Thinking Like a Modern Philosopher

Sep 15 to Oct 20, Thursdays, 7:00 PM

Could it be that everything and everyone is made of nothing more than itty, bitty pieces of matter, the same stuff that pebbles and petunias are made of?

Yet how can mere matter give rise to minds and all the states they can be put into, states of bliss and boredom, episodes of thought, dreams, waking experiences, love?

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In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Western philosophers focused their energies on this puzzle like never before. In this course, we will read some of the most interesting things written during this fervid and influential period.

These discussions laid foundations for contemporary philosophy, and helped forge a conception of the human being that still lies at the heart of so much that is happening now (good and bad). Yet a remarkable portion of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophy has gone unnoticed. In this course we will explore both influential and underappreciated works of philosophy from this period.

In exploring the debate over whether everything is made of matter, we will encounter many other fascinating debates over closely connected questions. For example:

  • Rocks rolling downhill have no free will. Do we have any?
  • Is there, in the end, a God?
  • Modern science says a lot about cause and effect, but since we never directly see anything causing anything else (but only see sequences of events), how could these claims be justified or even meaningful?

With the help of brilliant, provocative minds, we'll study some of the most fundamental ideas that have inspired human beings, then and today.

Cocktail hour: Wednesdays, 2pm-3pm Eastern


Since this is a new course, these are reviews from students who took previous courses with the same professor.

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All meetings last 90 minutes. Times are displayed in New York time

    • Thu Sep 15, 7 PM
    • Descartes tries to doubt everything, and thinks he has figured out what sort of a thing we are

      Reading: Descartes's First and Second Meditations

    • Thu Sep 22, 7 PM
    • Descartes tries to prove that there is a world outside of his mind, and a princess refutes his philosophy

      Reading: Third and Fourth Meditation, and exchange with Princess Elisabeth

    • Thu Sep 29, 7 PM
    • Spinoza tries to make philosophy like geometry

      Reading: Spinoza, Ethics, parts 1-2, excerpts

    • Thu Oct 6, 7 PM
    • Spinoza discusses the imagination, the emotions, and how we can become eternal

      Reading: Spinoza, Ethics, part 3-5, excerpts

    • Thu Oct 13, 7 PM
    • Hume raises skeptical doubts about reason and science

      Reading: Hume, Enquiry

    • Thu Oct 20, 7 PM
    • Kant reimagines the relationship between the mind and the world

      Reading: Kant, Prolegomena

Thinking Like a Modern Philosopher

Sep 15 to Oct 20, Thursdays, 7:00 PM

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