Early Modern Philosophy Lecture Series with Henry West, Lecture 3

7:30 AM  - 9:00 AM
Tuesday Feb 19, 2013
Room 250, Olin-Rice Science Center

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

Lecture 3: Hume and Kant, a skeptic and a moralist

Join the Macalester community for the final lecture in the series presented by Dr. Henry West. 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!

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 3: Hume and Kant
Hume is an extreme empiricist and a skeptic.   He seeks to find an experience at the basic of any concept.  If he can’t find one, he declares it nonsense.  That is his verdict about most theology and metaphysics.  And he can’t find an experience of the connection between causes and effects except psychological expectation.  When one thing regularly succeeds another without exception, we develop an expectation and call it cause and effect.  Hume’s  Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is a devastating critique of arguments for the existence of God, and his essay on “Miracles” demolishes any foundation for belief in them.

Kant, like Leibniz, goes to extreme lengths to preserve freedom of the will.  He is a scientist, and believes that we live in an ordered universe.  But the order is imposed by our minds.  Things in themselves do not exist in space or time and are not in causal relationships.  But we have some idea of things in themselves by our knowledge of our own free will and responsibility.  Anything contradicting that is illusory.  Kant developed an ethics which is still highly regarded today.  His fundamental principle, the “Categorical Imperative,” is that one cannot make an exception of oneself.  Any principle that one acts on—regarding motive and intention—must be such that one is willing for everyone else to act on it.   Otherwise one’s act is immoral.

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

Sponsored By: Alumni Office

Categories: Alumni Events