24.201 Topics in the History of Philosophy

Spring 2021

Students must choose either Lecture 1 or Lecture 2; credit cannot be received for both.

Lecture 1: Kant’s Ethical Theory

Professor Tamar Schapiro

Immanuel Kant’s ethical theory is the source of one of the most fertile and influential traditions in modern moral philosophy. In most introductory ethics courses, students learn only the bare outline of the theory. The aim of this course is to give students a deeper and more systematic understanding of Kant’s ethics. The heart of the course will consist in a careful, detailed reading of Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. We will supplement this reading, as needed, with sections of the Critique of Pure Reason and the Metaphysics of Morals. We will also read secondary materials as they become relevant. Among the questions we will be addressing are these: Is it possible to do the right thing, just because it is right (and not because it is advantageous to us, or productive of something that we happen to want)? What in the world are we doing when we are doing that? Why does Kant think that when we do the right thing, just because it is right, we are acting on the “Categorical Imperative”? If he is correct, what follows? What do we owe to ourselves and to others? Can we avoid being subject to moral obligation? And what does morality have to do with our “freedom” and our “rationality”?

Pre-requisite: at least one course in philosophy, or instructor approval.

Lecture 2: Spinoza and Hume

Professor James Van Cleve

This course will be an in-depth study of the philosophies of the archetypal rationalist Spinoza (1632-77) and the archetypal empiricist Hume (1711-76).  Topics to be covered include the metaphysic of substance, attribute, and mode; the Principle of Sufficient Reason; proofs of the existence of God; determinism and necessitarianism; the relation of mind to body; the basic principles of empiricism; the structure of space, time, part, and whole; the nature of causation; perception and our knowledge (or not) of the external world; the nature of persons and personal identity through time; and the relation of morality to the passions.

Pre-requisite: at least one course in philosophy, or instructor approval.