions. The result of these ambitions was a philosophical tradition that continues to be massively influential to this day.

In this course, we will read and evaluate the arguments of figures like Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, and Kant with a particular focus on their moral and political philosophy. With the help of these thinkers, we will consider questions like:

  • What is the nature of justice?
  • What reasons (if any) do we have to be moral?
  • Can morality be objectively binding if God does not exist?
  • What justifies the power of the state?
  • Do we have free will?

Students will improve their ability to read and understand complicated texts, write analytically, and think through the most fundamental questions of moral and political philosophy. No prior knowledge of philosophy is expected or required.