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19-20 PY1002: Introduction to Modern Philosophy


Lecturer: G. Anthony Bruno
Office room and hours: TBD
Lecture: Tues. 1-2pm (Horton HLT1)
Seminar: Tues. 2-3pm (Windsor 102), Tues. 4-5pm (McCrea 033)
Tutor: Ian Jakobi (

Modern philosophy emerges at a time of great optimism. The enlightenment inspires the idea that questions about existence and knowledge can be answered by human reason as opposed to traditional authority. And the scientific revolution shows how empirical inquiry can access facts about nature with increasing precision and rigour. It is in this context that the metaphysical and epistemological theories of René Descartes and John Locke develop. We will examine some of their central texts as means to addressing perennial problems concerning certainty, doubt, error, the self, the world, and God.

Gain an understanding of the basic concepts and arguments in Descartes’ Meditations and
Locke’s Essay.
Grasp Descartes’ and Locke’s attempts to formulate and solve problems from ancient and
medieval philosophy.
Register the continuing relevance of Descartes’ and Locke’s views for philosophy today.
Critically assess Descartes’ and Locke’s substantive theses about certainty, doubt, personal
identity, existence, perception, and theism.

Textual analysis: 500 words (10%), due Oct. 25, 10:00am
Essay: 1,500 words (50%), due Dec. 6, 10:00am
Exam: 1 hour (40%)

Students can choose from sample essay questions below or choose their own if approved by me. In their textual analysis, students cite a key term or claim in an assigned reading, define its meaning, and explain its role in the relevant argument from that reading. Please include the word count in your analysis.

As stated in the Philosophy Undergraduate Student Handbook, all essays are marked and receive written comments. Marks and comments are provided via Grademark, the Turnitin essay marking system. The Department uses Turnitin plagiarism detection software. Students are required to upload a copy of their essay to Turnitin via Moodle. Electronic copies must be uploaded by 12:00pm on the submission date or penalties for late submission will be applied in accordance with the College rules outlined in section 7.4 of the Handbook. Any late essays have a separate submission box. See grading criteria below.

Students with diverse needs are welcome in this course. Contact DDS for needs assessment and arrangements:


R. Descartes, Discourse on Method, trs. D.A. Cress. Hackett, 1998.
R. Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, With Selections from the Objections and Replies,
ed. J. Cottingham. CUP, 1996.
F. Jackson, “Epiphenomenal Qualia” in Philosophical Quarterly (1982: 32).
J. Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. R. Woolhouse. Penguin, 1997.
H. Putnam, “Brains in a Vat” in Reason, Truth, and History. CUP, 1981.

J. Cottingham (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Descartes. CUP, 2006.
D. Cunning (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Descartes’ Meditations. CUP, 2014.
V. Chappell (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Locke. CUP, 2006.
L. Newman (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Locke’s Essay Concerning Human
Understanding. CUP, 2007.

19-20 PY1101: Epistemology and Metaphysics

This course seeks to provide students with a broad conceptual framework within which to locate and evaluate some of the key problems that have preoccupied contemporary philosophers. These include epistemological questions concerning the sources and limits of knowledge and the status of scientific inquiry; and metaphysical questions like the nature of time and identity, and the possibility of human freedom. Although the emphasis is strongly on work in the Anglo-American tradition, the course aims to give students some awareness both of the historical sources of many of the problems raised and of the possibility of other traditions in philosophy. Having successfully completed this course students will be able to:
1. Demonstrate awareness of the relevance of scepticism to epistemology;
2. explain the significance of the problem of induction to concerns about the status of scientific knowledge;
3. appreciate the significance of the relationship between determinism, freedom and morality;
4. understand the metaphysical problems posed by the nature of time and identity;
5. understand the following distinctions: contingency and necessity; analyticity and syntheticity; a priori and a posteriori; dualism and monism; realism and nominalism;
6. present a critical evaluation of a piece of contemporary philosophy;
7. demonstrate an awareness of the connections between different areas of philosophical inquiry.

19-20 PY1102: Tutorial Special Study



The aim of this course is to accelerate the development of the critical and presentational skills that are key to the successful study of philosophy. Students in small groups will meet weekly with a member of the academic staff to discuss an article of chapter of a book that has been specified in advance (below). In preparation for most meetings you will be asked to submit online an analytic précis of the piece in question and one of the participants will present theirs to the group for critical discussion. Assessment of the course will be on the basis of the quality of these outlines and an essay derived from one of them.


Having successfully completed this course students will be able to:

  1. Present orally complex philosophical issues clearly and rigorously;
  2. Critically and precisely evaluate philosophical texts;
  3. Understand the relevance of philosophical investigation to issues of pressing moral and political concern;
  4. Demonstrate an ability to write cogently and philosophically about a topic of contemporary relevance;


10 one-hour Tutorials.

19-20 PY1106: Introduction to Aesthetics and Morals

The aim of this course is to give students a grounding in some of the central issues in moral philosophy and aesthetics. In the first half of the course, we will look at a number of philosophers working on moral philosophy, looking at the standard positions taken, as well as some of the criticisms raised to traditional formulations of moral philosophy. In the second half of the course, we will briefly look at some work in the field of aesthetics, which deals with questions of the nature of beauty and of art. Having looked at the value and nature of our aesthetic concerns, we will conclude by considering what an artwork might actually be.

Having successfully completed this course, students will be able to:

1.      describe different conceptions of the philosophical enterprise;

2.      evaluate different ways of understanding our ethical commitments to others;

3.      describe some of the criticisms of our common sense understanding of ethics;

4.      critically engage with some of the central debates within aesthetics;

5.      present a critical evaluation of a piece of philosophical writing;

6.      demonstrate an awareness of the connections between different areas of philosophical inquiry.

19-20 PY2002: Mind and World

This course examines some of the major metaphysical and epistemological problems that arise when attempting to understand how mind and language figure in human interactions with and in the world. It centres on attempts to conceptualise, solve, or avoid mind-body related problems in the analytic tradition and aims to contrast these with phenomenological and existential investigations of cognate phenomena.

19-20 PY2003/3204: Introduction to European Philosophy 2: The Critique of Idealism

Kant’s critical turn aims to restrict the use of pure reason to possible experience. While this avoids the dogmatic enthusiasm of rationalism and the skeptical consequences of empiricism, it imposes a distinction between the appearances we know in experience and the thing in itself lying beyond experience. It thereby inspires post-Kantian idealism to prove reason’s absolute capacity for explanation, a capacity unrestricted by an unknowable thing in itself and unthreatened by mechanistic systems like Spinoza’s. Fichte and Hegel thus defend reason’s absolute freedom as a way of perfecting Kant’s critical turn. The critique of post-Kantian idealism that emerges in the work of Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Marx raises important questions. What sort of insight into reason can we have? Can reason fully explain its own possibility? Can an account of reason be wholly objective? Can reason overcome all presuppositions? Is absolute knowledge sufficient to change the world? After an introduction to the idealist systems of Fichte and Hegel, we will trace the critique of idealism through these questions and evaluate the positive accounts offered by post-idealist critics.