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History of Modern Philosophy


Admission requirements

No admission requirements.


This course will focus on the history of philosophy in 17th and 18th-century Europe, a period commonly known as ‘modern philosophy’.
Early 17th-century thinkers like Bacon, Hobbes and Descartes saw themselves as making an important break with the previous philosophical tradition; and their ideas set off a flurry of activity which included such figures as Cavendish, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz and Hume.
We will follow the central strands of their thought up to the culminating figure of Kant at the end of the 18th century.

Throughout, the aim of the course will be to both familiarise the student with the ideas and texts of the most important philosophers of the era, and to put these ideas and texts in a larger context, including those of thinkers who do not belong to the traditional canon. We will pay special attention to the more theoretical disciplines of epistemology, metaphysics and philosophy of science, where the most crucial developments take place; ethics, however, will also not be entirely neglected.

Course objectives

This course aims to introduce students to key figures and themes in European philosophy from Descartes to Kant.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • central problems, themes and concepts in modern European philosophy, in particular in the fields of epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of science and philosophy of mind;

  • how these problems are addressed by a number of key figures;

  • the relations between these problems and the historical conditions to which they respond, including the development of scientific disciplines and methodologies.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • identify the central ideas of Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Hume and Kant, as well as certain ideas of other philosophers;

  • read selected primary texts with an eye to distilling the most important ideas and arguments from them;

  • give clear and structured written answers to questions about problems, themes and concepts in modern European philosophy;

  • fruitfully engage in dialogue about a philosophical topic.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures.

Assessment method


  • Midterm written exam with closed and open questions (20%);

  • Final exam with closed and open questions (80%).


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of two subtests (see above). It is possible to pass the course while receiving a failing grade for one of the subtests, if the weighted average of the two tests is at least 5.5.


The resit consists of one examination for all parts at once, consisting of an exam with closed and open questions, covering the entire course content. The mark for the resit will replace all previously earned marks for subtests. No separate resits will be offered for subtests.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Recommended literature:

  • Modern Philosophy: An Anthology of Primary Sources, Third Edition, Roger Ariew en Eric Watkins, Hackett Publishing Co. ISBN: 9781624668050;

  • The Rise of Modern Philosophy, Anthony Kenny, Oxford University Press. ISBN: 9780198752769.

Ariew & Watkins contains many primary texts, from which we will be reading some. It is possible to find versions of these texts freely online, but the translations may sometimes differ from those used in the lectures. Kenny provides a systematic background overview, which may help in understanding the concerns of modern European philosophy. It is recommended that you read through at least one such introductory treatment during the course, though it does not have to be Kenny.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


Not applicable.