Study of one or more of the major continental Rationalists: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) was a polymath. He was a diplomat, scientist, theologian, engineer, mathematician, and philosopher. Like his predecessors, Descartes and Spinoza, Leibniz was a rationalist and a system builder. The problem is that he never really wrote a single philosophical treatise that could be considered his defining work. Rather, he wrote a series of shorter pieces that reflect his changing views and sometimes even conflict with one another. In this course we will try to proceed through the labyrinth of Leibniz's writings in a systematic way. We will attempt to reconstruct his system but at the same time recognize that the overall nature and details of the system changed over time. We will begin with the problem of theodicy and the principle of sufficient reason, and then proceed through the main elements of his metaphysics-from monads to bodies to the principle of pre-established harmony to God and then to the idea of the best of all possible worlds-and conclude with a brief discussion of his moral and political philosophy. The course will be a mix of lecture and discussion. The readings will be mostly primary texts, supplemented by some secondary readings. Students will be asked to answer and turn in weekly reading questions, to write two short papers over the quarter, and to take a final, in-class exam. A term paper will be required for graduate students and optional for undergraduates with instructor permission.
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