20-21 PY1002: Introduction to Modern Philosophy


Lecturer: G. Anthony Bruno
Email: g.anthony.bruno@rhul.ac.uk
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 (Ian.Jakobi.2016@live.rhul.ac.uk)

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.