Descartes and the Origins of Modern Philosophy
68 Jay Street, #308
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Universally acknowledged as the father of modern philosophy, Descartes’ published his Meditations on First Philosophy in 1641 with revolutionary intent. Attempting to overthrow the entrenched Christian Scholasticism of the Medieval Schools, Descartes boasted that the special topics of God and the human soul—the principal subject matters of pre-modern thought—could be dealt with better by philosophy rather than theology. Descartes’ goal was no less than “[t]o demolish everything completely and start again right from the foundations…”—that is, to dismantle all acquired belief and establish an impregnable basis for the rational pursuit of scientific knowledge. As he proceeded, he raised questions of profound and enduring philosophical importance: Are all beliefs susceptible to doubt? What kind of a thing is my mind? What kind of a thing is my body? If the mind is a non-physical thing, how does it have effects on physical things, and vice versa?
In this class, we will carefully and thoroughly read the Meditations in its entirety. We’ll consider Descartes’ “method of radical doubt”, the so-called “cogito reasoning”—”I think, therefore I am”—which provides the putative foundation of all knowledge, the proofs for the existence of God, the argument for mind-body dualism, and the mechanistic picture of nature that results. While we’ll be interested in evaluating Descartes’ arguments on their own terms, we’ll do so with a view both to understanding its attempted break with the past as well as understanding how it initiates a new tradition within philosophy. In this sense, the class can be considered an introduction to modern Western philosophy alongside many of its key concerns.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30
July 08 — July 29, 2019