PHIL 104 -- The Rationalists
Winter 2011

Instructor:    Clinton Tolley
   office:   HSS 8018
   hours:   tbd
   phone:  2-2686
   email:   ctolley [at]


Time:        Tues & Thurs, 11:00am-12:20pm
Location:  Warren Lecture Hall [WLH] 2207 [map]

Required textbooks

Benedictus Spinoza, The Spinoza Reader
 ed., Curley;  Princeton, 1994 [cover]

G.W. Leibniz, Philosophical Essays
 ed., Ariew and Garber; Hackett,1989 [cover]

{available at the Price Center bookstore}

Course description

We will read and discuss the major works of Spinoza and Leibniz, with the hope of sorting out what it means to be a 'rationalist', in the tradition inaugurated by Descartes.  Key issues here will include: the proper method of philosophy; the place of logic in philosophy; the distinction between reason, sense-perception and imagination; the limits of our powers of reasoning (in particular, whether they are sufficient to arrive at knowledge of the basic ontological and moral truths about the universe); the significance of basic ontological categories (substance, mode, cause, force, action); the place of theology and faith in philosophy; the locus of moral responsibility; freedom, determinism, and the meaning of life.

Course requirements

Take-home open-book mid-term exam (three 500 word essays); due 5th week
Final course paper (3000 words); due exam week

Schedule of readings

{basic, subject to change}
Introduction: Descartes, selections (week 1)
Spinoza (weeks 2-5)
Leibniz (weeks 6-9)
Conclusion: alternatives to rationalism (week 10)

Reference links

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries (requires sign-in)

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries

Overview of 'continental rationalism'
  (i.e., Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, as well as Nicholas Malebranche);

  life and works,
  theory of knowledge,
  theory of ideas,
  argument for God's existence

Spinoza: overview
   metaphysical categories
  metaphysics of modality
   theory of mind (psychology)
Leibniz: overview
   metaphysics of modality
   theory of mind
Arnauld: overview

For those looking for a companion treatment of many of the themes and figures to be discussed in this course, John Cottingham's The Rationalists (Oxford UP, 1988) is especially recommended.

Course URL

last updated: November 13th, 2010