Modern Philosophy

(PHIL 3213 Tue. & Thu. 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM; Denny 217)

Instructor:  Bill Gay
Office & Hours:  Winningham 103D; 10:30-11:00, 2:30-3:30 & 5:00-5:30 Tue. & Thu.; & by appointment
Phone, Email, FAX:  (704) 687-2266; <>; (704) 687-2172
Course Web Site:

The history of philosophy is often divided into ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary periods.  Generally, these periods refer to philosophy written by white European aristocratic males.  To this day, other contributions during these periods, if treated at all, are placed at the periphery of most universities and covered in courses on Oriental or Eastern Philosophy, African and African-American Philosophy, Feminist Philosophy, and Marxism.  Traditionally, Modern Philosophy has the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as its historical focus and metaphysical and epistemological problems as its thematic focus.  This course in Modern Philosophy will largely follow but also partially challenge the traditional approach.

In the traditional approach, the metaphysical reflections of the Continental Rationalists and the epistemological analyses of the British Empiricists culminated in the integrative endeavor of Kant's transcendental philosophy.  Thematically, even this view is too narrow because, at the same time, in Britain and on the Continent, political philosophy underwent significant changes to which Kant also responded.  In this course, we will focus initially on Continental Rationalism and British Empiricism, but, before turning to Kant, we will examine the traditions of conservatism, liberalism, and socialism as they emerged in Enlightenment Political Philosophy.  Then, turning to the Kantian enterprise, we will examine how it responds to Continental Rationalism, British Empiricism, and Enlightenment Political Philosophy.  Historically, nineteenth-century philosophy is not usually included in the modern period, but increasingly it is also omitted in treatments of contemporary philosophy.  To give some indication of these developments, we will cover a few post-Kantian nineteenth-century philosophers.

While this course will trace the logical development of modern philosophy (in both the traditional and some broader interpretations), an effort will be made to treat the independent significance of each philosopher and movement.  Through readings from primary and secondary sources, lectures, and class discussions, students will gain a background for a more specialized study of particular modern philosophers and for a more informed understanding of the philosophical roots of contemporary philosophy.


1.    Participation  (10%)
Students are expected to attend class regularly.  Each absence will result in a 5-point reduction in the final participation grade.  In addition, students are expected to be actively involved in class discussions.  Assessment of class participation will be based on whether it reflects completion of assigned readings rather than on whether a student's understanding of the material is correct.  Nevertheless, quantity is not a substitute for quality in a student's contributions to class discussion.

2.    Take-Home Exams  (30%; 15% each)
For Part I & Part III, questions requiring critical exposition of the texts that have been covered will be available [1/22 & 3/19].  Double-spaced, printed responses (about 1,500 words for each exam) will be due the third class after questions are posted [2/5 & 4/2].  (Exam grades will be lowered a letter grade for each class they are late.)

3.    In-Class Exams  (40%; 20% each)
For Part II & Part IV, three classes in advance of the exam questions from which the ones on in-class exams will be selected will be available [2/12 & 4/23].  Responses (of no set length) will be written in blue books during class and without the use of textbooks or notes [2/26 & 5/5].  (Make-up exams will be given only for extenuating circumstances and will be more difficult.)

4.    Research Paper  (20%)
Students will write an original research paper.  The paper must provide analysis or synthesis of texts, movements or problems covered in class and must include sources in addition to class texts.  Papers may not rely exclusively on web sources.  An abstract (about 300 words in length) is to be submitted for comment no later than about one month before the end of the semester [3/19].  The paper (about 3,000 words in length), printed double-spaced, will be due about two weeks before the end of the semester [4/16].  The abstract with instructor’s comments is to be attached to the paper.  (Grades on research papers will be lowered one letter grade for each class they are late.) Guidelines

Policy Statements:

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Students with documented disabilities requiring accommodation in this course should contact Disability Services in Fretwell 230 or at:

Class Schedule

--dates, which are indicated in brackets, may vary--

Abbreviations of texts for reading assignments, which are listed in parentheses, are:

HMP    =    Central Readings in the History of Modern Philosophy,    Cummins & Owen, Eds.
MPT    =    Classics of Moral and Political Theory,    Morgan, Ed.
BTK    =    Bacon to Kant,    Thomson.

For most classes, links are provided to study guides or readings on the web

Part I.  Continental Rationalism  [1/13-2/3]

A. Introduction:  From Medieval to Modern Philosophy  [1/13]

B. Overview of Continental Rationalism  (BTK, 1-8 and 303-07)  [1/15]

C.  Descartes  (1596-1650):  Dualism & Methodological Skepticism (HMP, 1-2; BTK, 9-51) D.    Spinoza  (1632-1677):  Monism  (HMP, 35-36; BTK, 52-79)
E.    Leibniz  (1646-1716):  Pluralism  (HMP, 79-81; BTK, 80-112)
F.    Take-Home Exam on Part I  [available 1/22; due 2/5]

Part II.  British Empiricism  [2/5-2/26]

A.    Overview of British Empiricism   (BTK, 113-25)  [2/5]

B.    Locke  (1632-1704):  Tabula Rasa  (HMP, 111-112; BTK, 144-81)
C.    Berkeley  (1685-1753):  Esse Est Percipi   (HMP, 257-58; BTK, 182-207)
D.    Hume (1711-1776):  Phenomenalism & Epistemological Skepticism (HMP, 325-26; BTK, 208-41)
E.    In-Class Exam on Part II  [available 2/12; given 2/26]

Part III.  Enlightenment Political Philosophy  [3/3-3/31]

A.    Overview:  The Rise of Parliamentarianism and Colonialism (Gay, “A Normative Framework…,” 181-194, web) [3/3]

B.    Hobbes  (1588-1679):  Realpolitik (MPT, 548-50; BTK, 126-43)
C.    Locke  (1632-1704):  Classical Liberal Theory  (MPT, 682-83)
D.    Rousseau  (1712-1778):  Democratic Theory  (MPT, 775-76)
E.    Wollstonecraft (1759-1797):  Women's Rights
F.    Mill  (1806-1873):  Post-Classical Liberalism  (MPT, 934-35)
G.    Marx  (1818-1883):  Socialism  (MPT, 1084-85)
H.    Take-Home Exam on Part III [available 3/19; due 4/2]

Part IV.  German Idealism and Post-Kantian Philosophy  [4/2-5/5]

A.    Synthesis:  Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Politics in the Revolutions of the 1780s  (HMP, 393-98; MPT, 831-32; BTK, 243-48)  [4/2]

B.    Kant (1724-1804): Transcendental Idealism (BTK, 249-93; MPT, 891-892)
C.    Hegel (1770-1831):  Absolute Idealism
D.    Nietzsche  (1844-1900):  Existentialism  (MPT, 1140-41)

E.    In-Class Exam on Part IV  (available 4/23; given in time scheduled for Final Exam, 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM, Tuesday, May 6 [5/6]