Early Modern Philosophy

Below are readings and essay questions for tutorials in Early Modern. Many of the readings are available online, and all are easily obtained from the college or other libraries in Oxford, but if you are struggling to get hold of anything, email me, as I have PDF copies of nearly everything.

I have divided the reading for each topic into CORE READING and FURTHER READING, with more introductory texts marked with a star (*). Focus on the Core Reading suggestions in writing tutorial essays, and use the Further Reading suggestions as starting points for exploring topics in more depth during vacations. You will find more suggestions in the Faculty Reading List.

The default plan is to cover the TUTORIAL TOPICS. I may supplement these at a later date with some OTHER TOPICS that you might want to look at in vacations.

TUTORIAL TOPICS

  1. Descartes: Doubt and the Cogito
  2. Descartes: Cosmological Arguments, The Circle
  3. Descartes: Error, The Ontological Argument
  4. Descartes: Cartesian Dualism
  5. Berkeley: Abstract Ideas
  6. Berkeley: Immaterialism
  7. Berkeley: God and Reality
  8. Berkeley: Spirits

SET TEXTS

We’ll focus on Descartes and Berkeley. The set texts are Descartes’ Meditations and Berkeley’s Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues. You should read each of these in their entirety before the beginning of term. There are various editions available of each text, and you should buy your own, as you may want to make annotations. The following editions are all recommended:

TEXTBOOKS, ANTHOLOGIES, and COLLECTIONS

I’ve suggested as Core Reading a chapter each week from one or the other of the following two books, both pitched at undergraduates. There are other, more accessible textbooks, but these both give excellent introductions to the main interpretive issues. I strongly recommend that you buy a copy of both.

If you would like some alternative perspectives, the following are also highly recommended:

I often refer to the following collections:

Though I haven’t suggested any below, you’ll find many of the articles in these collections very useful too:

TUTORIAL TOPICS

1. DESCARTES: DOUBT and the COGITO

TOP

ESSAY QUESTION
What is Descartes trying to achieve with his Meditations? What are his principal objectives and conclusions? What function do the sceptical arguments play, and how does Descartes attempt to answer them? What is the intended role of the Cogito, and what is it about the Cogito that makes it suitable for this role? Is Descartes’ procedure viable, at least in principle?

CORE READING
Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy (Meditations pp. 3-62, CSM II pp. 3-62, SPW pp. 73-122); Selections from the Objections and Replies, On Meditations One and Two (Meditations pp. 63-77, SPW pp. 123-31).

*Gary Hatfield (2003) Routledge Guidebook to Descartes and the Meditations (Routledge), Ch. 2, 3 and 4, esp. pp. 99-117 and 141-6.

I’d rather you focused on reading the Descartes this week, using the Hatfield as orientation if needed, but if you have time, and want to start on some of the secondary reading, try:

Michael Williams (1986) ‘Descartes and the Metaphysics of Doubt’ in Alice Oksenberg Rorty, ed. (1986) Essays on Descartes’ Meditations (University of California). Reprinted in Oxford Readings.
Peter Markie (1992) ‘The Cogito and Its Importance’ in J. Cottingham, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Descartes (CUP). Reprinted in Oxford Readings and Chappell.

FURTHER READING
Descartes: Discourse on the Method IV (CSM I pp. 126-31, SPW pp. 35-40); Principles of Philosophy Pt. 1, §§1-6 (CSM I pp. 193-4, SPW pp. 160-1); Descartes’ Conversations with Burman, trans. by John Cottingham (OUP, 1976), pp. 3-11.

David Blumenfeld and Jean Blumenfeld (1978) ‘Can I Know that I am Not Dreaming?’ in M. Hooker, ed. Descartes: Critical and Interpretive Essays (Johns Hopkins).
Janet Broughton (2002) Descartes’s Method of Doubt (Princeton), Part I, and Ch. 6 and 7.
John Carriero (2008) Between Two Worlds: A Reading of Descartes’ Meditations (Princeton), Ch. 1 and 2.
Bernard Williams (1978) Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry (Penguin), Ch. 2 and 3, and Appendices 1 and 3.

OTHER ISSUES
On Descartes’ theory of mental substance (res cogitans) and the wax argument:

Daisie Radner (1988) ‘Thought and Consciousness in Descartes’ in Journal of the History of Philosophy 26(3), pp. 439-52.
Amy Schmitter (2000) ‘The Wax and I: Perceptibility and Modality in the Second Meditation’ in Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 82(2), pp. 178-201.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
Why did Descartes employ the method of doubt? Should he have? (2016)

Is Descartes correct to think that even an evil demon could not convince him that he did not exist whilst he was thinking? (2016)

Is Descartes’ First Meditation successful? (2015)

Could Descartes have achieved his aims if he had employed only the dreaming argument in the First Meditation? (2014)

2. DESCARTES: COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENTS, THE CIRCLE

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ESSAY QUESTION
How and why does Descartes argue for the existence of God in the Third Meditation? Does Descartes have an adequate response to the charge that his validation of clear and distinct perception is problematically circular?

CORE READING
Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy Preface to the Reader, Synopsis, Meditations Three, Four, and Five (Meditations pp. 9-11 and 24-49, CSM II pp. 9-11 and 24-49, SPW pp. 73-5 and 86-110); Selections from the Objections and Replies On Meditation Three and Five (Meditations pp. 78-89 and 102-6, SPW pp. 131-3 and 139-43).

*Gary Hatfield (2003) Routledge Guidebook to Descartes and the Meditations (Routledge), Ch. 5 and pp. 200-1, and 223-34.

Robert Delahunty (1980) ‘Descartes’ Cosmological Argument’ in Philosophical Quarterly 30(1), pp. 34-46. Reprinted in Chappell.
Louis Loeb (1992) ‘The Cartesian Circle’ in J. Cottingham, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Descartes (CUP).

FURTHER READING
Descartes: Principles of Philosophy Pt. 1, §§17-21 (CSM I pp. 198-200, SPW pp. 165-7); Descartes’ Conversations with Burman, trans. by John Cottingham (OUP, 1976), pp. 11-19.

Janet Broughton (2002) Descartes’s Method of Doubt (Princeton), Ch. 8 and 9.
John Carriero (2008) Between Two Worlds: A Reading of Descartes’ Meditations (Princeton), Ch. 3(I), 3(II) and pp. 337-58.
Lex Newman and Alan Nelson (1999) ‘Circumventing Cartesian Circles’ in Noûs 33(3), pp. 370-404.
Frederick O’Toole (1993) ‘Descartes’ Problematic Causal Principle of Ideas’ in Journal of Philosophical Research 18, pp. 167-91. Reprinted in Chappell.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
Is it true that Descartes cannot escape the Cartesian circle if certainty implies truth? (2016)

Does the Cartesian Circle pose a serious problem for Descartes? (2014)

Has Descartes any good reasons for thinking that I could not be the cause of my own idea of God? (2013)

Is it a problem for Descartes that his argument for the existence of God in Meditation 3 appears to rely on metaphysical principles, such as ‘there must be at least as much reality in the efficient and total cause as in the effect of that cause’? (2010)

3. DESCARTES: ERROR, THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

TOP

ESSAY QUESTION
Does Descartes have a plausible account of why, if God is not a deceiver, we nevertheless make mistakes? How and why does Descartes argue for the existence of God in the Fifth Meditation?

CORE READING
Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy Synopsis, Meditations Four and Five (Meditations pp. 9-11 and 37-49, CSM II pp. 9-11 and 37-49, SPW pp. 73-5 and 98-110); Selections from the Objections and Replies On Meditation Four and Five (Meditations 90-102, SPW 133-9).

*Gary Hatfield (2003) Routledge Guidebook to Descartes and the Meditations (Routledge), Ch. 6 and 7.

David Rosenthal (1986) ‘Will and the Theory of Judgement’ in Alice Oksenberg Rorty, ed. (1986) Essays on Descartes’ Meditations (University of California). Reprinted in Chappell.
Lawrence Nolan (2015) ‘Descartes’ Ontological Argument’ in Edward Zalta, ed. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Summer 2017 edition.

FURTHER READING
Descartes: Discourse on the Method IV (CSM I pp. 129, SPW pp. 38); Principles of Philosophy Pt. 1, §§14-16 and §§29-46 (CSM I pp. 197-98 and 202-8, SPW pp. 164-65 and 170-5); Descartes’ Conversations with Burman, trans. by John Cottingham (OUP, 1976), pp. 19-26.

John Carriero (2008) Between Two Worlds: A Reading of Descartes’ Meditations (Princeton), Ch. 4 and pp. 280-337.
Edwin Curley (2005) ‘Back to the Ontological Argument’ in Christia Mercer and Eileen O’Neill, eds. Early Modern Philosophy: Mind, Matter, and Metaphysics (OUP), Ch. 3.
David Cunning (2010) Argument and Persuasion in Descartes’ Meditations (OUP), Ch. 5 and 6.
Bernard Williams (1978) Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry (Penguin), Ch. 5 and 6.

OTHER ISSUES
On Descartes’ voluntarism:

Jonathan Bennett (1994) ‘Descartes’ Theory of Modality’ in The Philosophical Review 103(4), pp. 639-67.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
‘[W]hen I look more closely at myself and inquire into the nature of my errors (for these are the only evidence of some imperfection in me), I notice that they depend on two concurrent causes, namely on the faculty of knowledge which is in me, and on the faculty of choice or freedom of the will; that is, they depend on both the intellect and the will simultaneously.’ (DESCARTES, Fourth Meditation) Discuss. (2016)

Critically assess the way in which Descartes employs considerations regarding the Meditator’s idea of God to establish that God exists in EITHER the Third OR the Fifth Meditation. (2014)

Why, for Descartes, does human error need to be reconciled with God’s goodness? Is his reconciliation successful? (2012)

‘However hard I try, I cannot doubt the existence of the external world.’ Does Descartes give an adequate reply to this complaint in his account of belief and the will? (2011)

4. DESCARTES: CARTESIAN DUALISM

TOP

ESSAY QUESTION
What are the main doctrines of Cartesian Dualism? Outline and assess Descartes’ arguments for it. Is it a viable theory, and what are its main problems?

CORE READING
Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy Preface to the Reader, Synopsis, Meditations Two and Six (Meditations pp. 6-11, 16-23, and 50-62, CSM II pp. 6-11, 16-23, and 50-62, SPW pp. 73-5, 80-6, and 110-22); Selections from the Objections and Replies On Meditation Six (Meditations pp. 107-15, SPW pp. 143-50).

Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia: Selections from her Correspondence with Descartes, in Margaret Atherton, ed. Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period (Hackett, 1994), pp. 11-21.

*Gary Hatfield (2003) Routledge Guidebook to Descartes and the Meditations (Routledge), Ch. 8.

Margaret Wilson (1976) ‘Descartes: The Epistemological Argument for Mind-Body Distinctness’ in Noûs 10(1), pp. 3-15. Reprinted in Chappell and Oxford Readings.
Geneviève Rodis-Lewis (1998) ‘Descartes and the Unity of a Human Being’, trans. by John Cottingham, in Oxford Readings.

FURTHER READING
Descartes: Principles of Philosophy Pt. I, §§51–54 & 60–63 (CSM I pp. 210-1 and 213-5, SPW pp. 177-8 and 180-2); Discourse on the Method IV (CSM I p. 27, SPW p. 36); Descartes’ Conversations with Burman, trans. by John Cottingham (OUP, 1976), pp. 26-31.

John Carriero (2008) Between Two Worlds: A Reading of Descartes’ Meditations (Princeton), Ch. 6.
Daniel Garber (1983) ‘Understanding Interaction: What Descartes Should Have Told Elizabeth’ in The Southern Journal of Philosophy 21(S1), pp. 15-32.
Marleen Rozemond (1998) Descartes’ Dualism (Harvard UP), Ch. 1.
Lisa Shapiro (1999) ‘Princess Elizabeth and Descartes: The Union of Soul and Body and the Practice of Philosophy’ in British Journal for the History of Philosophy 7(3), pp. 503-520.

OTHER ISSUES
On sensation and the perception of external bodies:

Raffaella De Rosa (2010) Descartes and the Puzzle of Sensory Representation (OUP).
Alison Simmons (1999) ‘Are Sensations Representational for Descartes?’ in Noûs 33(3), pp. 347-369.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
Is Descartes’ attempt to prove the real distinction between mind and body in the Sixth Meditation any more convincing than the so-called ‘argument from doubt’? (2016)

What is the relationship between what Descartes says in the Second Meditation and the case that he makes for substance dualism? (2015)

Why is Descartes so sure he can conceive of his mind as distinct from his body? And what conclusions is he entitled to draw from this? (2013)

‘I can obtain some knowledge of myself without knowledge of my body. But it is not yet transparently clear to me that this knowledge is complete and adequate, so as to enable me to be certain that I am not mistaken in excluding body from my essence.’ (ARNAULD) Is Arnauld right so to object to Descartes’ argument for the real distinction between mind and body? (2012)

5. BERKELEY: ABSTRACT IDEAS

TOP

ESSAY QUESTION
How successful is Berkeley’s attack on Locke’s theory of abstraction? Does it crucially rely on an imagistic conception of ideas?

CORE READING
Berkeley: Principles of Human Knowledge, Introduction (PHK pp. 89-102, PW pp. 75-87).

Locke: Essay Concerning Human Understanding, I.i, I.ii.1, II.i.1-5, II.ii, II.xi (esp. 9-11), II.xiii.11-13 (on “partial consideration”), III.i-iii.

*Peter Kail (2014) Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge: An Introduction (CUP), Ch. 3.

Ken Winkler (1989) Berkeley: An Interpretation (OUP), Ch. 2.
Jonathan Bennett (2001) Learning From Six Philosophers, Volume II (OUP), Ch. 22.

FURTHER READING
Edward Craig (1968) ‘Berkeley’s Attack on Abstract Ideas’ in The Philosophical Review 77(4), pp. 425-37.
John L. Mackie (1976) Problems from Locke (OUP), Ch. 4.
John Russell Roberts (2007) A Metaphysics for the Mob (OUP), Ch. II.
Tom Stoneham (2002) Berkeley’s World: An examination of the Three Dialogues (OUP), Ch. 7.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
Does Berkeley’s critique of abstract ideas rest on the assumption that ideas are images? (2016)

‘I deny that I can abstract from one another…those qualities which it is impossible should exist so separated; or that I can frame a general notion by abstracting from particulars in the manner aforesaid’. (BERKELEY). Explain and assess. (2014)

Does Berkeley deliver a ‘killing blow’ to Locke’s account of abstract ideas? (2013)

Explain why Berkeley thinks that Locke’s view of abstraction can be traced back to his views on language. (2012)

6. BERKELEY: IMMATERIALISM

TOP

ESSAY QUESTION
Explain and evaluate Berkeley’s argument for immaterialism and his attack on the notion of material substance.

CORE READING
Berkeley: Principles of Human Knowledge, Pt. I., §§1-24 (PHK pp. 103-11, PW pp. 89-98); Three Dialogues of Hylas and Philonous, First Dialogue (DHP pp. 59-93, PW pp. 161-97).

*Peter Kail (2014) Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge: An Introduction (CUP), Ch. 4 and 5.

Ken Winkler (1989) Berkeley: An Interpretation (OUP), Ch. 6.
Tom Stoneham (2002) Berkeley’s World: An examination of the Three Dialogues (OUP), Ch. 3 and 4.

FURTHER READING
Jonathan Bennett (2001) Learning From Six Philosophers, Volume II (OUP), Ch. 28 and 29.
John Campbell (2002) ‘Berkeley’s Puzzle’ in Tamar Szabó Gendler and John Hawthorne, eds. Conceivability and Possibility (OUP).
Georges Dicker (2011) Berkeley’s Idealism (OUP), Part II and III.
Margaret Wilson (1982) ‘Did Berkeley Completely Misunderstand the Basis of the Primary-Secondary Quality Distinction in Locke?’ in Colin M. Turbayne, ed. Berkeley: Critical and Interpretive Essays (Manchester UP). Reprinted in her (1999) Ideas and Mechanism: Essays on Early Modern Philosophy (Princeton).

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
Is it a good objection to Berkeley to point out that his view entails that the students taking this exam are all wearing ideas? (2016)

No ‘sensible objects [have] an existence natural or real, distinct from their being perceived by the understanding.’ (BERKELEY) Explain the meaning of this claim and assess Berkeley’s arguments for it. (2015)

Berkeley claims that nothing can be like an idea except another idea. Explain and assess this claim and its role in Berkeley’s immaterialism. (2012)

Does Berkeley have good reason to claim that talk of material substance is a ‘manifest contradiction’? (2011)

7. BERKELEY: GOD and REALITY

TOP

ESSAY QUESTION
How, if at all, does the argument Berkeley offers for the existence of God in the Three Dialogues differ from the argument in the Principles of Human Knowledge? What role does God play in Berkeley’s account of reality? Is this account adequate? Is it consistent with the traditional biblical account of creation? Is it a form of phenomenalism?

CORE READING
Berkeley: Principles of Human Knowledge, Pt. I., §§25-84 (PHK pp. 111-33, PW pp. 98-122); Three Dialogues of Hylas and Philonous, Luce and Jessop pp. 212-215 and 234ff (DHP pp. 97-100 and 117ff, PW pp. 201-5 and 223ff).

*Peter Kail (2014) Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge: An Introduction (CUP), Ch. 6.

Ken Winkler (1989) Berkeley: An Interpretation (OUP), Ch. 7 and 9.
Jonathan Bennett (2001) Learning From Six Philosophers, Volume II (OUP), Ch. 31.

FURTHER READING
Robert Fogelin (2001) Berkeley and the Principles of Human Knowledge (Routledge), Ch. 5.
Melissa Frankel (2012) ‘Berkeley and God in the Quad’ in Philosophy Compass 7, pp. 338-96.
A. C. Grayling (1986) Berkeley: The Central Arguments (Duckworth), §§2.5, 2.6 and 3.4.
Tom Stoneham (2002) Berkeley’s World: An examination of the Three Dialogues (OUP), Ch. 5.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
Could Berkeley hold that the world was created before finite spirits existed? (2016)

Explain and assess Berkeley’s claim that some ideas constitute ‘real things’. (2014)

Does Berkeley’s God perceive sensible objects? What are the implications of your answer for the continued existence of objects unperceived by finite spirits? (2013)

Why does Berkeley think that ‘the existence of God is more evidently perceived than the existence of men’? Is he right? (2012)

8. BERKELEY: SPIRITS

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ESSAY QUESTION
Does Berkeley think of spirits as substances and ideas as modes? What is the parity objection, and does Berkeley have a good response to it? Does Berkeley’s account of spirits allow for the possibility of human action?

CORE READING
Berkeley: Principles of Human Knowledge, Pt. I., §§135-156 (PHK pp. 154-62, PW pp. 144-53); Three Dialogues of Hylas and Philonous, pp. 231-4 (DHP pp. 114-7, PW pp. 220-4).

*Peter Kail (2014) Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge: An Introduction (CUP), Ch. 8.

Ken Winkler (1989) Berkeley: An Interpretation (OUP), Ch. 9.
Tom Stoneham (2002) Berkeley’s World: An examination of the Three Dialogues (OUP), Ch. 6.

FURTHER READING
Jonathan Bennett (2001) Learning From Six Philosophers, Volume II (OUP), Ch. 30.
A. C. Grayling (1986) Berkeley: The Central Arguments (Duckworth), §§3.1 and 3.2.
Jeffrey K McDonough (2008) ‘Berkeley, Human Agency and Divine Concurrentism’ in Journal of the History of Philosophy 46(4), pp. 567-590.
C. C. W. Taylor (1985) ‘Action and Inaction in Berkeley’ in John Foster and Howard Robinson, eds. Essays on Berkeley: A Tercentennial Celebration (OUP).

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
Can Berkeley consistently claim that the mind is a substance? (2015)

An ‘agent cannot be like unto, or represented by, any idea whatsoever’ (BERKELEY). Why might this be Berkeley’s downfall? (2014)

Can Berkeley avoid solipsism? (2011)

Can Berkeley give a coherent account of action? (2006)