Early Modern Philosophy Lecture Series with Henry West, Lecture 2

7:30 AM  - 9:00 AM
Tuesday Feb 12, 2013
Room 250, Olin-Rice Science Center

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

Lecture 2: Locke and Leibniz - an empiricist and a radical rationalist

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 session is:
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 2: Locke and Leibniz
Descartes had thought that humans have innate ideas of God, of ourselves, and of the elements of mathematics.  Locke denies that: there are no innate ideas.  The human mind at birth is a blank slate, a “tabula rasa.”  All ideas come from experience.  Thus, Locke is an empiricist.  For Descartes, there are two kinds of basic stuff or substances, mind and matter, which are the substrata of properties. Locke does not deny that, but regarding substance, he says that it is a “something I know not what.”  Locke developed a political philosophy, based on a theory of inalienable rights--life, liberty, and property.  He also held a social contract theory, but it differs from that of Hobbes.

Leibniz, who wrote a work commenting of Locke, is in the Continental tradition of rationalists in contrast to the British empiricists.  In an effort to avoid the denial of free will, he claims that there are no cause-effect relations between beings.  One does not interact with one’s environment, but it is there as it appears, both when one is having perceptions and when acting.  God pre-establishes a harmony between what appears to act on our minds when we are having perceptions and what we appear to act on the environment in moving our bodies.  There are no things that exist except minds and their ideas (our bodies are made up on minute minds); thus, Leibniz is an idealist.  We are thus free to act without being caused to act—we create out of nothing by free will.  In my opinion, this shows the absurdities to which philosophers go to maintain free will and to avoid materialism.

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

Sponsored By: Alumni Office

Categories: Alumni Events