History of Modern Philosophy

University of Oregon, Winter 2011, PHIL 311

Course Syllabus

Course Meetings: MWF 9.00a-9.50a 101 LLCS

Instructor: Colin Koopman (koopman [@at@] uoregon [dot] edu)
Office Hours: Wed 3:00p-5:30p in PLC 333 & by appt..

Graduate Teaching Fellows
Cara Bates (cbates [@at@] uoregon [dot] edu)
Sections 24789 (12:00 Fri in McK 473) & 26810 (2:00 Fri in PLC 314)
Office Hour: Wednesday 2:00-4:00p in PLC 320

George Fourlas (gfourlas [@at@] uoregon [dot] edu)
Sections 24791 (1:00 Fri in PLC 314) & 26811 (3:00 Fri in PLC 314)
Office Hour: Friday 10:00a-12:00p in PLC 319

Jonathan Langseth (langseth [@at@] uoregon [dot] edu)
Sections 24790 (12:00 Fri in PLC 314) & 24793 (2:00 Fri in Chapman 204)
Office Hour: Monday 10:00a-12:00p in PLC 319

Course Description

This course is the second of a three-course introduction to the history of western philosophy. The purpose of this course is to examine the history of western philosophy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as well as to consider the importance and relevance of the history of philosophy for us today.

Primarily, we will engage with readings from canonical figures in the modern traditions of Rationalism (our focus here will be Rene Descartes, the founding figure of modern philosophy) and Empiricism (our focus here will be on the British Empiricists John Locke and David Hume). An extraordinarily brief synopsis of our history might run as follows: modern philosophy begins with the Rationalist project as formulated by Descartes, which is then transformed (and partially rejected) by the Empiricist project as formulated by Locke, only so that this Empiricist program itself will be subjected to further radicalization (and again partial rejection) by Hume. In narrating this sequence, we will cover topics in epistemology (theory of knowledge), ethics (theory of morality and selfhood), and political philosophy (theory of government).

Additionally, we will also consider philosophical works authored by thinkers not normally included in the canon of modern philosophy (most notably early modern women philosophers including Margaret Cavendish, Mary Astell, Catherine Trotter Cockburn, and Lady Mary Shepherd). These thinkers played a more central role in the development of the Rationalist and Empiricist philosophical traditions than is often acknowledged.

Lastly, a third focus of the course concerns issues of the relevance, value, and method of the history of philosophy. Why should we study the history of philosophy? How should we study it? Who writes this history, who reads it, and with what purposes? Who gets excluded from these histories and, and why?


The following are all available at the UO DuckStore (with one exception*). You must bring hardcopies to both lecture and seminar so as to follow along and participate in discussions (with the sole exception of the first Rorty essay). If you prefer to use a different edition, check with your GTF.

• Margaret Atherton (ed.), Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period (Hackett)
• René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy (Hackett)
• David Hume, An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals (Hackett)
• David Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (Hackett)
• *David Hume, additional writings available via the course website
• John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding (Hackett)
• John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (Hackett)
• *Richard Rorty, “The Historiography of Philosophy: Four Genres” (available on course website [pdf here])


1. Participation (25%).
1(a). Attendance (10%), broken down as follows: Lecture (5%) and Section (5%). You must attend both the lecture and section/seminar components of this class: they are designed to go together. Failing to regularly attend either will result in a severe drop in your participation grade. A total of four absences from section and lecture combined is grounds for a ‘F’ailing grade in this course except by special petition to Instructor.
1(b). Section Participation (5%)
In addition to attending your sections/seminars with your GTF, you will be expected to participate in the discussions that take place there, and complete any additional work assigned to you during section time by your GTF. If you are absent from section, any in-class work during this time cannot be made up, except by special petition to your GTF.
1(c). In-Class Writing Assignments (10%).
In addition to the expectation that you will attend all lectures and sections, there is a further expectation that you will complete a number of small individual and group in-class writing exercises which will be assigned during almost every lecture session. Most of these will take the form of a brief question about the assigned reading and thus will require that you complete the reading before class meets. These questions will be designed as a prompt for an essay, such that your response to the question should both demonstrates familiarity with that session’s reading (by either focusing in on a particular passage or addressing a broader theme that runs across a selected reading) and provide you with a useful entry into further exploration of that reading. If you do not attend lecture, you cannot make these up.

2. & 3. Two Short Essays: on Cartesian Rationalism and on Lockean Empiricism (50%: 25% each).
You will write two short essays 4-5 pages in length. One of these will be on Descartes and the other will be on Locke. It is your job to formulate an interesting topic as well as to execute on that topic. Prompts will not be distributed because as per assignment (1(c)) you should be thinking about useful essay topics as you work through the assigned reading material. If you have any difficulty in forming a useful essay topic, please do not hesitate to see your Instructor or GTF during office hours. Your GTFs will give you ample feedback on both essays. You will then be expected to expand one of the two essays of your choosing into a longer final paper due during Exam Week (see assignment (4) below).

4. Final Essay: on Descartes/Rationalism and Hume, or on Locke/Empiricism and Hume (25%).
You will write a final research essay about 8-10 pages in length. The idea for this paper is that you will take either your Descartes or Locke paper, and revise it (in some cases fairly significantly) into an essay on Descartes and Hume or on Locke and Hume. This paper should thus both: improve your discussion of Descartes and Locke, and also introduce a discussion of Hume on the topic you have selected. Accordingly, during our lecture sessions on Descartes there will be brief discussion of themes and topics that would make for a relevant Hume essay, and this will also be the case for our sessions on Locke. We will discuss this paper as the term progresses and your Instructor and GTF will provide you with much guidance (in the form of handouts and lecture topics) on how to write a good philosophy paper.

Note this Firm Rule: late assignments will not be accepted except by special petition to the Instructor.

Course Schedule

[Click Here for Schedule]

Some Additional Useful Facts about this Course:

• Grades: Work must be truly excellent to receive an ‘A’. Merely good work merits a ‘B’, and average work earns a ‘C’.
• Late Work: Late assignments will not be accepted except in exceptional cases when both GTF and Instructor agree.
• Cheating: If you cheat and/or plagiarize you will fail that assignment (no exceptions) and, except in very exceptional cases, you will also fail the entire course. If you have questions ask me, or see .
• Discrimination: Expressions of bias on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or ability will not be tolerated.
• Barriers: If you anticipate any barriers to effective participation in this course, please notify me as soon as possible.

Course Lecture Notes and Handounts

Introductory Historiography Lectures (2 lectures): [historiography of philosophy] [philosophical canon]

Descartes Lectures (7 lectures): [intro] [foundationalism] [skepticism] [mind] [epistemology] [proofs of external world and god] [women philosopher critics: Elisabeth and Cavendish]

Locke Lectures (7 lectures): [intro] [innatism] [locke's new way of ideas (in 2 parts)] [women philosopher critics: Astell] [locke's moral philosophy] [women philosopher critics: Trotter]
[locke's political philosophy (in 2 parts)]
Hume Lectures: [intro] [ideas] [problem of induction] [women philosopher critics: Shepherd] [sentiments and passions in morality] [utility in morality]

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