Fall 2021 - PHIL 352 D100

17th Century Philosophy (3)

Class Number: 7481

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo 2:30 PM – 4:20 PM
    AQ 4140, Burnaby

    We 2:30 PM – 3:20 PM
    WMC 3253, Burnaby

  • 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.


What difference does one’s metaphysics make? How does what we take the basic entities in world matter? Western European philosophy in 17th century is marked by challenges to the then-dominant Aristotelian explanations of change in the physical world and of human understanding, which relied on the doctrine of forms, and the associated notions of formal and final causation. But without formal and final causation, how ought we to explain the way things change and affect one another? How ought we to understand how the world affects us human beings and so how we perceive the world and have knowledge of it? But Aristotelianism does something well: it provides an account of human development, both cognitive and moral. The emerging alternative metaphysics of the period ought also to provide an account of how we develop as human beings. In this course, we will examine three competing alternative metaphysics to better understand how conceptions of causation, accounts of perception, and human development are all interconnected, and so how what metaphysics one subscribes to has far reaching implications.  

We will focus on three philosophers of period – René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Margaret Cavendish – but we will also look at some other thinkers, including Thomas Hobbes, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, and François Poulain de la Barre.


Students will

  • acquire an understanding of philosophies of René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Margaret Cavendish
  • gain familiarity with the views of Thomas Hobbes, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, and François Poulain de la Barre
  • identify and frame philosophical questions contained in the readings
  • understand how answers to these philosophical questions are connected to form a systematic position
  • understand how different philosophical systems are distinct from one another
  • engage critically with both primary and secondary source materials to develop original analyses and interpretations
  • improve expository and analytical writing skills
  • develop further collaborative research practices


  • 1 3pp paper 25%
  • 1 4-5pp paper 30%
  • 1 assignment comparing at least 2 of the central figures we discuss. This may take many possible forms, including (a) 4-5 pp paper; (b) imagined dialogue or correspondence; (c) other to be discussed with the instructor 30%
  • Participation, including weekly questions about the readings and in-class small group discussions 15%


Course delivery: in person.



René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, ed. Bailey, translation Johnston, Broadview, 978-1-55481554-8.
Either this translation by Johnston or the translation by Cottingham, Stoothof and Murdoch (Cambridge) are acceptable. The translation of the Discourse by McLean (Oxford) and of the Meditations by Moriarty (Oxford) are also acceptable. The translation by Cress is not acceptable.

Baruch Spinoza, The Essential Spinoza, ed.Morgan and Shirley,  Hackett, 978-0-87220-803-2.
Either this translation by Shirley (this, or in another edition) or the translation by Curley (Princeton) is acceptable. The translation by Elwes is not acceptable. 

Margaret Cavendish, Observations upon Experimental Philosophy (Abridged), ed. Marshall, Hackett, 978-1-62466-514-1

Additional required materials will be available electronically through SFU Library or Canvas.

Various secondary source materials will be available on reserve or through the library databases.

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

New elective grade policy : P/CR/NC, pilot project for Spring/Summer/Fall 2021. List of exclusions for the new policy. Specifically for Philosophy: 

  • Students can use a P or CR to satisfy any requirement for a major, joint major, honours, or minor in Philosophy (with the exception of Honours tutorials).
  • Students can use a P or CR to satisfy any prerequisite requirement for any PHIL course.
  • Students can use a P (but not a CR) to satisfy any requirement for the Ethics Certificate, or the Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate.
  • Philosophy Majors and Honours students can use a P (but not a CR) to satisfy any WQB requirement.

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 2021 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with approximately 70 to 80 per cent of classes in person/on campus, with safety plans in place.  Whether your course will be in-person or through remote methods will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

Enrolling in a course acknowledges that you are able to attend in whatever format is required.  You should not enroll in a course that is in-person if you are not able to return to campus, and should be aware 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.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the fall 2021 term.