PHIL 463 - Topics in the History of Philosophy
Section: 001 The Philosophy of Rene Descartes
Term: FA 2013
Subject: Philosophy (PHIL)
Department: LSA Philosophy
Waitlist Capacity:
Enforced Prerequisites:
One Philosophy course completed with a grade of C- or better.
Advisory Prerequisites:
PHIL 388 or 389, or permission of instructor.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

An in depth investigation of Descartes’ epistemology and metaphysics based upon a careful reading of his major philosophical works and selected secondary literature.

The course will cover most of the following topics:

  • epistemology and metaphysics before the Meditations,
  • skepticism with regard to the senses, the cogito,
  • clear and distinct perception,
  • the causal arguments for the existence of God,
  • the Cartesian circle,
  • error and the will,
  • human and Divine freedom,
  • the ontological argument,
  • error in sensation,
  • the mind’s essence and the real distinction between mind and body,
  • the substantial union and interactionism,
  • sense-perception and the nature of body,
  • animals as machines,
  • the human intellect,
  • laws of nature and scientific explanation,
  • probability and moral certainty,
  • occasionalist tendencies,
  • necessity,
  • the eternal truths, and
  • innateness.

In addition to attention to detail in individual topics, the course will consider some large-scale issues: In what sense or senses was Descartes a “foundationalist” and a “rationalist”? Does Descartes’ account of the mind and its relationship to the body cohere with his mechanism in physics? Was Descartes sincere in offering his arguments for the existence of God and his dualistic metaphysics?

Primary source readings will include the Meditations and selections from the Rules for the Direction of the Mind, The World, Treatise on Man, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conduction the Understanding, Optics, Objections and Replies to the Meditations, Principles of Philosophy, Passions of the Soul, and Descartes’ correspondence.

Course Requirements:

Undergraduates are required to write two 7–10 page papers and take an in class exam (in the third or fourth week of November, before Thanksgiving). Each paper and the exam will count 30% each. The quality and quantity of class participation will count 10% toward the final course grade. There will be no final examination.

Graduate students may either meet the same requirement as undergraduates, or instead submit a single 15–25 page paper. Note, however, that I do not give incompletes to Philosophy graduate students; therefore, they must meet all course requirements prior to January 31, 2014 (the end of the Winter Term “writing period”) in order to receive credit for the course.

Intended Audience:

Because this course is an intensive survey of a single figure, concentrators and other undergraduates are strongly discouraged from utilizing this offering to satisfy a concentration or minor requirement in the history of philosophy unless they have prior experience in an intermediate level or advanced course in the history of philosophy (either 388, 389, 405, 406, or 463). If you do not satisfy the advisory prerequisite, you are strongly encouraged to consult the instructor before enrolling.

Class Format:

The course will be lecture based, but with time also allotted for discussion.

PHIL 463 - Topics in the History of Philosophy
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
MW 11:30AM - 1:00PM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

The first two items are volumes I and II of *The Philosophical Writings of Descartes*, edited by Cottingham, Stoothoff, and Murdoch (CSM). Do NOT substitute other editions. And do not confuse these with the single volume, *Descartes, Selected Philosophical Writings*, which has the same editors. The third item is volume *III* (The Correspondence) of CSM, but also edited, unlike the other volumes, by Kenny. This is required for graduate students and recommended for undergraduates.
ISBN: 052128807X
The Philosophical writings of Descartes, Author: translated by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, Dugald Murdoch., Publisher: Cambridge University Press Reprint. 1993
ISBN: 0521288088
The philosophical writings of Descartes., Author: translated by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, Dugald Murdoch., Publisher: Cambridge University Press Repr. 1985
ISBN: 0521423503
The philosophical writings of Descartes, Author: transl. by John Cottingham ..., Publisher: Cambridge Univ. Press 1. publ. 1991
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