Spring 2018 - PHIL 352 D100

17th Century Philosophy (3)

Class Number: 2933

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    WMC 2200, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    One of PHIL 100W (or equivalent) or 151.



An examination of some central issues in 17th century philosophy. Themes may include: changing theories of causation, of the mind, and of the relation between mind and world. Historical readings will be the primary focus and may include important figures such as Descartes, Elisabeth of Bohemia, Malebranche, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Locke. Students who have completed PHIL 353 or PHIL 354 prior to Fall 2006 may not take this course for further credit.


The 17th century was a period of enormous philosophical innovation as philosophers increasingly tried to reconcile a new mechanistic scientific paradigm with the traditional metaphysical and theological commitments of medieval scholastic philosophy. Our aim shall be to understand how several of the great philosophers of the period attempted this reconciliation, and in doing so, we shall consider a number of very specific questions. For example: what is the nature of substance? Are substances sources of causal activity, or does God contribute to the production of natural phenomena? Is the physical world governed by laws? What is the ontological status of reality at its most fundamental level?

We shall begin by reading Descartes, and in particular his Meditations and Principles, in which he attempts a methodical systematization of his philosophy. We shall then turn to works by Spinoza, Malebranche and Leibniz. Each of these philosophers took Descartes to be wrong in important ways, and their philosophical systems are in part sustained responses to Descartes’ metaphysical views and methodological paradigm. But each of these philosophers is heavily influenced by Descartes, too, and so we will attempt to understand the ways in which some of Descartes’ most important insights had lasting influence in the 17th century.


  • Two medium-length papers (1500 words minimum): 25% each 50%
  • One long final paper (3000 words minimum) 50%



Nicholas Malebranche, Philosophical Selections. Nadler, ed. Hackett. ISBN: 978-0872201521

G.W. Leibniz, Philosophical Essays (Ariew and Garber, eds.) ISBN: 9780872200623

Baruch Spinoza, Ethics. Hackett. ISBN: 9780872201309

Rene Descartes, Selected Philosophical Writings. Cottingham, Stoothoff and Murdoch, eds. Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 978-0521358125

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