PHIL 2002 Modern Philosophy 2012

Course Instructor: Dr. Michael Johnson
Where: MB121 (Main Building)
When: 15:00-16:50
Course Website: here
Contact Email:

Course Description

This course is an introduction to ‘modern’ philosophy. ‘Modern’ here does not mean ‘contemporary’—it refers to a period from the beginning of the 17th century to the end of the 18th century (roughly). Thus, this class is a ‘history of ideas’ class. We’ll be studying the thought of, principally, such figures as Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. These thinkers were coming off the scientific and religious revolutions of the renaissance, and they were interested in such questions as: Is knowledge possible? If so, how may it be obtained? What is the proper method for science? What is the nature and fundamental structure of reality? How do the mind, morality, free will, and God fit into the new scientific worldview? What justifies our (or any) social and political institutions? Etc.

Assignments and Grading

NOTE: I falsely announced in class that there would be exams. There will be NO exams.

The course grade will rest on two assignments: one shorter mid-term paper and one longer final paper. The specifics are as follows:

Mid-term paper: 4-6 double spaced pages, 12pt reasonable font, with reasonable margins.
Total percentage of grade: 40%

Final paper: 7-10 double spaced pages, 12pt reasonable font, with reasonable margins.
Total percentage of grade: 60%

I am liable to increase your grade if you participate in class frequently (though not unnecessarily).

Policy on Late Assignments

The penalty for a late paper is 5 points (out of 100) per day (i.e. 24 hours) the paper is late.

Class Participation

You are required to ask any and all questions about the material that you have. Only your conscience will tell you whether you’ve met this requirement.


Be on-time, turn off your cell phones, don’t talk while other people are talking, stay awake, and in general accord everyone the minimum amount of decency they deserve as human beings. Including me.

Academic Integrity

Plagiarism is the act of presenting another’s writings or ideas as though they are your own writings or ideas, that is, presenting them without sufficient attribution.

This can include copying text from a book or from the internet and using this text in your papers without (a) acknowledging the original author of the text (b) quoting the copied portion and (c) providing a reference to the original source.

It can also include copying another students’ work, allowing another student to write some or all of your paper, or purchasing some or all of your paper from someone else.

Plagiarism is not limited to copying text word-for-word. It also includes copying text and modifying it by substituting synonymous expressions and making minor stylistic changes, when you have not indicated that the original text was not your own, and you have not cited the original author appropriately.

Finally, plagiarism can involve copying the ideas of another, even if you do not copy their words. This might include presenting someone else’s arguments, examples, or exposition as your own, without appropriately acknowledging them. It is OK if you have ideas that someone else had before; there are very few new ideas. What is not OK is if you take someone else’s ideas and present them as your own. Where the ideas came from is what matters. If you got the ideas from someone else, make sure to say so.

I will not tolerate any form of plagiarism in this course. Any student caught plagiarizing will receive a failing grade for the assignment, with no chance to appeal or to make up any of the assignments. This goes for everyone involved: any student who writes some or all of another student’s paper, or allows another student to copy off of his or her paper will also receive a failing grade for the assignment.

Under no circumstance will I suspend this rule for anyone or for any reason. If you are uncertain as to whether what you have written constitutes plagiarism, contact me and ask before you turn the assignment in. When in doubt, attribute, quote, and cite. And don’t let other students copy your work.

[Note: it is OK if you let another student proofread your work, help you with your English, or give you helpful comments and criticism that you incorporate into your paper. What’s important is that you make sure the ideas you are presenting are your ideas, and when they’re not you make that fact clear to me.]

Other forms of academic dishonesty will be dealt with at the instructor’s discretion.

Course Schedule

[Note: I will try as hard as I can to keep to the following course schedule, but I reserve the right to depart from it as necessary. The readings for each day are what you should prepare for the next class.]

Jan 17

Introduction: The Age of Enlightenment in Europe
Read: Selections from Descartes, “The World” Chs. 1-7 and “Treatise on Man”

Jan 24

NO CLASS: Chinese New Year

Jan 31

The Scientific Background of Modern Philosophy
Read: Descartes, Meditations I & II

Feb 7

Skepticism and Certainty in Descartes’ Meditations
Read: Descartes, Meditations III & IV

Feb 14

Descartes’ First Proof of God’s Existence
Read: Descartes, Meditations V & VI

Feb 21

Descartes’ Ontological Proof
Read: Spinoza, Ethics, Part I, definitions, axioms, and propositions P1-P24. Also read the Appendix (pp175-179)

Feb 28

Substance, Attribute, and Mode in Spinoza (plus another proof of God’s existence)
Read: Spinoza, Ethics, Part I, propositions P25-P36

Mar 6

NO CLASS: Reading/ Field-Trip Week

Mar 13

Spinoza’s Modal Metaphysics
Read: Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II

Mar 20

Locke on Ideas
Read: Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book I

Mar 27

Locke against Nativism
Read: Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding, Introduction & Book I

Apr 3

Leibniz against Locke
Read: Berkeley, A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, Introduction & Part I §§1-33

Apr 10

The Idealism of Berkeley
Read: Hume, Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, II-V
Second Paper topics

Apr 17

Hume on Mental States and Processes
Read: Hume, Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, VI & VII

Apr 24

Hume’s Analysis of Causation