Has modern science shown that objects are not coloured? Is scepticism about our ability to know and understand the world an essential part of a rational, enlightened outlook? Is Berkeley right that the idea of a perceived object existing ‘without the mind’ involves a ‘manifest contradiction’? Can human thought and action be understood as part of the natural world? Does the notion of God play an essential role in moral thinking? How useful is the schema ‘rationalism versus empiricism', (plus Kant’s attempt to combine insights from both traditions), in understanding the evolution of 17th/18th century philosophy?
These are some illustrative examples of the questions we will be tackling as part of this two-term exploration of (some key episodes in) the history of modern philosophy. Term 1 will focus on Locke, Berkeley and Hume, term 2 on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. We will look at the historical context shaping, and occasionally shaped by, the thinking of our protagonists, (reformation, scientific revolution, Enlightenment). We will also examine some crucial disagreements between them, e.g. over the nature of human rationality and the question of which aspects of reality, if any, are mind-independent.