The purpose of this subject is to enable you to gain a critical understanding of some of the metaphysical and epistemological ideas of some of the most important philosophers of the early modern period, between the 1630s to the 1780s.
This period saw a great flowering of philosophy in Europe. Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz, often collectively referred to as "the rationalists", placed the new "corpuscularian" science within grand metaphysical systems which certified our God-given capacity to reason our way to the laws of nature (as well as to many other, often astonishing conclusions about the world). Locke wrote in a different, empiricist tradition. He argued that, since our concepts all ultimately derive from experience, our knowledge is necessarily limited. Berkeley and Hume developed this empiricism in the direction of a kind of idealism, according to which the world studied by science is in some sense mind-dependent and mind-constructed.
The examination paper is divided into two sections and students are required to answer at least one question from Section A (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz) and at least one from Section B (Locke, Berkeley, Hume).
R.S.Woolhouse, The Empiricists
J.Cottingham, The Rationalists (both O.U.P. Opus series).