Summer 2023 - PHIL 352 D100

17th Century Philosophy (3)

Class Number: 2854

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    May 8 – Aug 4, 2023: Mon, 10:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

    May 8 – Aug 4, 2023: Wed, 10:30–11:20 a.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    One prior philosophy course (not including PHIL 105, PHIL 110, PHIL 310, PHIL 314, or PHIL 315).



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 Cavendish, Malebranche, Spinoza, 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.


  • Five short papers, written throughout the semester (600 words each): 10% each 50%
  • One final term paper (3000 words minimum) due at the end of the semester 50%



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.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at:

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   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

New elective grade policy : P/CR/NC, pilot project in place from Spring 2021 to Summer 2023. 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 website 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.


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the semester are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.