PHIL 463 - Topics in the History of Philosophy
Fall 2013, Section 001 - The Philosophy of Rene Descartes
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is (see other Sections below)
Subject: Philosophy (PHIL)
Department: LSA Philosophy
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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)
 In Person
MW 11:30AM - 1:00PM

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