Lecture 2 - Introduction to Modern Philosophy

After a brief introduction to ancient philosophy and the intellectual revolution started by Galileo and Descartes in the 17th century, Professor Millican begins to provide a concise and fascinating summary of the intellectual developments and questions that the new science and philosophy would produce.

To begin with, we start with an account of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes is mostly famous for his political philosophy, but in the context of this course, his importance is due to his thorough commitment to a naturalistic and scientific account of everything, including minds. His materialism, as you might imagine, was immediately understood to imply atheism, which is why he received the dubious distinctions of being considered the monster of Malmesbury, as well as the cause of certain natural disasters. Pretty powerful for a guy who didn't believe in hocus-pocus :)

Being dissatisfied with the Cartesian account of matter as extended space, Robert Boyle would produce a theory of matter as being composed of tiny corpuscles. He also introduced the idea of empty space, thereby clearing the conceptual landscape for Sir Isaac Newton to come up with his universal laws of motion. Newton's predictive success was unimpeachable, but his instrumentalist introduction of the notion of a 'force' of gravity got many wondering whether we were back to postulating obscure and occult explanations a-la Aristotle or a-la Christianity. Wisely, Newton claimed not to understand the nature of such a force ("I feign no hypothesis"), only that its postulation (right or wrong) helped him describe the phenomena experienced with more accuracy than any previous thinker. David Hume would jump on this idea soon.

Finally, we move on to John Locke's empiricism, as well as to Malebranche's occasionalist attempt to explain the necessary connection behing causal inferences, and to Bishop Berkeley's idealism as a response to the skepticism that kept coming from all directions.



Click here to see the course slides.
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