Questions in Modern and Contemporary Philosophy
Fairfield University
Spring 2010

PH 150A, M & Th 9:30 to 10:45 p.m., BNW 256


Steven M. Bayne
Office: DMH 309, x2857
Office Hours: M & Th: 12:30-1:45 p.m.,
Alternate Tues (starting 2/2): 5:00 to 6:30 p.m.,
or by appointment.

Required Texts

The New Organon, Francis Bacon, in class packet.

Philosophical Essays and Correspondence, René Descartes, ed., Roger Ariew, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2000).

An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume, ed., Eric Steinberg, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1993).

Selections from A Treatise of Human Nature, David Hume, in class packet.

Kant Selections, ed., Lewis White Beck, (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1988).

Course Description

Questions. As far back as . . . well forever, philosophers have been asking questions (well, really all people ask questions—maybe philosophers just ask them more incessantly than other people). Who am I? What is the world like? How does my mind work? What can I know? Am I alone in the world? Is there a divine being? How should I relate to other people? What is the best way to live? How are humans different than animals? Who gave the government the right to boss me around? These, and lots of others, are good philosophical questions. This semester we will study the ways in which such questions have been formulated and answered by some of the most important modern philosophers (that means philosophers from the late 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries).

Course Goals and Objectives

The ultimate goal of the class is to get you to think philosophically for yourself. Given the topic of our class, the primary objective here will be to enable you to recognize, understand, discuss, and evaluate some of the important themes developed by philosophers in the modern period. As much as possible we will use this primary objective as a bridge to the further objective of enabling you to do the same things with philosophical issues wherever you encounter them (whether that be in a book, a speech, a discussion, a work of art, a news report, or even your personal experiences in everyday life).

Course Requirements and Grading

The requirements for this course are:

Class reading, attendance, and participation:


First Paper:




Second Paper:


Final Exam:


Please note:

  1. You are required to read the materials assigned for a particular class before you come to class. I will regularly provide you with study questions to help guide your reading. Note, however, that if I find that students need stronger encouragement to do the assigned reading before class, then I reserve the right to convert the study questions into writing assignments. In this case each writing assignment would count for 1/15 of your class reading, attendance, and participation grade.

  2. Minimum Attendance Requirement: If you have more than four unexcused absences, you will receive a zero for the class attendance and participation component of your grade.

  3. If for some reason you cannot meet a paper deadline or take the midterm at the scheduled time, then you must inform me as soon as you know this. If you have what we both deem to be a good excuse, then we will make arrangements for you to turn in the paper at some other time or take a make-up-exam. If you miss a deadline without speaking to me before the deadline, then one third letter grade will be deducted from your score for each day your paper is late. If you miss an exam without speaking to me before the exam, you will not be allowed to make up the exam.  If there are any writing assignments (see note 1 above), then late writing assignments will not be given a grade.

  4. You must take the final exam at the scheduled time.

Academic Integrity

I expect you to abide by Fairfield University’s policies on academic honesty (see p. 29 of the current catalogue). Academic dishonesty of any kind (see p. 29 of the current catalog for more information) will not be tolerated, but since many of the assignments in this class will be completed outside of the classroom, I want to include a special note concerning plagiarism. Plagiarism is committed anytime a person directly quotes, closely paraphrases, or uses some original idea from another author without citing the source of this material. It does not matter whether this other material comes from a lecture, a journal article, a book, or even a web site. If you are using material from another author, then you must cite the source. This applies to both your final version and any drafts you turn in to me. If anyone is caught plagiarizing (or committing any other act of academic dishonesty) in this class, there will be three initial consequences. First, at the very least this student will receive a 0 (zero) on the assignment in question. Second, I will send an official letter to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences explaining the academic misconduct that occurred. Finally, this letter would then be kept on file in the Dean’s office where it would become a permanent part of your academic record.

Tentative Schedule of Readings and Writing Assignments
Click on the underlined dates to see the study questions for a specific class.

January 21:

Course Introduction

January 25 & 28:

Bacon (1561-1626): Read Bacon’s The New Organon, Preface and Book One, Aphorisms 1-68, 95-108, 122-130, and look over Book Two, Aphorisms 11-19.

February 1 & 4:

Finish Bacon and begin Descartes (1596-1650): Read Discourse on the Method (Part 6), p. 73-74 and Principles of Philosophy (Preface), p. 227-228.

February 8 & 11:

Descartes: Read, Meditations on First Philosophy (Meditation 1 and first four paragraphs of Meditation 2), p. 104-108, Discourse on the Method (first paragraph of Part 4), p. 60-61, and Principles of Philosophy (Part I, Principles 1-7), p. 231-232.

February 16 (Tues) & 18:

Descartes: Read Meditations on First Philosophy (Meditation 2 & first 12 paragraphs of Meditation 3), p. 107-116, Discourse on the Method (First three paragraphs of Part 4 & last four paragraphs of Part 5), p. 60-61 & 71-73 and Principles of Philosophy (Part I, Principles 8-12 & 45-46), p. 232-234 & 242-243.

February 22 & 25:

Descartes: Read Meditations on First Philosophy (Meditation 3), p. 113-122, Discourse on the Method (Part 4), p. 61-64 and Principles of Philosophy (Part I, Principles 13-18), p. 234-236. First paper due on Feb. 25th.

March 1:

Catch up day.

March 4:

Midterm Exam

March 15 & 18:

Hume (1711–1776): Read A Treatise of Human Nature, Introduction (in class packet) and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (§II-IV), p. 9 - top of 17.

March 22 & 25:

Hume: Read Enquiry (IV-V), p. 17-37.

April 8:

Hume: Read Enquiry §IX, p. 69-72 and §X, p. 72-90.

April 12 & 15:

Hume: Read Enquiry (XII), p. 102-114. Also read A Treatise of Human Nature Book I, Part I, §6, Book I, Part IV, §6 & Appendix (paragraphs 10-21) (in class packet).

April 19 & 22:

Kant (1724-1804): Read Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics (Introduction-§5), p. 156-172.

April 26 & 29:

Read Critique of Pure Reason, (Preface, Introduction, Transcendental Aesthetic & Transcendental Deduction), p. 95-109 & 112-115. Also read Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics (§21-33), p. 187-197.

May 3:

Finish Kant. Second paper due.

May 11:

PH 150A Final Exam at 11:30 a.m.