Early Modern Philosophy Lecture Series with Henry West, Lecture 1

7:30 AM  - 9:00 AM
Tuesday Feb 5, 2013
Room 250, Olin-Rice Science Center

Macalester College presents three lectures on early modern philosophy
by Henry West, professor emeritus of Philosophy

Lecture 1: Descartes and Hobbes, a metaphysical dualist and a materialist

In this series Dr. West will discuss the questions and ideas which arose from the scientific developments of the 17th and 18th centuries: the roles of reason and experience in knowledge (Which is primary?),  the relation between mind and body (Is it a problem?), and the nature of human action (Free and/or determined?). The presentations are informal, discussion is encouraged and plenty of coffee is provided! No assigned readings, no tests, no papers - just lively discussion in a friendly place. Lectures will begin at 7:30 in the morning!

The next two sessions are:
February 12: Locke and Leibniz - an empiricist and a radical rationalist
February 19: Hume and Kant - a skeptic and a moralist

There is no charge, but if you plan to attend please register online here.

Questions? Contact Gabrielle Lawrence for non-philosophical questions at lawrence@macalester.edu.

Early modern philosophers were reacting to the scientific developments of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: the revolution in astronomy (Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo) that established that the earth was not the center of the universe, and the revolution in mechanics that overthrew Aristotelian physics.  Galileo revived the ancient Greek theory of atomism, theorizing that many of our sensations are subjective—atoms having only solidity, size, shape, and motion—no color, sound, or smell.

There are three principal questions that occupied the early modern philosophers: 1) the basis of knowledge: is it reason or sensation?  This divides the rationalists and the empiricists. 2) the mind-body problem: this divides the dualists, materialists, and idealists. 3) freedom of the will: some philosophers say free will cannot have antecedent causes; others say that choices can be caused and that free will is ability to choose according to one’s strongest desires without external coercion.

Lecture 1: Descartes and Hobbes
Descartes is often called the “father of modern philosophy.”  In an effort to base knowledge upon a secure foundation, he attempted doubt everything that he could doubt without contradiction.  He found that he could not doubt his own existence: “cogito ergo sum”—I think therefore I am.  In the act of doubting his existence, it would be contradictory for him not to exist, at least as a thinking thing.  But he can doubt the existence of his body.  He thinks that he can prove that he has a body, by way of proving that God exists and would not deceive him into thinking that he has a body if he doesn’t.  But he conceives a radical distinction when his mind and his body.  He develops a mind-body dualism.

Hobbes was contemporary of Descartes and had correspondence with him. Hobbes is a materialist: the only things that ultimately exist are bodies in motion.  Hobbes attempts to explain all sensation as the motion of minute parts of our bodies.  Unlike Descartes, he believes material bodies can have thoughts through the internal motions of our brains.  Hobbes also, unlike Descartes, developed a moral and political philosophy.  He started from the assumption that self-preservation is the first law of nature and postulated that in a “state of nature” without law and order, there would be a war of everyone against everyone, and life would be “nasty, brutish and short.”  It is therefore reasonable to form a social contract to delegate security to a governmental power.

This event is for: Alumni, Parents and Families and Public

Sponsored By: Alumni Office

Categories: Alumni Events