PHIL 467 - The Enlightenment and Skepticism
Section: 001
Term: WN 2018
Subject: Philosophy (PHIL)
Department: LSA Philosophy
Requirements & Distribution:
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Enforced Prerequisites:
One Philosophy course or graduate standing.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

The thinkers in the eighteenth century movement “the Enlightenment” typically receive less attention from historians of philosophy than the philosophers who wrote just before or just after them. (Those who do receive attention, like Hume, are studied for other reasons.) To some extent, the Enlightenment has been a victim of its own success: many of the theses and arguments that appeared to their contemporaries most controversial – about the universal rights of all people, the need for religious tolerance,the importance of scientific investigation to the well-being of humankind, or the importance of political freedom, of democracy and of free intellectual inquiry, for example – have come to seem obvious to us. Hardly worth stating, let alone requiring argument. Other of the hottest disputes of the day seem to us now as museum pieces. Who worries about the Divine right of kings nowadays?

But many interesting and important things are passed over when we neglect this history. Also, recent decades have seen some rethinking of some of the Enlightenment ideals, and we should go back to the sources to ascertain how they might respond to such attacks. This class will strive to reverse the neglect of the period by studying the writings of some of these classic thinkers, including Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Montesquieu, J.J. Rousseau, David Hume, Baron D'Holbach, Mary Wollstonecraft, Edward Gibbon, Immanuel Kant and Moses Mendelssohn. In addition, we'll look though this lens at Enlightenment thinkers associated with the American Revolution: Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, to get an accurate sense of how Enlightenment ideals help shape the USA's founding.

Many different intellectual currents combined to shape the Enlightenment, and one of them will get extra attention here: The view called (philosophical) Skepticism, that human beings know much less than they take themselves to know, or even (in it's strongest, so-called Pyrrhonian form) that we can't know anything at all. This point of view had been explored in different variations in Ancient Greece and Rome, but was largely forgotten for over a thousand years until it was revived in the sixteenth century. We'll consider classic works of the Pyrrhonian skepticism of Aenesidemus and the Academic skepticism of Cicero, and some of the thinkers in the sixteenth and seventeenth century revival, including Michel de Montaigne, and Pierre Bayle, as well as Hume, when wearing his epistemologist hat.

The Enlightenment didn't unfold without a struggle, which in some ways continues to this day. To round out the picture, we'll read, (or in some cases just read about) some of the thinkers who made up the reaction that scholar Isaiah Berlin has called the “Counter-Enlightenment”. We'll read some classic essays by Berlin himself on this intellectual tendency, and look at Joseph De Maistre, Giambattista Vico and Edmund Burke, as well as Rousseau's anti-enlightenment side.

Course Requirements:

Writing and revising papers will be emphasized. The class will require short papers roughly every two weeks, some of which are to be revised and extended into two longer papers due mid-term and at the end of term.

Intended Audience:

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Class Format:

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PHIL 467 - The Enlightenment and Skepticism
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.

ISBN: 0140245669
The portable Enlightenment reader, Author: Isaac Kramnick., Publisher: Penguin Books 1995
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