Frans Hals, Descartes

I Think Therefore I Am: Descartes and Modern Philosophy

Instructor: Michael Stevenson
BISR Central
68 Jay Street
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 a total transformation of the conception of “Nature” and a new understanding of the human mind’s ability to understand Nature’s true order. How did Descartes attempt to give unshakable foundations to a rational pursuit of scientific knowledge as a foundation for human progress?

This class will be a careful and thorough reading of 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 Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30
July 08 — July 29, 2019
4 weeks


Registration Open

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