Philosophy: Modern Philosophy

Modern Philosophy

Philosophy 205: Modern Philosophy

Spring 2012

MWF 8:45 – 9:50 AM

Morse-Ingersoll 207

Professor: Matt Tedesco



                Phone: 363-2146

Office Hours: Tuesdays 1-3 PM, and by appointment

                Office: Morse-Ingersoll 210

Textbook: Modern Philosophy: An Anthology of Primary Sources (2nd ed.), edited by Roger Ariew & Eric Watkins (Hackett, 2009)

The Class:

This course is designed to familiarize students at Beloit College with the most important philosophical ideas and arguments of the modern era, beginning with Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and concluding with Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). While this course is the second part of the department’s historical sequence, students may take these courses in isolation from each other; no prior knowledge of ancient philosophy is presumed for this class.


Your grade in the class will be determined as follows:


You will write two papers in this class, each worth 1/5 of your overall class grade. The first paper will be due by 8:45 AM on Feburary 15th, and the second will be due by 8:45 AM on April 16th. These papers will be submitted to me by e-mail. Details (regarding specific guidelines and expectations) will be passed along as the semester progresses. For you to receive a passing grade in the class, both papers must be satisfactorily completed.


There will be two exams in this class: the first will be administered on March 14th, and the second will be administered on both May 2nd and May 8th at 2 PM (our assigned time during the finals period)—you may choose either exam session. This means, for planning purposes, that you should not plan to leave campus earlier than the time and date of your planned second exam time. Anything discussed in class or assigned as class reading is fair game for a question topic. Note that these two will largely, but not entirely, overlap.


You will be responsible for sending weekly reaction e-mails to me throughout the semester. These e-mails should be at least two substantial paragraphs in length. The first paragraph should briefly summarize what you take to be the thesis, main point, or purpose of the reading being discussed. The second paragraph and beyond should contain your reaction to the reading. Here, you should be critically evaluating some aspect of the reading: what was particularly interesting, convincing, problematic, confusing, etc.? Your reaction e-mails will not be evaluated for correctness, but they should demonstrate a serious engagement with the reading for class. In order to help ensure that you are seriously engaging the material, each reaction e-mail must be a minimum of 350 words in length; the word count must be included in the reaction e-mail. This word count is merely a bare minimum; reaction e-mails may, and frequently do, exceed this number. Reaction e-mails that fail to seriously engage the reading, including those that fail to reach the minimum word requirement, will receive no credit.

There are two important rules (or sets of rules) to keep in mind for this assignment: timing rules and formatting rules. First, the e-mails must be received before we discuss the reading in class, and you can turn in no more than one per week. If you turn in thirteen (one for each week, excluding the first, last, and mid-term break) satisfactorily, you will receive an A for this portion of your grade. For each one not turned in, this portion of your grade will decrease by one-third of a letter grade (so, turning in twelve earns an A-, eleven a B+, etc.). For our purposes, each week ends at the start of our Friday meeting; any reaction e-mails sent afterwards will count for the next week.

These, then, are the key principles to keep in mind about reaction e-mails: one per week, on something we have not yet discussed in class.

Second, you will need to adhere to four rules in formatting your reaction e-mails. First, the subject of your e-mails should include both the number of the reaction and the name of the philosopher or philosophers to whom you’ll be responding (e.g., Reaction 1: Dworkin). Second, don’t send any attachments; your reaction e-mail should be the text of the e-mail itself. Third, don’t include other business (questions about assignments, requests for a meeting, etc.) in your reaction e-mails; send all of that stuff as a separate correspondence. And fourth, be sure to include a word count in the body of the e-mail.

These reaction e-mails serve a number of purposes. Beyond ensuring your critical engagement with the text throughout the semester, they give me a window into your reading of the text, which in turn directly informs my teaching. I’ll have a sense of what you focused on in the reading, and what needs special attention in class. I will also draw from the content of your reaction e-mails in class, sometimes generally, but also sometimes by referencing particular reaction e-mails. I will do my best to use discretion, but please let me know in your reaction e-mails if there are details in it that you would prefer not to reveal to the rest of the class. 

Given the volume of reaction e-mails that I will be receiving from all of you, you should not expect regular feedback on individual reaction e-mails. I will, however, respond to your first reaction e-mail, to let you know that I’ve received it and whether it meets the criteria of the assignment. I may also respond to individual reaction e-mails intermittently throughout the semester. Beyond all this, you should regularly be reviewing your reaction e-mails after our class discussions, to see how your understanding of the text has developed.  


The final component of your overall class grade encompasses several different elements, including (but not limited to) class participation and classroom behavior in general. This component is unique in that, unlike the other components, it is subjective. Attendance, first of all, is mandatory, and students with excessive absences will be penalized, where excessive absences are understood as those over and above the equivalent of one week’s worth of class time. In accordance with Beloit College policy, I expect everyone to come to class, and I furthermore expect everyone who comes to class to be alert and ready to participate. Participation also is mandatory. This means that I expect every student to contribute to our on-going class discussion throughout the semester. I recognize that class participation comes more naturally to some students than others. If you expect this requirement to be difficult for you, then plan accordingly—no one is exempt from this expectation. Elements of class activity that may negatively impact your grade include disruptive behavior (e.g., engaging in side-conversations with others, ringing cell phones) or visibly obvious detachment from the class (e.g., reading outside material such as work for other classes, sleeping). Exceptionally strong class activity may raise your overall grade by one-third (e.g., if your final grade is a B, it may be raised to a B-plus), while poor class activity may lower your overall grade by at least one-third (e.g., from B to B-minus or lower). As a rule of thumb, expect to have your class grade lowered by one-third for each class missed beyond one week of absence.

Note that, as a matter of class policy, laptop computers and tablets will not be allowed to be used in class.  The reason for this is straightforward: the classroom is a place for community conversation, and for a variety of reasons, laptops and tablets hinder conversation. If you believe you have a compelling reason to be exempt from this policy, please see me to discuss the matter.

If a situation of prolonged absence is unavoidable, please make sure to contact me about it. Be aware that I will normally request proper documentation should such a circumstance arise.


What follows is the plan for the semester as I see it now. Reading assignments should be completed before the class that they’re assigned, where the days listed in parentheses signal when I expect us to begin discussing the article in question. Note that this schedule is tentative; we may deviate from it as the semester progresses and class discussion takes on a life of its own. If changes are required, they will be announced in class.

If you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning disabilities and require accommodations, please provide the appropriate documentation to me from the Learning Enrichment and Disability Services office early in the semester so that your learning needs may be effectively met. Be aware that I cannot make special accommodations without direction from the LEDS office.


1/18:       Class introductions

1/20:       Montaigne, Apology for Raymond Sebond, “The Sense are Inadequate” (4-15)

1/23:       Bacon, New Organon I, Aphorisms 1-3, 11-31, 36-46 (16-20)

                Galileo, The Assayer, “Corpuscularianism” (21-24)


1/25:       Meditations on First Philosophy, Meditations I & II (40-47)

1/27:       Meditation III (47-54)

1/30:       Meditation IV (54-58)

2/1:         Meditation V (58-61)

2/3:         Meditation VI (61-68)

2/6:         Third Set of Objections with the Author’s Replies (from Hobbes) (76-82)

2/8:         Fourth Set of Objections, Reply to the Fourth Set of Objections (from Arnauld) (83-92)


2/10:       The Ethics, Part I: Definitions, Axioms, Propositions 1-14 (144-149)

2/13:       Part I: Propositions 15-36, Appendix (149-164)

2/15:       Part II: Definitions, Axioms, Propositions 1-13 (164-172)

                PAPER 1 DUE

2/17:       Part II: Propositions 14-49 (172-187)


2/20:       The Monadology (275-283)

2/22:       Continued


2/24:       An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book I (316-322)

2/27:       Book II, Chapters I-XII (322-342)

2/29:       Book II, Chapters XXI-XVII (348-377)

3/2:         CLASS CANCELLED


3/12:       Book IV, Chapters I-II (386-392)

3/14:       EXAM 1


3/16:       Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, First Dialogue (454-474)

3/19:       Second Dialogue (475-484)


3/23:       Third Dialogue (484-503)


3/26:       An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Sections I-III (533-542)

3/28:       Sections IV-V (542-555)

3/30:       Section VI-VII (555-564)

4/2:         Sections VIII-IX (564-576)

4/4:         Sections X-XII (577-600)

4/6:         Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Parts I-V (601-621)

4/9:         Parts IX-XII (621-640)

4/11:       Continued


4/13:       Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Preface and Preamble (661-672)

4/16:       The Main Transcendental Problem: Part I, How Is Pure Mathematics Possible? (672-679)

                PAPER 2 DUE


4/20:       The Main Transcendental Problem: Part II, How is Natural Science Possible? (679-695)

4/23:       The Main Transcendental Problem: Part III, How is Metaphysics in General Possible? (695-706)

4/25:       Conclusion: On Determining the Limits of Pure Reason (706-716)

4/27:       Continued

4/30:       Catch-up & class conclusions

5/2:         EXAM 2 (optional session)

5/8:         EXAM 2 (2 PM)