Knowledge and Reality
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 13 January 2020
Friday 20 March 2020
14 May 2019
Requisites for this module
BA V500 Philosophy,
BA V501 Philosophy (Including Year Abroad),
BA V502 Philosophy (Including Foundation Year),
BA V503 Philosophy (including Placement Year),
BA V508 Philosophy (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA VV53 Philosophy and Art History,
BA VV54 Philosophy and Art History (Including Foundation Year),
BA VV55 Philosophy and Art History (Including Placement Year),
BA VV5H Philosophy and Art History (Including Year Abroad),
BA VVHP Philosophy and Art History (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad)
This module will introduce students to the debate between philosophers who, following Descartes, sought to provide a foundation of the human project by stressing the power of human intellect unaided by divine revelation.
We will focus mainly on the work of Descartes, and of two 'Cartesian' philosophers, Spinoza and Leibniz, who shared with Descartes the conviction that some absolute knowledge was in the reach of the human mind. Despite this shared conviction, however, there are profound differences between these individual philosophers, and we will highlight the differences in the way they approach the modern project.
We will more particularly focus on the following questions. What is the nature and limit of human knowledge? What role does human subjectivity have to play in the foundation of a new theoretical and practical world? Must a rationalist approach to the world rely on God? What must be the relations between faith and reason? Is human freedom compatible with a scientific vision of the world as governed by natural laws? What is the relation between the body and the mind?
The bulk of the term will be devoted to an examination of Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy. We will then see how Spinoza and Leibniz, while both working within the discursive framework laid out by Descartes, respond to quite different and in many ways opposed elements in Descartes' philosophy.
The aims of the module are:
* to introduce students to selected texts of some of the leading philosophers of the early modern period;
* to introduce students to core issues in metaphysics and epistemology and through the study of these texts;
* to give students some impression of how the texts and authors selected contributed to the theoretical framework underlying developments in philosophy,
By the end of the module, students should be able in their essay and examination work to:
* summarise and expound in their own words theories and arguments from early modern philosophy;
* expound and criticise commentaries on the traditional authors and texts;
* expound and criticise some of the theories proposed by philosophers to cope with problems raised by selected authors.
By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:
* define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
* seek and organize the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
* process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
* compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
* write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
* be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
* think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;
* maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;
* think critically and constructively.
Incoming Study Abroad students must have already taken an introductory module in Philosophy at their home institution.
1 x two-hour lecture each week followed by a one-hour discussion seminar at which issues covered in the lecture will be discussed. Week 8 is a Reading Week.
- Descartes, René; Ariew, Roger. (c2000) Philosophical essays and correspondence, Indianapolis: Hackett.
- Descartes, René; Sutcliffe, Frank Edmund. (1968) Discourse on Method, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
- Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Ariew, Roger; Garber, Daniel. (c1989) Philosophical essays, Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co.
- Spinoza, Benedictus de; Shirley, Samuel; Feldman, Seymour. (c1992) The ethics: Treatise on the emendation of the intellect ; Selected letters, Indianapolis: Hackett.
- Spinoza, Benedict de; Curley, Edwin M. (c1994) A Spinoza reader: the Ethics and other works, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
- Descartes, René; Cottingham, John. (2012) Meditations on first philosophy: with selections from the objections and replies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. (1962 [c1902) Discourse on metaphysics: correspondence with Arnauld, and Monadology, La Salle: Open Court.
The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.
Assessment items, weightings and deadlines
|Coursework / exam
||Short Essay (1500 words)
||Written Assignment: Detailed Essay Plan for Longer Essay
||Longer Essay (3000 words)
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Fiona Hughes, email: email@example.com.
Dr Fiona Hughes
Dr Thomas Joseph Stern
University College London
Available via Moodle
Of 36 hours, 36 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).
Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can
be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements,
industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist
of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules.
The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.
The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.