History of Philosophy: Renaissance through Enlightenment: (PHIL 3230-01: 35524)

Dr. Edgar Boedeker             Mo,We,Fr: 12-12:50              Lang 211        Fall 2012


Office hours: 2:00-2:45pm Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 3-3:30 Wednesdays in my office, Baker Hall 145. I would also be happy to meet with you at another time, to be arranged in advance. If you would like to schedule a meeting, please contact me by e-mail at edgar.boedeker@uni.edu or phone (273-7487).


Required texts (available at University Book & Supply):

- Roger Ariew and Eric Watkins (editors), Modern Philosophy: An Anthology of Primary Sources (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998; ISBN: 0-87220-440-5).

- Michel de Montaigne, An Apology for Raymond Sebond (translated by M.A. Screech; New York: Penguin, 1987; ISBN: 0-14-044493-9).

- Michael R. Matthews (editor), The Scientific Background to Modern Philosophy (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989; ISBN: 0-87220-074-4).

- John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1990: ISBN: 0-915144-86-7).

- Voltaire, Candide, tr. by Lowell Bair (New York: Bantam, 1981; ISBN: 0-533-21166-8).


Required course packet (available at Copyworks, on the corner of College and 23rd Streets).


Course description: In this course, we will trace some of the main elements of the development of philosophy during the 16th through 18th Centuries, the period known as Early Modern Philosophy. We will place special emphasis on the relation between philosophy during this period and concurrent political and scientific developments. Among the topics we will be covering will be the nature of matter, scientific method, knowledge, perception, mind, God, freedom, and legitimate government.

We will be covering the philosophical “canon” of “Empiricists” and “Rationalists.” Empiricists hold that all knowledge is based in experience derived from the senses, and Rationalists hold that there is knowledge that is independent of sense-experience. We will also examine the alternative, less “canonical” tradition of Humanism. Humanism began in the Renaissance with the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and literature, especially ancient skepticism – the view that human knowledge is quite restricted, if not altogether impossible. Humanism continued in the group of 18th-Century thinkers known as the philosophes. Both Empiricism, Rationalism, and Humanism make important use of skepticism – but they do so in importantly different ways. Empiricists and Rationalists employ skepticism in an attempt to determine the ultimate nature and scope of human knowledge (both scientific and philosophical, or metaphysical). Humanists, on the other hand, apply skepticism to the more practical and mundane issues of respect for and tolerance of differences of opinion, and the proper limits of such traditional forms of power as Church and State.

Course goals: This course will acquaint you with many of the most important figures, issues, and positions in Early Modern Philosophy, which are still very much alive today. In particular, you will gain an understanding of some of the many kinds and uses of philosophical skepticism. One of the most important things that this course will offer you is the opportunity to hone your interpretive, argumentative, and rhetorical skills by writing several papers on the often difficult texts we will be reading.

Course format: Class meetings will consist of a mixture of lecture, discussion, and group work. In order to benefit from this, it is essential that you do all of the reading for each class. 


Evaluation: The grade you receive for this course will be computed as follows:


1. 40% of your final grade will come from 10 completed worksheets (on the reading for a particular course meeting) and/or analytic “response papers”.  A worksheet should completely answer all questions on one of the many attachment s to this syllabus.  An analytic response paper should be 2 pages in length on a study question or a topic of your choosing. Analytic response papers will be graded with a check (full credit, i.e., 4 points toward final grade), check-plus (credit-and-a-half, i.e., 6 points toward final grade), or check-minus (half credit, i.e., 2 points toward final grade). You are required to have submitted at least 1 by September 4 at least 3 by September 13; at least 5 by October 9; at least 7 by November 13; and all 10 by our last class meeting, December 6.

The purpose of the analytic response papers is to encourage you to do each reading assignment, and to come to class prepared to discuss it. They may be turned within a week after we have discussed the topic in question.

If you choose to write a worksheet, please answer each question on it. Generally, your answer should be between 2 and 5 sentences. You may answer the worksheet questions in any way that is complete and legible. The best way to do this, and the way that I prefer, is to open the worksheet document attachments, save them on your computer, type in your answer below each question, and then print out the whole document when you're done. Following this method will save you paper and printing. It will also be easiest for me to read, and most convenient for you for purposes of review as you write your papers.

As an alternative to worksheets, you may also write analytic response papers, which should usually run about 400 words. In an analytic response paper, you will have the opportunity to delve into more depth or detail on a single topic related to the readings than you would in completing an entire worksheet. Generally, most questions on the worksheets – and especially those with an asterisk – can serve as topics for an analytic response paper. Make sure, however, that you do not attempt in an analytic response paper to summarize the entire reading for a given class meeting – but rather to focus on a single topic, issue, or particularly difficult or interesting bit of text in the readings.

2. Class participation: I expect that all students will participate actively and constructively in classroom discussions. Asking questions and responding to what I or fellow students say are excellent ways for you to learn. Doing so regularly will boost your final grade by up to two thirds of a letter grade, for example, from a B to an A-. On the other hand, if your presence in class contributes to a negative learning environment (for example, repeatedly coming to class late, treating fellow students with disrespect, obviously not paying attention, passing notes, whispering, etc.), this can reduce your final grade correspondingly.

3. Attendance: I reserve the right to take attendance at the beginning of each class period. You are permitted three unexplained absences during the semester. For each unexplained absence beyond these three, your final grade will be reduced by one third of a letter grade. For example, someone with a B+ average with 5 unexplained absences (i.e., 2 more than the 3 allowed) will receive a B- in the course. The only explanations I will accept are a doctor’s note or a funeral announcement.

I realize that this is a fairly strict attendance policy. I have instituted it mainly because much of the learning that you will do in this course will take place in class. Asking questions, raising objections, and listening to others are important skills that you will get to practice in class discussions. In addition, coming to class is necessary to doing well in this course.

4. Papers: Either three separate papers (for which topics will be given in advance) or one cumulative paper with a single general topic: the variety of kinds and uses of skeptical arguments in the Renaissance and Enlightenment. This paper will be written in 3 stages throughout the semester:

  • Stage one (worth 15% of your grade), due October 3. Compare and contrast the goals, methods, and results (or conclusions) of Montaigne’s and Descartes’ skepticism. This will involve answering most, if not all, of the following questions: What's the difference between Academic and Pyrrhonian skepticism? Which of the two philosophers practices which method? What are the differences in the ways in which these two philosophers attempt to use skepticism to resolve the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants between 1517 and 1648? Identify a difficulty in Montaigne's method that might be regarded as inadequate to the task of reconciling these religious differences. How does Descartes' method deal with this difficulty in Montaigne's method? Compare and contrast Montaigne's and Descartes' uses of the argument from the unreliability of the senses, and the argument that, for all I know, I might be dreaming now. What is Montaigne's "problem of the criterion" (pp. 185-186)? Explain why Descartes, in your view, does or does not escape this problem in his argument (in Meditations Three and Four) for the principle that all ideas that we clearly and distinctly perceive must be true.
  • Stage two (worth 20% of your grade), due on November 26: compare and contrast either (a) the political views of Montaigne with those of Hobbes, Locke, or both; or (b) George Berkeley's view of matter and abstract ideas with that of either Descartes, Locke, or both.
  • Final stage (worth 25% of your grade), due on Wednesday, December 12, by 4pm in my mailbox in the Department of Philosophy & Religion office (135 Baker Hall): bring either Hume's skepticism about our knowledge of causal laws, or Voltaire's development of skeptical humanism, or both, into the mix.

I strongly encourage you to discuss the stages of your papers with me before you turn it in, and I’m happy to read drafts and offer comments.


Criteria for writing and evaluating a paper:

I. Thesis (20 points).

A. Does your essay have a clear, informative, and compelling thesis that appears at the end of an interesting introduction that explains why your thesis matters, why it is important?

B. Is your thesis new, an original, creative and compelling insight into the text and issue under consideration? Do you set the historical and cultural context for this thesis, explaining why this thesis is important and therefore giving the reader a reason to take interest in your essay?

II. Support of thesis (60 points).

A. Thesis defense. Does your essay have a consecutive argument that defends your thesis, carefully moving the reader from one point to the next (or does it simply run in place)? Your aim is not to prove to the reader that your thesis is iron-clad, but to show that it is reasonable, that what you see in the text is there to be seen. So do you cite and quote evidence from the text (a good rule of thumb is to use three examples), and do you explain how that evidence supports your thesis? Do you lead the reader through your argument, one step at a time, explicitly telling me how that step supports you thesis?

Remember that the reasons you give for or against an argument should be more than simply your beliefs or opinions. Rather, they should be potentially convincing to someone else, even if this person may not initially share your beliefs or opinions. After all, are you convinced that something is true just because someone else happens to believe it? Thus in trying to bring your reader over to your side, make sure to meet him or her in the middle by appealing to reasons that they might accept.

B. Evidence and reasoning. Does your essay have adequate citation and quotations from relevant texts that support the argument of the paper, and do you explain how those citations and quotations in fact support the argument?

C. Consistency. Does your essay demonstrate internal consistency or ways of handling contradiction and paradox as they emerge in the argument?

D. Addressing an objection. Does your essay show an awareness of a possible objection to your thesis? Does your essay address this objection?

III. Style and presentation (20 points).

A. Does your essay:

1. avoid grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors? (This is very important, since the reader can’t help but take these factors as indicating the author’s care in writing the paper.)

2. have clear and well-structured sentences, paragraphs, and arguments?

3. have properly defined key terms?

4. have properly documented quotes? Page numbers in parentheses placed after the quote are sufficient if you are dealing with just one text.

B. Succinctness. Is every paragraph, sentence, and even every word absolutely necessary to your argument (or do you have irrelevant material and rambling discussion)?


Note on the papers:

One thing that a philosophy paper should not be is a “book report”, i.e., an attempt to summarize an entire philosophical text. Instead, a good philosophy paper should give a close analysis of a single key argument in a text. An “argument” in this sense isn’t a verbal fight (this isn’t the Jerry Springer Show, after all!). Rather, an argument is a chain of reasoning from certain statements (called the “premises”) to another statement (called the “conclusion”) that the argument claims is supported by the premises.

A good philosophy paper contains both an analysis of such an argument and some criticism of it. A good criticism generally consists of either (1) reasons why one or more of the premises of the argument is false, or (2) reasons why the premises in fact do not support the conclusion (in which case the conclusion still might be false even if the premises were true). You may or may not agree with the argument; and you may or may not agree with your criticism of it. This doesn’t matter for the purposes of this course. Remember that the reasons you give for or against an argument should be more than simply your beliefs or opinions. Rather, they should be potentially convincing to someone else, even if this person may not initially share your beliefs or opinions. After all, are you convinced that something is true just because someone else happens to believe it? So don’t just state whether or not you agree with the author’s conclusion. Instead, try to give reasons for or against the author’s argument for this conclusion.


Website: The Department of Philosophy and Religion has relatively few funds available for photocopying (or for anything else, for that matter!). The great majority of our course materials will therefore be placed on our website: http://www.uni.edu/boedeker. There you will find worksheets for you to fill out on the readings, outlines for some lectures, materials for use in in-class projects, and suggested paper topics. Please check the website frequently for updates.


MAILSERV: From time to time, I will also send announcements pertaining to the class via e-mail. To facilitate our electronic communication, a MAILSERV distribution list has been created for this class using your UNI e-mail addresses. The list members include myself and the students who were registered for the class when the list was created. It is a private list (i.e., only the list members may post to it), but has open subscription. To send to the list, use



If you registered late, or if you wish to be able to send and receive e-mails at an e-mail address other than your UNI one, then please add your e-mail address to this list by sending a message to


where the body (not the subject heading) contains these two lines:



In a similar manner, if you drop this course, you may remove yourself from the list by sending a message to


where the body (not the subject heading) contains these two lines:



It will be your responsibility to make sure you are subscribed to the MAILSERV right away, check your e-mail regularly, read the announcements, and print out all attachments. I strongly recommend that you purchase a 3-ring binder to organize and store the various handouts for this class.


Cheating and plagiarism (from UNI’s academic ethics policy): “Students at UNI are required to observe the commonly accepted standards of academic honesty and integrity. Except in those instances in which group work is specifically authorized by the instructor of the class, no work which is not solely the student's is to be submitted to a professor in the form of an examination paper, a term paper, class project, research project, or thesis project.

“Cheating of any kind on examinations and/or plagiarism of papers or projects is strictly prohibited. Also unacceptable are the purchase of papers from commercial sources, using a single paper to meet the requirement of more than one class (except in instances authorized and considered appropriate by the professors of the two classes), and submission of a term paper or project completed by any individual other than the student submitting the work. Students are cautioned that plagiarism is defined as the process of stealing or passing off as one's own the ideas or words of another, or presenting as one's own an idea or product which is derived from an existing source.

“It is not acceptable for the work or ideas of another scholar to be presented as a student's own or to be utilized in a paper or project without proper citation. To avoid any appearance of plagiarism or accidental plagiarism, it is important that all students become fully cognizant of the citation procedures utilized in their own discipline and in the classes they take. The plea of ignorance regarding citation procedures or of carelessness in citation is not a compelling defense against allegations of plagiarism. A college student, by the fact that he or she holds that status, is expected to understand the distinction between proper scholarly use of others’ work and plagiarism.”

Any student who is found to have cheated or plagiarized will receive the grade of “F” for the class. The instructor is obliged to report this “action in writing to the instructor’s department head (and, if the student is from a different department, to the head of the student’s department), and to the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. The Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs will notify the student in writing that such action has been taken, and will maintain a file for each student so disciplined.

“In cases of particularly flagrant violations of academic ethics relating to cheating or plagiarism, the instructor may feel obligated to recommend suspension from UNI for a period ranging from the term in which the infraction occurs (with a loss of all credit earned during that term) to permanent suspension from the University. […]”


Disabilities: I will make every effort to accommodate disabilities. Please contact me if I can be of assistance in this area. All qualified students with disabilities are protected under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C.A., Section 12101. The ADA states that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” Students who desire or need instructional accommodations or assistance because of their disability should contact the Office of Disability Services located in 213 Student Services Center (273-2676 Voice, or 273-3011 TTY).


Tentative course schedule:

IMPORTANT NOTE: This class meets three times per week, and each class meeting will be chock-full of lecture, discussion, etc.  You’re required to come to all class meetings.  Nevertheless, reading assignments are given only for Mondays and Wednesdays.


I. The old and the new physics, and Renaissance humanism

Aug 20: Introduction.


Aug. 22: Aristotle (384-322 BCE), Physics, Book II, Chapters 1-3; and Book IV, Chapter 8 (in Matthews, Scientific Background [hereafter “SB]);

Book VII, Chapter 1; and Metaphysics, Book XII, Chapters 6-8 (in course packet). Notes.


Aug. 27: Aristotle, On the Heavens, Book I, Chapters 2-3; Book II, Chapter 14; Book III, Chapter 2; Book IV, Chapters 3-5 (in course packet). Notes.


Aug. 29: Aristotle, On the Soul, Book II, Chapters 1-6, 12; Book III, Chapters 3-8 (in course packet). Notes.


Sept. 3: Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543 CE), Commentariolus (1512) and On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres (1543) (SB, pp. 33-44); Johannes Kepler (1571-1630 CE): Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996), The Copernican Revolution (1957) (in course packet, pp. 206-219). Have at least 1 worksheet or analytic response paper submitted.


Sept. 5: Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), An Apology for Raymond Sebond (1580), pp. xl-51.


Sept. 10: Raymond Sebond, pp. 51-122.


Sept. 12: Raymond Sebond, pp. 122-190. Have at least 3 worksheets or analytic response papers submitted.


Sept. 17: Francis Bacon (1561-1626), The New Organon (1620) (in Ariew and Watkins, Modern Philosophy [hereafter “MP] pp. 4-7);

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), The Assayer (1623) (MP, pp. 8-11);

Galileo Galilei, Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632) (SB, pp. 71-81).


II. The rise of philosophical rationalism


Sept. 19: René Descartes (1596-1650), Discourse on the Method for Conducting One’s Reason Well and for Seeking the Truth in the Sciences (1637), Parts I and II; and Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), “Letter of Dedication” and “Preface to the Reader” (MP, pp. 12-19) and Meditation One: “Concerning those things that can be called into doubt” (pp. 22-25) Handout.


Sept. 24: Descartes, Meditations Two (“Concerning the nature of the human mind: that it is better known than the body”) and Three (“Concerning God: that He exists”). Handout.


Sept. 26: Descartes, Meditations Four (“Concerning the True and the False” [MP, pp. 41-45]) an Five (“Concerning the essence of material things; and again concerning God, that He exists”); (MP, pp. 45-48); and “Reply to [Marin Mersenne’s {1588-1648}] Second Set of Objections” (1641), pp. 57-62. Optional draft of first paper due. Handout.


Oct. 1: Descartes, Meditation Six: “Concerning the existence of material things, and the real distinction between mind and body” (MP, pp. 48-55);

Descartes, letter to Marin Mersenne from December 24, 1640 (in course packet, pp. 91f);

Descartes, Principles of Philosophy (1644-1647) Part I ##45-46 (in course packet, pp. 242f), Part II ##3-25 (in course packet, pp. 254-262) and ##36-40 and #64, and Part IV ##198-199 and ##203-204 (SB, pp. 99-108)

Descartes, The Passions of the Soul (1649), Part I #30-38 (in course packet, pp. 307-310). Handout.


III. Empiricist Atomism and Rationalist Holism


Oct. 3: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), letter to Descartes: “Against Meditation II: Concerning the nature of the human mind”, and Descartes’ reply (1641) (in course packet); Leviathan or the Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil (1651), selections (in course packet, also in worksheet).

First paper due.


Oct. 8: John Locke (1632-1704), Second Treatise of Government: An Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government (1689), "Preface" and sections 1-61 (pp. 5-35). Have at least 5 worksheets or analytic response papers submitted.


Oct. 10: Locke, Second Treatise of Government, sections 87-99, 119-168, 199-124 (pp. 46-53, 63-88, 101-124).


Oct. 15: Hobbes, Leviathan, Part I, “Of Man”, Chapters 1-5 (MP, pp. 101-114);

Robert Boyle (1627-1691), Of the Excellency and Grounds of the Corpuscular or Mechanical Hypothesis (1674) (MP, pp. 262-269).


Oct. 17: Isaac Newton (1642-1727), The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy ("Principia") (1687) (MP, pp. 244-248); and John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Book I; and Book II, Chapters I-VIII: ideas, empiricism, and primary and secondary qualities (MP, pp. 270-290).


Oct. 22: Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, Chapters XXI (power and freedom) and XXIII and XXVII (substance and identity) (pp. 301-329).


Oct. 24: Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book III, Chapters III and VI: words and abstract ideas (pp. 329-339) and George Berkeley (1685-1753), A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), "Preface" and "Introduction": on abstract ideas (pp. 462-470).


Oct. 29: Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, Part I: against matter (pp. 470-477).


Oct. 31: Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr von Leibniz (1646-1716), Discourse on Metaphysics (1710), ##1-37 (pp. 184-207).


Nov. 5: Leibniz, The Principles of Philosophy or the Monadology (1714) (pp. 235-243). Handout. Notes.


Nov. 7: Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), Ethics, Demonstrated in Geometrical Order (1677), Part I, "Concerning God": "Definitions", "Axioms", Propositions 1-38 and Appendix (pp. (MP, pp. 129-149) Handout.


Nov. 12: Spinoza, Ethics, Part II, “Of the Nature and Origin of the Mind”: "Preface", "Definitions", "Axioms", Propositions 1-20, Propositions 21-49, Scholium (= “note”) to Proposition 49 (pp. 149-172). Optional draft of second paper due. Have at least 7 worksheets or analytic response papers submitted. Handout.


Nov. 14: Spinoza, Ethics, Part V: "Of the power of the understanding, or of human freedom" (pp. 172-180).


IV. Empiricist and Humanist Skepticism


Nov. 26: David Hume (1711-1776), An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748): ideas, skepticism, and the “skeptical solution” (pp. 491-522) Handout; Second paper due.


Nov. 28: Hume on varieties of skepticism and personal identity from A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1749) (pp. 550-572).


Dec. 3: Voltaire (1694-1778), Candide (1759), pp. 17-72.


Dec. 5: Voltaire, Candide, pp. 72-120. Have all 10 worksheets or analytic response papers submitted.


Dec. 7: Review and/or catch-up day.


Wednesday, Dec. 12: Final paper due by 4pm in my mailbox in the Department of Philosophy & Religion office, 135 Baker Hall.