Fall Quarter

In Critique of Pure Reason (1787), Kant observed, “Thus far it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to objects.” Having found this had become a blind alley, he suggested, “Let us, therefore, try to find out by experiment whether we shall not make better progress in the problems of metaphysics if we assume that objects must conform to our cognition.” Kant’s experiment shook Western philosophy to its core. The instabilities it led to have shaped subsequent discussion in many ways.

Is “reality” ultimately only our own subjective construct? Should we trust what is manifestly obvious or turn to science for a better measure of what is truly real? These rough questions lie at the center of important ongoing philosophical discussion.

Fall Quarter: We will begin with David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature and examine his attempts to build a foundation for all of science through a “science of man.” By his own account, this effort resulted in grave skepticism about the possibility of any science at all. Immanuel Kant recognized the power of Hume’s critique of philosophical Rationalism and responded with fundamental reconsideration of human cognition. Kant’s efforts to re-navigate the waters between Empiricism and Rationalism lie at the center of our work.

Hume’s profound skepticism and Kant’s “Copernican Revolution,” his rejection of perception as representation of mind-independent reality inspired 20th century philosophers in a host of ways. Both Bertand Russell and G. E. Moore offered resolutions to Hume that embraced an “empiricist” program, and we will study Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy and Moore’s “Defense of Common Sense.” The quarter will conclude with W. V. O. Quine’s attack on both Hume and Kant, among others, in his essay “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.”

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