Walter Ott, University of Virginia
Copyright Year: 2013
Conditions of Use
This book covers the area promised (also see Cultural comments below). Its best use could be as a companion text to other more explanatory material, especially if it is included in introductory classes. read more
This book covers the area promised (also see Cultural comments below). Its best use could be as a companion text to other more explanatory material, especially if it is included in introductory classes.
No difficulties were noted.
Texts as important as these will always be relevant.
The readings are laid out in a way that makes the book as a whole very easy to navigate. There are points at which a little more introductory explanation would be helpful. Aristotle’s prose, for instance, will seem quite dense to students coming at it for the first time.
As the Preface indicates, questions appear after some of the readings and these are very helpful. A question or more after each reading would be more helpful still.
The text is excellent at offering bite-sized chunks.
No apparent issues.
It will be obvious, painfully so to many, that this is another text exclusively featuring white males. The relevant issues are formidable, but they must be recognized.
There are points in the learning process when there is no substitute for the real thing, and having significant works carefully culled does a great service.
The beginning glossary and mini introduction to logic is useful, especially given that even in a focused class on the history of modern philosophy, this course may be student’s first philosophy class and text. It is great to warm the students up... read more
The beginning glossary and mini introduction to logic is useful, especially given that even in a focused class on the history of modern philosophy, this course may be student’s first philosophy class and text. It is great to warm the students up with some of these specialized terms even before reading since they will become central to so many of the thinkers included in the text. Getting the analytic versus synthetic distinction will pay off loads by the time you get to Kant’s Prolegomena. Having students get strong on argument structures before jumping into Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, etc. will be really helpful. I haven’t always done this focused work in the beginning of teaching Modern Philosophy (as I would if I was teaching Critical Thinking or Logic) so this aspect of this text is helpful. One of my favorite aspects of this texts is that is offers links to free full texts of all the books explicitly covered, as well and books it does not cover (e.g. main texts from Aristotle and Aquinas). This is easy since there are decent translations of those are already in the public domain, but students so not always know this fact. This will be useful for students doing extra reading or research for papers and/or exams. There is a handy background chapter that gives an overview of Aristotle and Aquinas to set up Descartes. When I’ve taught this in the past I have done a similar version of this on my own, but it is nice that it is already baked into the book. There are short introductory notes and small but well-selected excerpts from Aristotle’s Categories, Physics, and Posterior Analytics. Then from Aquinas, there are short introductions and excerpts from On the Eternity of the World, Summa Contra Gentiles, and Summa Theologicae. This text offers the “hits” of primary texts from Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Most of the texts are helpfully abridged but a few are left unabridged e.g. Descartes’ Meditations, Hume’s Enquiry, and Kant’s Prolegomena. It is strange that Leibniz, Hobbes, and Rousseau are missing, but instructors can add other figures that they fit depending on their course’s focus on political philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, etc. Unfortunately, there are no early modern European women philosophers nor interlocutors of the male philosophers included here (e.g. Anne Conway, Elizabeth of Bohemia, Damaris Masham, Mary Wollstonecraft). While “new” in a sense to many philosophers as new material is just now coming out on his work and life, the text also leaves out Anton Wilhelm Amo the Ghanian philosopher who got a PhD in philosophy in Germany writing a critique of Descartes in 1734. My only other complaint with what the text provides are its short introductions to each of the philosophers. They are very short introductions and do not go into the social and political milieu of the philosophers which would greatly help students to understand the context of these texts. Hopefully teachers using this book will have the background knowledge to offer the social and political backdrop of each of the texts as well as be able to situate the debates and questions in a global context. Even if the focus is on modern European philosophy, it did not happen in a vacuum, but rather within in the context of European colonization of the Americas and Africa, conquest, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and intra-European wars which did set the conditions and questions for scientific and philosophical knowledge production. This is an issue with most (maybe all) modern philosophy textbooks—not something special to this one—but it is worth mentioning nonetheless.
This text appears to present as accurately as possible the concepts and figures it introduces, even if these introductions are sometimes too short in my opinion and miss setting up the boarder social and political contexts of the philosophers and debates. The translations it uses are fine and up-to-date.
This text would be relevant to any lower or upper level undergraduate modern philosophy course or even in an introduction to philosophy course. Because of the nature of classic philosophy texts, there shouldn’t be anything “out-of-date” besides the omissions of thinkers as mentioned in the comprehensiveness section.
There are no major issues with clarity in the text. While the introductions and summaries of the materials included are short, they are clearly written and should be understood by undergraduate students. But again, longer background summaries and introductions will head off confusions students will have with the potential lack of historical background knowledge.
The book provides a survey of many different thinkers, so each section will in some sense be a self-contained whole on that particular thinker’s writings, but the presentation and supplemental material are consistent.
One of my favorite things about this text is the way it breaks down all the chapters into manageable sections and includes reading comprehension questions and exercises after each main section. Not many modern philosophy compilation textbooks are “modular” in this way so this is a really helpful aspect of this text. Because there is no attempt to flesh out a long background narrative, you can pick and choose easily which sections of the book you want to cover without missing any links in some narrative chain. This is both a strength and a weakness, good because it leaves you space to organize your course as you wish, a weakness if you do want to try to situate the thinkers in some kind of historical analysis. There is a small set of questions asking for students to identify analytic versus synthetic statements after the glossary which is fine but could be expanded to cover more of the terms presented in the glossary. Teachers can make their own quizzes to expand assessment of the mini-logic part of the introduction to also include working on coming up with valid and invalid arguments and identifying normative versus descriptive claims.
The Glossary of Philosophical Positions and the Glossary of Principles I am certain will have students flipping back to them as the course moves through this text. I really appreciate that these elements are in the front and not the back of the book so that they can be addressed upfront in outlining the issues and debates in modern philosophy. Otherwise the book is organized historically from Descartes to Kant, which makes sense. Teachers that want to move thematically can easily remix the order.
Easy to use interface, I especially liked the hyperlinks to free versions of the full-texts of the included and not wholly included philosophy books.
No notable grammatical errors.
As mentioned in the comprehensiveness section, while this is a book focusing on European modern philosophy it is missing any women European philosophers who were important interlocutors with the male philosophers included. It does not include any non-European (or even Spanish or Portuguese) philosophers of the same historical moment. The other missing aspect is grounding the main philosophical debates in a social, political, and global context. There are collections that include thinkers listed here like Locke, Hume, and Kant on race and gender specifically that can be used as supplements to this text. It should be problematized that many (if not all) of the philosophers included in this book did not think women or non-European peoples could be fully rational, philosophy, or even human—and that many of them had philosophical arguments (even if they were bad ones) about these points and not merely accidentally contingent outdated views. Looking at the difference between the sexism and/or racism of rationalists versus empiricists can be an interesting discussion after studying the texts included in this book supplemented with some of their other texts that more directly address issues of gender and race.
Something that could be added to future versions of this text could be one or two concluding chapters that would touch on how ideas, concepts, and debates in modern philosophy have persisted in the present and/or informed contemporary philosophers. This could easily be done by the instructor, but it also wouldn’t be bad to add some contemporary resources for students at the end of the book.
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... 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, excerpts from Aristotle and Aquinas are supplied in a background chapter. The book does an... 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.