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Phil. 158a
Fall 2002
Prof. K. DeRose
M, W 11:30-12:45, WLH 113

Office hours, 12/4 thru 12/17
Wed., 12/4: 9-11 AM
Thur., 12/5: 1-2 PM
Mon., 12/9: 12-1 PM
Wed., 12/11: 10-11 AM
Tues., 12/17: 10:30-11:30 AM

Course Description: An examination of Descartes’s philosophy, with emphasis on primary sources.  Topics may include Descartes’s use of skepticism, his philosophy of mind, his arguments for the existence of God and for the real distinction between mind and body, his physics, and his theory of God’s omnipotence.

Books: The following books are required and should be available at Book Haven (290 York Street):

  • C I, II, III: Cottingham, Stoothoff, Murdoch, Kenny, ed., The Philosophical Writings of Descartes (Cambridge University Press), Vol. I, II, III.

Other readings will be made available on-line, distributed in class, or possibly be put in a course reader.

Written Work. Written requirements will consist of:

  • Short paper: 4-6 pages, typed, double-spaced, due Oct. 16 at the start of class.  Topics will be distributed during the second week of class.  [Paper topics, instructions]
  • Paper proposal (for the longer paper): 1-2 pages, typed, double-spaced, due Nov. 11 at the start of class.
  • Longer paper: 6-10 pages, typed, double-spaced, due Dec. 2 at the start of class.  [Paper topics, instructions]
  • Final examination: Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 2:00 PM. [Instructions, questions]

Topics for first papers..
Other course requirement: Attendance at lectures.

Grading. Grades will be based roughly on the following formula, though allowances will be made for insightful classroom and section participation and for marked improvement over the course of the semester: Shorter Paper: 25%; Proposal: 5%; Longer Paper: 40%; Final Exam: 30%. Lecture and section attendance are mandatory, and repeated unexcused absences are grounds for the lowering of one’s grade and, in severe cases, for failure.

Initial Readings:

  • Before the first meeting of the class, if possible, but otherwise before the second meeting, read the Chronological Table of Descartes’ Life and Works, CI, xi-xii.
  • After the first meeting of the class, students should read Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy, including the Dedicatory Letter, the Preface, and the Synopsis; CII, 3-62.  This should be read by the end of the second week of classes.
  • Also, before the second meeting of the class, read the following “eternal truths” passages:
    • 1.  To Mersenne, 15 April 1630, C III, 23.0 (“The mathematical truths…”) – 23.7 (“…as a finite being.”)
    • 2.  To Mersenne, 6 May 1630, C III, 24.7 (“As for the eternal truths…”) – 25.3 (“…on such lofty matters.”
    • 3.  To Mersenne, 27 May 1630, C III, 25.4 (“You ask me…”) – 26.0 (“…even conceptually.”)
    • 4.  To Mersenne, 27 May 1638, C III, 102.9 (“You ask whether…”) – 103.2 (“…once before.”)
    • 5.  Replies Five, C II, 261.2 (“You say…”) – 261.6 (“…enough for me that it is true.”)
    • 6.  Replies Six
      • a.  C II, 291.5 (“As for the freedom of the will…”) – 292.2 (“…of his omnipotence.”)
      • b.  C II, 293.4 (“The claim that real accidents…”) – 293.6 (“…be termed a substance.”)
      • c.  C II, 293.9 (“If anyone attends…”) – 294.8 (“…has ordained them from eternity.”)
    • 7.  To Hyperaspistes, August 1641, C III, 193.6 (“I say first…”) – 194.5 (“…article 8.”)
    • 8.  To Mesland, 2 May 1644, C III, 235.0 (“I turn to…”) – 235.7 (“…one and the same thing.”)
    • 9.  To Arnauld, 29 July 1648, C III, 358.7 (“The difficulty…”) – 359.2 (“…is body also.”)
    • 10.  To More, 5 February 1649, C III, 363.1 (“But you are quite ready…”) – 364.2 (“…actually takes place.”)

Readings on the Cartesian Circle:

  • Descartes, beyond the Meditations: Read the top paragraph of C II, p. 101 (the “atheist geometer” passage) and the bottom paragraph of C III, p. 147 (from Descartes’ 24 May 1640 letter to Regius).
  • James Van Cleve, Part One (pp. 55-74) of “Foundationalism, Epistemic Principles, and the Cartesian Circle,” Philosophical Review 88 (1979): 55-91.  [JSTOR link]
  • Keith DeRose, “Descartes, Epistemic Principles, Epistemic Circularity, and Scientia,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 73 (1992): pp. 220-238. .

Readings on the Eternal Truths:

  • Selection from Alvin Plantinga, Does God Have a Nature? (Marquette UP, 1980)
  • Earl Conee, “The Possibililty of Power Beyond Possibility,” Philosophical Perspectives 5 (1991): 447-473. [JSTOR link]

Jonathan Bennett, “Descartes’s Theory of Modality”: JSTOR link.

Keith DeRose
3 September 2002

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