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COURSE NAME: "Modern Philosophy"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 11:30 AM 12:45 PM
OFFICE HOURS: By appointment

This course introduces you to modern philosophers’ revolutionary understandings of human beings’ place in the world. In a world challenged by new scientific discoveries and profound changes in society, these philosophers question their predecessors’ appeals to natural and supernatural order, and instead place the human mind, self, and society at the center of their philosophies. The radically different views about human knowledge and morality that they propose lead to rich debates over the senses and reason, matter and the mind, freedom and responsibility, and the self and community – all of which have profoundly influenced subsequent philosophy, and even society at large. To explore these views and debates, we will study the philosophies of crucial figures like Descartes, Hume, and Kant.

We will begin with René Descartes' Discourse on Method. Descartes is often regarded as the founder of modern philosophy, and few philosophical works are as charming (and subversive) as this Discourse. A short selection from Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment will provide a contrast to Descartes' mechanistic understanding of living organisms. Next we turn to David Hume's An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Hume is a leading "empiricist" philosopher (we will try to understand what this means), besides being a very fine writer of English prose. He considered the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals to be his best work. Finally we will read the Moral Letters of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, addressed to a young woman who had rebuffed his amorous advances but requested moral guidance.


A few options for purchasing books online: Amazon.it, Amazon UK, Abebooks, Feltrinelli.


1. Gain experience in the art of careful reading of philosophical texts. (In the words of Sherlock Holmes: "Never trust to general
impressions, but concentrate yourself upon details," for "the little things are infinitely the most important.") 

3. Improve your capacity for clear and logical thinking, speaking, and writing.

4. Gain a basic understanding of some major philosophical discussions in modern philosophy and how those discussions might be relevant to our life today.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberCommentsFormatLocal BookstoreOnline Purchase
A Discourse on MethodDescartesOxford 9780199540075https://jculibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/311257723    
David Hume on morals, politics and societyDavid HumeYale 9780300240504, 0300240503https://jculibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1056109537    

class participation(1) Students are expected to attend all classes (barring a compelling reason for being absent, such as illness), to have done the assigned reading carefully, and to bring a hard copy of the reading. The use of electronic devices in class is not permitted. (2) A written reflection consisting of one well-crafted paragraph on the assigned reading is due every class, except when papers are due or there is an exam. (If you are absent you may turn in two reflections the following class.) The reflection should concretely explain a section of the reading or pose a good very specific question, and should demonstrate that you have studied the text carefully and thoughtfully. Reflections will be graded as G (good), M (middling) and I (inadequate) (3) Be punctual and do not leave the room during class except in cases of true emergencies. Eating in class is not permitted (drinking is OK).20
3 papersApproximately 1200 words each. Late papers will be assessed a penalty unless an extension has been granted in advance. You must cite in your paper the assigned editions and translations of the readings; papers which fail to do so will not be accepted. Please note that your papers may be submitted to Turnitin (a plagiarism detection program).60
final examEssay questions on the assigned readings. 20

A Work of this quality provides a coherent, orderly argument based on a very careful reading of the relevant texts and a solid understanding of the relevant issues. The student displays superior reasoning skills and has done a good deal of original thinking about the material. He or she knows how to raise important questions about the text and to evaluate possible answers to them. The student writes very clearly and has a near-perfect command of English usage and grammar. (Appropriate allowances are made for those for whom English is not a first language.)
BThis is a good level of performance. The student displays a capacity for careful reading and good reasoning. The work reflects some original thinking and is not simply a repetition of lecture material and readings. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions. The student writes clearly and has a good command of English usage and grammar.
CThis is an acceptable, or fair, level of performance. The student provides answers that are clear but limited, consisting mainly in a repetition of the text or lectures. The student has some ability to write clearly and correctly.
DThe student fails to demonstrate a coherent grasp of the material. Important information is omitted and/or irrelevant points included. The paper is poorly organized, and the student shows limited ability to write clearly and correctly.
FThis work fails to show any significant knowledge of the texts and the issues. Most of the material is irrelevant or inaccurate. There is no coherent argument and the student shows little ability to write clearly and correctly. This grade is also given for an act of plagiarism or other form of academic dishonesty.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


N.B. Numbers after the colon refer to the numbers on the Schedule of Readings (available on Moodle).

Sept. 4: Introduction

Sept. 6: 1

Sept. 11: 2

Sept. 13: 3

Sept. 18: 4

Sept. 20: 5

Sept. 25: No class

Sept. 27: 6

Oct. 2: 7. Receive assignment for paper 1.

Oct. 4: 8

Friday, Oct. 6 (make-up for Sept. 25): 9

Oct. 9: 10

Oct. 11: 11. Paper 1 due.

Oct. 16: 12

Oct. 18: 13

Friday, Oct. 20 (make-up for Nov. 1): 14

Oct. 23: 15. Receive assignment for paper 2.

Oct. 25: 16

Oct. 30: 17. Paper 2 due.

Nov. 1: no class (holiday)

Nov. 6: 18

Nov. 8: 19

Nov. 13: 20

Nov. 15: 21

Nov. 20: 22

Nov. 22: 23. Receive assignment for paper 3.

Nov. 27: 24

Nov. 29: 25. Paper 3 due.

Dec. 4: 26

Dec. 6: 27