PHIL 356: 18th Century Philosophy

Summer Semester 2013 | Day | Burnaby


INSTRUCTOR: Dai Heide, WMC 5655 (dheide at


In many ways, Hume holds a unique place among the empiricists of the early modern period. He is viewed by many as the most consistent of the major empiricists and Hume’s philosophical positions – especially well-known views in epistemology and moral psychology – have proved to be among the most influential and lasting from the early modern period (he is rivaled perhaps only by Kant in this regard). Nevertheless, Hume sits squarely within the now widely rejected “theory of ideas” tradition, according to which our representational access to the mind-independent world is only via mediating “ideas.” Moreover, even contemporary empiricists have tended to back off from some of Hume’s strictest epistemological and metaphysical doctrines. Our primary aim in this course shall be to anticipate the contemporary assessment of Hume by considering the positions elaborated in his Treatise of Human Nature and their critical reception within the 18th century.

We shall spend roughly half of the semester – or a bit more – reading Hume’s Treatise, focusing especially on Hume’s core views on the nature of representation, knowledge and the self as they are elaborated in Book I. However, we shall also read as much of Hume’s views on the sentiments and morality (in Books II and III) as time permits. In the second half of the semester, we shall consider criticisms of Hume’s program from two separate corners: Thomas Reid’s empiricist critique of Hume on perception and causation, and Immanuel Kant’s anti-empiricist critique of Hume on causation and a priori knowledge.


  • Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature, vol. 1. Edited by David and Mary Norton. Oxford University Press (2011). ISBN: 9780199596331
  • Kant, Immanuel. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Edited and translated by Gary Hatfield. Cambridge University Press (2004). ISBN: 9780521535359
  • Reid, Thomas. Inquiry and Essays. Edited by Ronald E. Beanblossom and Keith Lehrer. Hackett Publishing (1993). ISBN: 9780915145850
  • Selections from other works will be made available through the library or by the instructor


  • Two medium-length papers (1200 – 1500 words): 25% each
  • One final paper (2500 words minimum): 50%

Prerequisites: PHIL 100 or PHIL 151