Fall 2020 - PHIL 352 D100

17th Century Philosophy (3)

Class Number: 4033

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 10:30 AM – 11:20 AM

    Th 9:30 AM – 11:20 AM

  • Prerequisites:

    One of PHIL 150 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 longer final paper (3000 words minimum) 50%


Course delivery: remote, synchronous. Online presence via Zoom is required during scheduled lecture time.

There is no attendance component to the student’s grade.



In order to complete this course, students must have access to a computer or other internet accessing device that permits streaming video, word processing and teleconferencing with Zoom.


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

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.

Please note that the SFU Library has only the text by Descartes available in electronic format. Students must thus buy print versions of the other texts in advance of the start of the course, or else acquire electronic versions elsewhere. Since these texts are all translations, and two of them are compilations of materials drawn from many different texts, it is important that students acquire these exact editions. Other editions will differ substantially in translation and pagination. Students with other versions will therefore have a difficult time following lecture and discussion.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Thinking of a Philosophy Major or Minor? The Concentration in Law and Philosophy? The Certificate in Ethics? The Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate?
Contact the PHIL Advisor at philmgr@sfu.ca   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in fall 2020 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).