Spring 2016 course descriptions

Modern Philosophy (PHH3400)

PHH3400 is an introduction to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European philosophy. We will focus on four prominent works of the period: René Descartes’s 1641 Meditations on First Philosophy, 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 and Margaret Cavendish. 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 papers, a final exam, and some other smaller items. As well as meeting requirements for the Philosophy major and minor, PHH3400 counts towards the Humanities (H) and International (N) general education requirements.

Ethics: Hume & Smith (PHH4420)

This course will examine the moral philosophy of David Hume and Adam Smith. It will focus on Hume’s Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) and Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). We will also look briefly at some earlier views, such as those of Thomas Hobbes, to help us understand the context in which Hume and Smith were writing.

The themes discussed will include the roles of reason and emotion in ethics; whether we have a moral sense, and what such a thing might be; the view that moral judgments involve thought about an impartial spectator; and some early suggestions of utilitarian theories.

A main aim of this course is that you come to know something about the views and arguments of Hume and Smith. Another is to develop a set of skills that are useful in thinking about the history of modern philosophy, philosophy more generally, and other issues. These include close reading, critical thinking, and the ability to write critically and carefully. Most classes will be structured around discussions of primary texts, and others around discussions of relevant works of secondary literature.