The History ofPhilosophy
Descartes to Hume
Peter J. King email@example.com
THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHYDescartes to Hume
Useful collections of papers(hereafter referred to by their editors names)
R. Ariew, J. Cottingham, andTom Sorell Descartes Meditations: Background Source Materials (C.U.P.)
V.C. Chappell Hume (Doubleday) referred to as Chappell-HJ.A. Cover & Mark Kulstad Central Themes in Early Modern Philosophy (Hackett)W. Doney Descartes: Critical Essays (Macmillan)Harry G. Frankfurt Leibniz (Notre Dame)Marjorie Grene Spinoza (Anchor)Michael Hooker Leibniz Critical and Interpretive Essays (Manchester U.P.)George Morice David Hume: Bicentenary Papers (Edinburgh U.P.)Amlie Rorty Essays on Descartes Meditations (U. of California P.)A. Sesonske and N. Fleming Meta-Meditations (Belmont)Colin Turbayne Berkeley Critical and Interpretive Essays (Manchester U.P.)Godfrey Vesey Philosophers Ancient and Modern (C.U.P.)
Relevant Oxford Readings (referred to as: OR):Vere Chappell LockeJohn Cottingham DescartesJonathan Glover The Philosophy of MindI.C. Tipton Locke on Human UnderstandingR.S. Woolhouse Leibniz: Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science
Relevant Cambridge Companions (referred to as CC):Vere Chappell LockeJohn Cottingham DescartesDon Garrett SpinozaNicholas Jolley LeibnizDavid Fate Norton Hume
Frequently Used Abbreviations:A.P.Q. American Philosophical QuarterlyJ.H.P. Journal of the History of PhilosophyJ. Phil. Journal of PhilosophyP.A.S. Proceedings of the Aristotelian SocietyP.A.S.S. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary VolumePhil. Q. Philosophical QuarterlyPhil. Rev. Philosophical Review
As youll quickly discover, there are far more topics here than we could cover in a term; in fact thereare nearly enough for three terms. Yet Ive skimped on Leibniz and Berkeley, and have condenseda number of immense questions into single essay-topics. Clearly well have to make some choices but they dont have to be the same for everyone. As long as both members of each tutorial pairwork on the same topics every week, Im almost completely flexible as to which topics you choose.Almost, because concentrating entirely on a couple of writers or spreading the eight essays toothinly over the different writers wont do you any good when it comes to Schools.
Note that some of the topics arent relevant to the Oxford paper; I use this hand-out for anumber of courses at different universities.
Some notes on writing essays
PHILOSOPHY is like mathematics in that you cant just set down your answer you have to showhow you got there. A common fault in philosophy essays is that the writer is in such a hurryto get her ideas down to attack a hated position, to state an attractive theory that she
forgets to argue. Without arguments, all you have is a set of opinions, however interesting; witharguments, you have philosophy. With good arguments, you have good philosophy.
TRUCTURE. But perhaps the most common cause of problems with essays (apart from theamount of work put into them) is poor structure. A badly structured essay doesnt only make
it difficult for the reader to follow what youre saying it can make it difficult for you to keep trackof what youre saying, leading to repetition, contradiction, and irrelevance. Make an essay planbefore you start writing, and try to stick to it. It shouldnt be too detailed, otherwise itll be toorigid; most, if not all, plans will fall into three parts, including an introduction to and explanationof the problems, a discussion of the main arguments, and some sort of conclusion. Whatever yourposition, be sure to treat the positions with which you disagree as fully and sympathetically aspossible before you start to criticise them; apart from anything else this will help you to avoidknocking down straw men. Dont strive too hard for originality and new ideas; these will come (ifthey do) as you think and write about other peoples ideas and arguments. If you do come up withwhat you think is an original idea or argument, dont be too protective towards it; be at least ascritical of it as you would be of anyone elses.
RITICAL APPARATUS. All quotations should be given references clear and detailed enough to allowthe reader to go straight to the original source. This will normally involve author, title, and
page number; in the case of historical or translated works, you should be sure to give the editionyoure using, and if possible use a standard reference system (often found in the margins or at thetop of each page). If youre unsure, check to see how other authors do it, or ask me. Never useother writers words or even ideas without acknowledgment (see under plagiarism below). Detailsshould be given in a separate bibliography; the reference in the text is to author and page.
ANGUAGE. Clarity and precision often depend upon careful use of language and this includesspelling and grammar. Dont underestimate the problems caused by misspelling (the differences
between intention and intension, or ingenious and ingenuous, are more important than thesingle letters involved). This is even more true of grammar and punctuation. Keep your languagesimple: dont use three syllables where one will do, or had it not been written by him instead ofif he hadnt written it. Make sure that quotations fit into their new contexts (avoid, for example,Descartes said that I can be certain; write either Descartes said: I can be certain or Descartessaid that he could be certain).
LAGIARISM. Your essays must be your own work. The reading is there to guide you, to suggestavenues of thought, to offer explanations of difficult arguments or ideas; it is not there to be
repeated parrot-fashion. If you need to quote from another writer, mark the quotation clearly (seeabove, under Critical apparatus) but again, dont overdo it.
RACTICAL MATTERS. N.B.: occasionally I give more than one essay question; these are alternatives,so choose one. Dont read too much (or, of course, too little); three or four items from the
relevant reading list is usually about right (one introductory or general work, and two or threeothers). If you want to (or have to) go outside the reading I suggest, talk to me about it; too oftenI find that essays have suffered because students have depended upon what are frankly bad andmisleading books. If you use a word-processor (and Id advise it), use the spell-checker, but dontrely upon it; read through (preferably aloud) what youve written, at least once. Dont bother withgrammar-checkers Ive yet to see one that works properly.
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Descartes and doubt
What was the purpose of Descartes method of doubt?
Ren Descartes Meditations I Discourse on the Method Parts 15
A.J. Ayer The Problem of Knowledge chapter 2 (and in Doney)
Norman Malcolm Dreaming and Skepticism (Phil.Rev. LXV, 1956; and in Doney; andin Sesonske & Fleming)
H.G. Frankfurt Dreamers, Demons, and Madmen I
Bernard Williams Descartes chapters 2 and 7, and Appendix 3
Robert Nozick Philosophical Explanations pp 197-211, 217-227, 240-245
Francisco Sanches That nothing is known (in Ariew, et al.)
Barry Stroud The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism 1 and 2
Michael Williams Descartes and the Metaphysics of Doubt (in Rorty [ed.], Essays onDescartes Meditations; reprinted in ORDescartes)
Questions you might bear in mind
How many arguments to bring his beliefs into doubt does Descartes offer? What exactly are they,and how many of them work? Has the method of doubt excluded too much, and if so, how couldit be improved? Is the method possible even on its own terms that is, can one throw out allones beliefs in order to sort them out? Indeed, what exactly does he do with the beliefs he usedto hold does he throw them out (albeit temporarily), or does he simply withhold assent?
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The first certainty
Can Descartes really reach the cogito using the method of doubt? And if so, what use is it?
Ren Descartes Meditations II Discourse on Method Part 4
E.M. Curley Descartes Against the Sceptics chap. 4
Andr Gombay Cogito Ergo Sum: Inference or Argument? (in Butler)
Jaacko Hintikka Cogito, Ergo Sum: Inference or Performance? (Phil.Rev. LXXI, 1962;and in Doney; and in Sesonske & Fleming)
H.G. Frankfurt Descartes Discussion of His Existence in the Second Meditation(Phil.Rev. LXXVI, 1966)
Norman Malcolm Descartes Proof That His Essence Is Thinking (Phil.Rev. 1965; andin Doney)
Peter Markie The Cogito and its Importance (CCDescartes; reprinted inORDescartes)
Jean de Silhon The immortality of the soul (in Ariew, et al.) second discourse
S. Tweyman The Reliability of Reason (in Butler)
John Watling Doubt, Knowledge, and the Cogito in Descartes Meditations (inVesey [ed.] Philosophers Ancient and Modern)
Bernard Williams Descartes chapter 3
Questions you might bear in mind
Could we replace cogito with some other verb? Any other verb? And anyway, what exactly doescogito cover? What is the logical status of ergo? Is the whole thing an argument can we infersum from cogito?
If the cogito is a proposition, is it necessary or contingent? What sort of certainty does ithave?
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Clarity and distinctness
Evaluate Descartes suggestion that he could take it as a general rule that whatever we conceivevery clearly and distinctly is true (Discourse on Method, IV)
Ren Descartes Meditations II, III, & V Replies to second objections Discourse on Method Part IV
E.J. Ashworth Descartes Theory of Clear and Distinct Ideas (in Butler)