Walter Ott, University of Virginia
Pub Date: 2013
Conditions of Use
The book is focused on the early modern period, and generally presents the usual suspects. It does seem to devote more attention to the empiricists read more
The book is focused on the early modern period, and generally presents the usual suspects. It does seem to devote more attention to the empiricists than to the rationalists; maybe a little Leibniz would have been a good addition to improve the balance? I did like the inclusion of Aristotle and Aquinas as background to help understand the beginnings of the period. I also liked that the entirety of Descartes’ Meditations was included, as I think that work is one of those that particularly suffers from the loss of context when heavily excerpted.
It is primarily a collection of classic texts. There do not seem to be any particular problems with the translations, and the additional material used to introduce the classic texts seems accurate enough.
The classic texts are not going to change, and the book is mostly a collection of those. The discussions of the issues raised by the classic texts is mostly focused on long-standing, well-established interpretations, rather than the latest scholarly fashions. It seems likely to be useful for a long time.
A lot of the supplemental material was quite brief. This was perhaps out of a desire to let the classic texts speak for themselves, but of course the classic texts are in many cases quite difficult, and I thought some of the supplemental material was perhaps too brief to be entirely helpful.
Since it is a compilation of classic texts, of course the various original authors are quite diverse in their concerns and styles. The organization varied somewhat in that some texts were excerpted and how much cutting and reorganization was done with the excerpted texts varied, but the choices of when and how to do that seemed reasonably well motivated. The supplemental material was consistent.
While there is (as there should be) an attempt to highlight some of the connections between the various items included, there does not seem to be any attempt to force things into an overall narrative; it seems well designed for use by instructors who wish to pick and choose which parts to employ.
I’m not sure how useful the glossary of philosophical positions at the start was; I felt like that material could have been better distributed later in the text as the particular issues arose. Otherwise, the order seems to be primarily chronological, which is reasonable enough for a compilation of classic texts.
No notable problems with the interface.
No notable problems with grammar.
That it is focused on early modern Western philosophy has some inevitable consequences. There are ways it could have tried to be more inclusive (maybe discussing the objections of Elisabeth of Bohemia in the Descartes section) or connected the discussion to a broader world context (e.g. look at theories of possible Buddhist influence on Hume). But presumably the interest in the early modern texts is primarily motivated by their subsequent influence, and this text covers the most influential texts and discusses the issues that turned out to be influential.
This book serves primarily as a reader in western philosophy during the modern period, covering major thinkers from Descartes to Kant. In addition, read more
This book serves primarily as a reader in western philosophy during the modern period, covering major thinkers from Descartes to Kant. In addition, excerpts from Aristotle and Aquinas are supplied in a background chapter. The book does an excellent job of providing substantial primary material from the philosophers mentioned above, as well as Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Although this selection of philosophers is not exhaustive, clearly the selections presented here represent the major themes and trends in western philosophical thought during this time period. The selections chosen provide good entry points into study of significant areas of philosophy: metaphysics, methodology, epistemology, and the nature of the mind/body connection.
The authors have supplied brief, helpful introductory notes to each figure and specific text which accurately place the excerpts in relationship to one another and identify the major themes being dealt with in each one.
Since the focus of the work is on primary source readings, it is likely to maintain its relevance for many years. The introductory notes are mostly focused on the identification of topics addressed in the selections, and therefore avoid the problems and distractions that might be raised by bringing in scholarly questions and controversies of the moment. Such issues could easily be addressed within course discussions by a knowledgeable instructor where they are relevant to the selected excerpts.
The text is clear and succinct. The introductory chapter provides clear definitions and explanations of a variety of relevant philosophical terms, making the work as a whole accessible for general education and introductory courses aimed at students who may not have already had exposure to the subject.
Since the book presents selections from eight different philosophers, whose work was written over a span of more than a dozen centuries, there are significant variations in terminology, style and constructions of arguments to be found. The introductory notes within the selections, as well as the questions supplied in each section, are designed to help students see the connections between each philosopher and bridge the differences between each thinker's work.
The modular nature of the text is one of its most useful strengths. Selections from each philosopher are divided into manageable chunks, with helpful discussion and constructive questions at the end of each section. These questions are designed to make students think through the material they have just read, and allow them to check their own understanding of the material at frequent intervals.
The selections are presented in chronological order, which is appropriate to a work like this one which explores the history and development of particular ideas. The notes and commentary supplied, along with the questions for understanding, provide background for the connections between the selections. The background chapter presenting selections from Aristotle and Aquinas supplies the necessary historical details to relate their thoughts to the later modern period which is the focus of the text.
The interface is clear, self-explanatory, and includes useful links between sections which allow the reader to move from one excerpt to another when connections are being made between multiple selections. There seem to be a small number of older links which should have been edited out, but nothing which hinders the usefulness of the text and its links.
The grammar of the text was fine and free of errors or confusion.
Since this is a text that is focused on western philosophy, it has a clear cultural location. The selections given reflect the cultural and historical contexts of the various authors, and must be read with that in mind. The focus of the work is on the history and development of philosophical ideas, and the supplemental text and introductory materials reflect that focus. Arguably, the authors could have supplied some discussion of the historical and cultural context of western philosophy, but such discussion is not demanded by a text of this nature.
Overall, this text is an excellent reader in modern western philosophy. It could be a valuable resource for an introductory course, or a good supplemental text in a readings or seminar course for more advanced students of philosophy.
Table of Contents
- 1. Preface
- 2. Minilogic and Glossary
- 3. Background to Modern Philosophy
- 4. René Descartes (1596–1650)
- 5. Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677)
- 6. John Locke’s (1632–1704) Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689)
- 7. George Berkeley (1685–1753)
- 8. David Hume’s (1711–1776) Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
- 9. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
About the Book
This is a textbook in modern philosophy. It combines readings from primary sources with two pedagogical tools. Paragraphs in italics introduce figures and texts. Numbered study questions (also in italics) ask students to reconstruct an argument or position from the text, or draw connections among the readings. And I have added an introductory chapter (Chapter 0 – Minilogic and Glossary), designed to present the basic tools of philosophy and sketch some principles and positions. The immediate goal is to encourage students to grapple with the ideas rather than passing their eyes over the texts. This makes for a better classroom experience and permits higher-level discussions. Another goal is to encourage collaboration among instructors, as they revise and post their own versions of the book.
About the Contributors
Walter Ott is an associate professor in Corcoran Department of Philosophy at the University of Virginia.