about the course

CLASSES: FRIDAY 11:30-13:20, BSB 108                                                 OFFICE HOURS: TUES 15:00-16:00  

INSTRUCTOR: Richard T. W. Arthur    <rarthur at mcmaster dot ca>    OFFICE: UH 305, ext. 23470

ASSISTANT INSTRUCTOR:  Brad Shubert <shuberbj at mcmaster dot ca)>   OFFICE UH B135:, OFFICE HOUR: Nov 6 only, 2-4 pm


‘Enlightenment’ is the characteristic philosophy of eighteenth century Europe, particularly of the thinkers associated with the Encyclopédie project. This movement was a concerted attempt to replace the old theological-cum-political order with one based on scientific reason and human rights. As such it defined the dominant outlook of the twentieth century, and constitutes the “modernism” against which postmodernism defines itself. We will be studying it through the writings of Diderot, La Mettrie, Condillac and Voltaire, as well as through the Encyclopédie itself. 


To provide a critical appreciation of the crucial contribution of Enlightenment thinkers to the establishment of the modern Western worldview and criticisms of it

To encourage and enhance critical reflection about the interplay between the socio-political, ethical, and theological aspects of philosophy with epistemological, methodological, metaphysical and anti-metaphysical theses

To stimulate interest in various specific issues animatedly discussed in this period that are still fundamental to our present way of thinking about ourselves and our place in society

To enable the development of skills in gathering, presenting, and critically evaluating current literature on these issues

This course will help to connect together and integrate much of what you may have learned in your other philosophy courses, especially early modern philosophy and postmodern philosophy. In highlighting the social and political dimensions of seventeenth century metaphysics and epistemology, it will help you put your undergraduate learning into an overall perspective that makes clear academic philosophy’s relevance to modern worldviews. It ties together themes from Early Modern Philosophy (2X03, 2XX3, and 4A03), Ethics (2D03, 2YY3) and Social and Political Philosophy (2G03), to topics studied in Philosophies of Existence (3B03), Theory of Knowledge (3O03), Philosophy of Religion (3H03), Recent European Philosophy (4F03), Metaphysics (4H03), and Early Analytic Philosophy (4D03).

© Richard T. W. Arthur 2016