Modern Western Philosophy

This page includes a description and some details about Modern Western Philosophy from 2007.  It is still here just as an archive page.


From the description of the course in the UCF Catalog for 2007-2008:  “Major western philosophers and philosophical movements from Descartes to Nietzsche.”  Now, let’s fill that in a bit.

The text for the course is Modern Philosophy: An Anthology of Primary Sources, ed. Roger Ariew and Eric Watkins, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998.  The primary works in this anthology are from Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, G.W. Leibniz, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant.  That gives you an idea of the “major western philosophers” to whom the catalog description refers.  Friedrich Nietzsche’s work will be added from online sources.  Also in the text are associated works from other major philosophers of the modern era such as Thomas Hobbes, Galileo Galilei, and Nicholas Malebranche.  In the syllabus for the course, you will see which works are required, which are suggested and used in the course, and which ones are suggested but optional for our purposes.

Further information on “what’s up” with modern philosophy is in order.  “Modern” doesn’t mean “contemporary.”  That’s the first thing to keep in mind.  The modern era — “modernity” — is characterized at the very least by a turn away from the traditional views and authoritarianism of the ancient and medieval worlds and the ideas, texts, and ways of living and knowing associated with them and toward a new, and perhaps improved, way of looking at the nature of things.  Now, since I’ve mentioned “the nature of things,” it is important here to add the note that the course is primarily about metaphysics and epistemology, not about ethics and politics of the modern era (even though those realms of human inquiry were also radically transformed in the time period — and even though my primary personal academic interests lie in those realms).  This doesn’t mean, however, that we’ll never take an excursion into modern ethics and politics in this course.  I’m sure that we will, especially when we consider the works of Thomas Hobbes(!) and John Locke.  Looking at the nature of things includes re-describing and re-conceiving the nature of reality (metaphysics) and the nature of knowledge (epistemology and philosophy of science).

The modern philosophers had no patience for the authoritarianism of the past.  They sought new knowledge.  And in doing so, they transformed the world.  It is to their transformations of conceptions of knowledge and reality, and to some extent to the transformation of culture, ethics, and politics, that follow from these, to which we will turn in the course.


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