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Over onsFaculteit WijsbegeerteOrganisatieDepartment of the History of PhilosophyGroningen Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Thought


Academic Year 2015-2016

Research and teaching are mutually interconnected and benefit from one another. Here an overview of the courses specifically devoted to medieval and early modern thought offered at the Faculty of Philosophy at Groningen by members of the Centre.

Han Thomas Adriaenssen
(Master) Locke’s Essay in Context
An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768
An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768

In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke challenged traditional conceptions of knowledge, according to which all human beings are born with an innate stock of concepts and principles. But with this critique came the challenge for Locke to provide his own, positive account of knowledge and cognition. This is what he set out to do in the Essay. More precisely, he argued that whatever we know of the world, we know in virtue of the ideas that we have acquired through sense perception. Via the senses, that is, we acquire simple ideas of the sensory qualities of bodies, and it is by working upon these ideas and combining them with others, that we eventually come to frame more complex ideas of natures and species. Ideas received through sense perception are the building blocks of our epistemic lives, then, but Locke was not overly optimistic about the epistemic hold on reality that they can give us. The ideas of natures and species that we construct out of our perceptual data, he maintained, rather than tracking essences or natures that are really out there, are the ‘workmanship of the understanding’. And even though our ideas may have their origins and roots in external reality, Locke did not see they could give us the kind of certainty about the world that he found was required for proper scientific knowledge. Natural philosophy, he accordingly concluded, is ‘not capable of being made a Science’. In this course, we will put Locke’s epistemic pessimism in its broader historical context. Thus, his views on species and kinds will be juxtaposed to those of the chemist Robert Boyle, and we will explore how his demanding conception of science compares to the account of scientific knowledge that was being developed in and around the Royal Society of London. Also, we will look at some of the critical responses that the Essay was soon to evoke. According to John Sergeant, for example, Locke’s empiricist theory of ideas was a road leading straight to scepticism, and in his Anti-Scepticism, Henry Lee argued that by relinquishing innate knowledge, Locke had put both science and morality in jeopardy. By so situating Locke’s Essay in its context, looking at the responses it evoked as well as the philosophy it aimed to replace, we will get a better understanding of this classic of Western philosophy, and indeed of the philosophical lessons that Locke wanted his readers, from the seventeenth century to our own days, to learn.

(Bachelor) Rise and Fall of Aristotelianism

During the later Middle Ages, Aristotle’s philosophy provided the dominant paradigm in both philosophy and the sciences. Thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas developed a natural philosophy that was based on the Aristotelian distinction between matter and form. In the seventeenth century, however, this Aristotelian thought comes to be under attack. Thinkers such as Descartes and Locke are critical of Aristotelian hylomorphism, and propose that natural phenomena be quantitatively described in terms of moving and colliding corpuscles instead. In this course, we sketch this development by looking at philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, Francisco Suárez, Descartes, and Locke. Also, we will see how criticism of Aristotelian hylomorphism goes hand in hand with changing views on the relation between body and soul.

(Bachelor) Classical Texts. Thomas Reid

This course provides an introduction to Thomas Reid's Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785). Among other things, we will look at Reid's assessment that the alleged representationalism of Descartes and Locke is a highway to scepticism, and discuss his famous criticism of Locke's account of personal identity. Towards the end of the course, we will briefly look at the work of contemporary epistemologists whose work in one way or another draws inspiration from Reid's philosophical thought.

Martin Lenz
(Master) Reading Group: Ockham's Summa Logicae

William od Ockham is one of the most important philosophers of the Middle Ages. Based on his nominalism, Ockham developed an influential philosophy of mind that has repercussions on a number of issues in logic, semantics and epistemology. After a general introduction into Ockham’s philosophy, we aim at a close reading of excerpts from his Summa Logicae. Despite its title, this book covers most of his doctrines in theoretical philosophy. The exact schedule should be drawn up in view of your interests.

(Master) Core Issues 2: Philosophy and its Past

Why and how do we study philosophy and its history? There are many possible answers to this question. But while none of these answers seems to be wrong, not all of them are compatible. The central aim of this course is to think through your own ideas and to discuss means of developing a methodologically convincing approach to the history of philosophy. The course will be divided into three phases: (1) We will begin with an overview of methodological debates on the relation between philosophy and its history. (2) In view of established methodological criteria, we will assess a small selection of case studies on medieval and modern philosophy. (3) Finally, we will focus on your own ideas and discuss how they can be refined in the light of methodological concerns and current research.

Andrea Sangiacomo
(Master) History of Early Modern Science: Scientific Revolution and Secularization

According to a common narrative concerning the “Scientific Revolution”, during the seventeenth century crucial figures such as Kepler, Galilei, Descartes and Newton progressively dismissed the previously dominant “Aristotelian-Scholastic” natural philosophy and introduced a new scientific worldview, ultimately doomed to foster “secularization” and undermine religious and theological presuppositions. But is this narrative correct? This seminar will challenge it by taking as case study the circulation of ‘occasionalism’ in the second half of the seventeenth century. Occasionalism is the view according to which God is the only cause constantly operating in nature. By studying the reasons behind the success of occasionalism and its rapid decline across seventeenth and eighteenth century, it will be possible to rethink the impact of metaphysical, theological and religious presuppositions on the shaping of early modern science, and on key scientific notions such as those of ‘force’ and ‘matter’.

Laatst gewijzigd:01 mei 2017 14:09