In Fall 2021 I will be teaching PHH3400 Modern Philosophy and PHH4420, which will be a class in the history of the philosophy of religion. Descriptions of those classes are below.
PHH3400 Modern Philosophy
PHH3400 is an introduction to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European philosophy. In the class, we will focus on four prominent works of the period: René Descartes’ 1641 Meditations, G.W. Leibniz’s 1686 “Discourse on Metaphysics”, John Locke’s 1689 Essay concerning Human Understanding, and David Hume’s 1748 Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. We will also look, more briefly, at the views of some of their contemporaries, including Thomas Hobbes, Princes Elizabeth of Bohemia, and Mary Shepherd. The course will focus on the philosophers’ views in metaphysics and epistemology, but will also consider views in the physical sciences and in ethics. Assessment will involve two papers, a final exam, and some other smaller items.
This course, together with PHH 3100, aims to give students an understanding of major questions addressed in the history of Western philosophy, the range of answers offered to these questions, and the methods employed in addressing them. As well as meeting requirements for the Philosophy major and minor, PHH3400 counts towards the Humanities (H) general education requirement.
PHH4420 Topics in Modern Philosophy / History of Philosophy of Religion
In this class, we will look at the approaches to religion taken by two prominent seventeenth-century philosophers, Thomas Hobbes and Benedict Spinoza. We will also look, by way of contrast, at the rather different approach taken by the sixteenth-century Spanish theologian Francisco de Vitoria.
While considering the work of these philosophers, we will ask a range of questions in the philosophy of religion. For instance: Are there any good arguments for the existence of God? What should we think about reports of miracles and visions? If an eternal being exists, what is it like? What views about eternal beings count as theistic, and what as atheistic? If God exists, what is the metaphysical relationship between God and human beings? Is there a special relationship between religious knowledge and happiness or virtue? How should religion relate to politics and the structure of the state?
In thinking about these questions, our main goal will be to understand the philosophers’ view and arguments. This project may well also help us as we think about the same questions today.