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History of Modern Philosophy


Admission requirements

Not applicable.


A lecture course introducing some of the key figures, problems and themes in the philosophy of Enlightenment from Descartes to Kant. Attention will be given to the broader context of cultural modernity, experienced as a break with the past, and the demands for stability and orientation that emerged as the unified world-views of religion and metaphysics fell apart. Against this background, we will concentrate on the concept of reason developed in theories of knowledge and morality proposed by thinkers such as Descartes, Spinoza, Pascal, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant. Key problems and themes to be studied include: the problem of foundations, the problem of subjectivity and reflexion, perception, innate ideas, the mind-body problem and the problem of freedom and determinism. Consideration of the two main streams of Enlightenment thought, Rationalism and Empiricism, will culminate in Kant’s attempt at a synthesis that would ground natural science while saving human freedom.

Course objectives

Students who successfully complete the course will have:

  • a basic understanding of the problem of modernity as it informs the philosophy of the Enlightenment from Descartes to Kant;

  • a basic understanding of some of the central problems, themes and concepts in modern epistemology, anthropology and moral philosophy (the problem of foundations, the problem of subjectivity and reflexion, concepts of reason, innate ideas, theories of perception in relation to thought, rationalism and empiricism, the mind-body problem, causality, the problem of freedom and determinism i.a.);

  • a basic understanding of how these problems are addressed in a number of key texts of modern philosophy. This includes a grasp of their overall aims, structure and argumentation, as well as a detailed understanding of specific key arguments and the conceptual vocabulary used for them;

  • a basic understanding of the systematic relations between the primary texts regarding shared problems and concerns, and the strengths and weaknesses of each; but also a situated understanding of the different historical conditions to which they respond;

  • some familiarity with the standard secondary literature on modern philosophers and the main currents of interpretation.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • read the primary texts with the confidence needed to analyse, reconstruct and evaluate key arguments in them;

  • read secondary literature in such a way that they can extract the main points and arguments and give a clear and structured oral account of the main arguments and a balanced evaluation of it;

  • participate in class discussions in such a way that they make intelligible and well-reasoned claims or responses to questions raised;

  • answer short questions on individual primary and secondary texts, as well as longer comparative questions under normal exam conditions;

  • answer longer questions of a textual/interpretative nature and of a comparative nature under take-home conditions.

Time table

The timetable is available on the BA Wijsbegeerte website
BA Wijsbegeerte 2016-2017 (Standaardtraject), eerste jaar.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures (hoorcollege) with time left over for discussion.

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load: 5 EC x 28 hours = 140 hours

  • Attending lectures (13 weeks x 2 hrs): 26 hours

  • Preparation of classes (including study of compulsory literature) and assignments: 60 uur

  • Midterm take-home exam, including preparation: 20 hours

  • Final take-home exam, including preparation: 34 hours

Assessment method

  • Mid-term take home exam (40%)

  • Final take home exam (60%)


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (midterm, final test). A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.

Class participation is a mandatory requirement for taking the tests and/or resit.


The resit consists of one take home examination for all parts at once. No separate resits will be offered for mid-term tests. The resit covers the entire course content and the mark will replace all previously earned marks for subtests.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • posting of announcements, assignments, course documents (lecture notes, overheads etc.) and further course information;

  • posting of exams

Reading list

  • Reader with excerpts from primary and secondary literature.

  • Descartes, R., Meditations on First Philosophy , Ed. Cottingham (CUP 1996). ISBN: 0 521 55818 2.

  • Spinoza, Ethics , ed. & transl. Parkinson (OUP 2003). ISBN: 0198752148

The reader will be made available through Readeronline (see instruction in Dutch or English


Enrolment for courses and exams through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for and exams in the column under the heading “uSis-Actnbr”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Dr. H.W. Siemens


Lectures will be in English, although Dutch can be used for exams and contributions in class.