In this course we shall focus on two paramount and seemingly disparate characteristics of modern philosophy: its relentless search for solid Foundations and its resolute turn toward Subjectivity. While the Renaissance, the Reformation, the discovery of the New World, the rise of Science and Capitalism, represent the external (socio-historical) determinants of Modernity, its major internal driving forces have been undoubtedly the unleashed human Subjectivity (freedom, creativity, innovation, autonomy, self-reflection) and the new spirit of Foundationalism (laying down firm and stable grounds of all human knowledge and practical endeavor).
Both of these trends coalesce in the pivotal point of the knowing and acting
subject. The "I" (the Ego), the most compressed formula
for human Subjectivity in general, becomes both the center and an all pervasive
philosophical theme of modern thought. It integrates as different contents
as the ancient concept of soul, the medieval spirit, the Cartesian consciousness
or the mind and the "transcendental apperception" of Kant. Descartes grasps the principle of subjectivity as an abstract thinking thing, while Kant conceives it as a self-relating subject that attains absolute self-consciousness. For both, the contents of our mind are the products of an active subjectivity which is the fountain of all knowledge. By examining its operations and achievements they respond to the skepticism of their predecessors (Descartes to Montaigne's, Kant to Hume's).
A transformation of the old ontological paradigm into a new Subject-centered
(though not necessarily subjectivist) perspective lies at the core both
of the Cartesian Epistemological and the Kantian Transcendental
The evolution from the former toward the latter has been appropriately
described as the development from the Classical Age of Reason toward
the reflective albeit deeply scientific Age of Enlightenment (Foucault).
This characterization is not misguided provided one does not lose out
of sight the common denominator in the whole process, which is the idea
of Subjectivity as the foundation of all spheres of human pursuit. The Subject supplies not
only the original point of departure and the only directly accessible
subject-matter of the mind, but it ultimately secures the objectivity of possible
objects as well. Although subjective by their origin, the a priori
principles of knowledge acquire objective validity by becoming the conditions
of possibility for any objectivity. Thus the true source of every objective
foundation eventually turns out to be the subjectivity of the Subject
We shall try to explicate this systemic circle of Modern Philosophy by traversing the historical path which connects Cartesian approach with the position of Criticism. In view of this continuity we shall discuss the development of the modern foundational idea and its subject-oriented thrust by tracing the historical threads leading from the Meditations (1641) of Descartes to the Prolegomena (1783) of Kant. Our focus on these two texts is not meant as a value judgment of other works by the two giants of Modern thought - it is simply based on the fact that they represent relatively comprehensive and certainly more readable expositions of Descartes' and Kant's critical philosophy respectively than any other books they have penned.
Course Objectives:The principal objective in this course is to become acquainted with the development of modern Philosophy from Descartes to Kant. In pursuing that goal the participants should develop necessary skills for a valid interpretation of relevant texts as well as become able to evaluate main arguments supporting modern Subjectivism in its both main versions.
The second goal is to help students understand the rationale and the motivation of the Cartesian and the Transcendental positions respectively. If we do not take into account the intellectual reasons for certain solutions we cannot possibly recognize the relevance of the underlying problems. Along with this goal the participants are expected to acquire a better appreciation for the contribution that modern Philosophy has provided both in creating and understanding our current world.
Both readings are to be found in:
We shall read together almost all critical passages from the two works
in class, but only as a continuation and further development of your individual
reading, not as its repetition or its substitute! Therefore, prepare for
classes and always bring your book! Students are also expected
to visit regularly the supporting interactive WEB page for concomitant
assignments and questions. One can find this site at www.prenhall.com/baird.
The course will be conducted through a combination of regular lectures
and seminar meetings. No matter what the form of a particular class may
be, we shall be doing basically one and the same thing: close reading
of the texts and careful analysis of the problems formulated therein.
By discussing these problems in class we shall get the opportunity to
work together, to challenge our own understanding of pertinent places
and to take advantage of our collaborative intellectual efforts.
Writing: Students are expected to write two papers simultaneously with doing their readings. These papers have to be based strictly on the course material. The first paper should discuss one problem or argument from the Meditations of Descartes. The second paper should analyze one of the sections in Kant's Prolegomena. The suggested scope is from 2 to 5 pages. The papers are due for Midterm and Final exam respectively. I strongly encourage participants of this class to contact me to get clarification about written assignments as well as feedback on the submitted papers.
Students are also encouraged to visit URI's Writing Center - located on the 4th floor of Roosevelt Hall - at anytime during semester. The Center serves both students who are seeking academic support and those with more advanced academic ability who are interested in assisting others. For more information go the URI Writing Center's website at http://www.uri.edu/artsci/writing/Writing_Center_Pages/index.html
Attendance and Exams: Regular attendance and doing reading on time are indispensable for being successful in this course (they will be reflected in the participation grade accordingly). What counts most, however, is not the mere physical presence, but active participation in answering questions, in doing presentations and taking part in class discussions. In addition to class discussions, students can test their ideas and viewpoints by joining the URI Philosophy Department E-group (www.uri.edu/artsci/phl/egroup.htm). Philosophical issues related to Modern Philosophy always take a very prominent place there.
There will be two exams including one final. They will have the form
of both short answer quizzes and multiple choice questions.
Students with Disabilities: Any student with a documented disability is welcome to contact me early in the semester so that we may work out reasonable accommodations to support your success in this course. One should also contact Disability Services for Students, Office of Student Life, 330 Memorial Union, 874-2098.
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