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History of Modern Philosophy


Admission requirements



This is an introductory course to some of the key figures, problems and themes in the philosophy of Enlightenment from Descartes to Kant. Special attention will be given to what could be seen as a trajectory that goes from the rise to the fall of the trust or confidence in reason. Against this background, we will concentrate primarily on the theories of knowledge and morality developed by Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume and Kant, and secondarily on authors such as Montaigne, Pascal, and Voltaire. Finally, as an attempt to show the problems opened up by modernity, we will consider authors who criticize the Enlightenment project such as the young Hegel or Schelling.

Some of the main problems and themes to be studied include: the problem of the foundations of knowledge, the problem of subjectivity and reflexion, perception, and the problem of freedom and determinism.

In the lectures there will be some time left over for discussion of the main texts.

Course objectives

Using classic texts, from Montaigne to Kant, but also texts from later authors, such as Schelling or Hegel, this course aims to provide a broad understanding of the main philosophical problems which inform what traditionally has been called Modern Philosophy or the philosophy of the Enlightenment. However, special attention will be given to the trajectory that goes from the rise to the fall of the trust in reason.
In this way, the course aims to offer students a basic familiarity and understanding of the particularities of each of the theories and argumentations developed in the texts (by Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, etc.), as well as a broad understanding of the ways in which these different texts can be seen as an attempt to solve very similar problems and concerns.

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

  • the main philosophical problems from Descartes to Kant;

  • the main texts in which these questions/problems are developed;

  • the main philosophical problems that follow from these positions and which inform later theories and positions from Kant onwards.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

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

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

  • write clear and detailed reconstructions of specific arguments from primary texts.


See Collegeroosters Wijsbegeerte 2014-2015, BA Wijsbegeerte (Standaardtraject), eerste jaar.
See Timetables Philosophy 2014-2015 , Timetable Undergraduate Courses in English

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures with time left over for discussion

Course Load

Total course load (5 EC x 28 hrs): 140 hours
Attending lectures: (14 weeks x 2 hrs): 28 hours
Time for studying the compulsory literature: 84 hours
Time for completing assignments: 8 hours
Time for completing take home exams (2 × 10 hrs): 20 hours

Assessment method

  • Regular assignments (10%)

  • Mid-semester take home exam (40%)

  • Final take home exam (50%)

One resit will be offered, covering the entire course content. Any student who did not take the first examinations (both mid-term and final) cannot take the resit.


Blackboard will be used for posting texts, assignments and other course information.

Reading list

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

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

  • Reader with excerpts from primary and secondary literature, to be obtained via Readeronline. (See also information in English: Readeronline)


Please register for this course on uSis.
See Inschrijven voor cursussen en tentamens

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the collegerooster in the column under the heading “”.

Exchange students and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs
Registration Studeren à la carte


Dr. K.D. Hay Rodgers