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PHILOS 3NN3 Philos Of Enlightenment

Academic Year: Fall 2016

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Richard Arthur

Email: rarthur@mcmaster.ca

Office: University Hall 305

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23470


Office Hours: Tuesdays 3:00-4:00 or by appointment

Course Objectives:

Classes: Friday 11:30-13:20, BSB 108 (Please note updated room #)

Course Description

‘Enlightenment’ is the characteristic philosophy of eighteenth century Europe, particularly of the thinkers associated with the Encyclopédie project. This movement was a concerted attempt to replace the old theological-cum-political order with one based on scientific reason and human rights. As such it defined the dominant outlook of the twentieth century, and constitutes the “modernism” against which postmodernism defines itself. We will be studying it through the writings of Voltaire, La Mettrie, Rousseau and Diderot, as well as through the Encyclopédie itself.


  • To provide a critical appreciation of the crucial contribution of Enlightenment thinkers to the establishment of the modern Western worldview and criticisms of it
  • To encourage and enhance critical reflection about the interplay between the socio-political, ethical, and theological aspects of philosophy with epistemological, methodological, metaphysical and anti-metaphysical theses
  • To stimulate interest in various specific issues animatedly discussed in this period that are still fundamental to our present way of thinking about ourselves and our place in society
  • To enable the development of skills in gathering, presenting, and critically evaluating current literature on these issues

This course will help to connect together and integrate much of what you may have learned in your other philosophy courses, especially early modern philosophy and postmodern philosophy. In highlighting the social and political dimensions of seventeenth century metaphysics and epistemology, it will help you put your undergraduate learning into an overall perspective that makes clear academic philosophy’s relevance to modern worldviews. It ties together themes from Early Modern Philosophy (2X03, 2XX3, and 4A03), Ethics (2D03, 2YY3) and Social and Political Philosophy (2G03), to topics studied in Philosophies of Existence (3B03), Theory of Knowledge (3O03), Philosophy of Religion (3H03), Recent European Philosophy (4F03), Metaphysics (4H03), and Early Analytic Philosophy (4D03).

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Texts

  1. Man a Machine, Julien de La Mettrie, Hackett. ISBN: 0-87220-194-5.

  2. Rameau's Nephew and Other Works, Denis Diderot, Hackett 2001. ISBN: 0-87220-486-3.

  3. Candide, Voltaire, ed. Eric Palmer, Broadview Press. ISBN: 978-1-55111-746-1.http://avenue.mcmaster.ca/) and a dedicated course website (www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/~rarthur/enlight/) to post regular announcements and information about the course, supplementary readings, additional resources, and information and advice about assessment (including essay questions). You are expected to check in every couple of days.


Method of Assessment:

  • Reflective comments on the readings: For each week’s required readings you are required to compose at least 2 comments (one brief paragraph each) on points of interest which you think will stimulate class discussion. When called upon in class to share your observations, you must have something interesting to offer, or you will lose active attendance credit. A copy of these comments must be submitted in hard copy at the beginning of each class to obtain credit.                              (10%) 

  • Active attendance: your participation in the course will be rated not only on number of classes attended, but also on your responses (+) or failures to respond (–) to requests to share your reflections, and on the quality of your participation in class discussion.                                         (10%)

  • A short essay on one entry in the Encyclopédie of philosophical interest, to be written up (about 1200-1500 words or 4-6 pp.) due  noon Wednesday, October 22. Topics and requirements for what should be included are posted on the web. Requirements for what should be included will be given on the course web page.                                                                                                                                   (20%)

  • 2-page outline of what you propose to write your term paper on, due as an e-mail attachment by the end of October. You should sketch how your argument is going to go, and what sources you have lined up. This is a prerequisite for the essay: no essay will be accepted if a satisfactory outline has not first been submitted

  • A term paper (~4000 words), due midnight, Wednesday, November 16.                                        (30%)

  • A Final exam in the final exam period.                                                                                                  (30%)


Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

  • Late assignments will be penalized at a rate of 2% per day or part day late (this includes weekend days). Assignments more than two weeks late will not normally be accepted.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

The syllabus will be posted, and may be updated, on the course website.

Syllabus (updates will be posted on the web)



Lecture Title



Sept 9


  • N/A


Sept 16

Science and metaphysics

  • Voltaire, Letters xiv, xv (93-142)  
  • D’Alembert on scientific method
  • Condillac against metaphysics from the Encyclopedia


Sept 23

Skepticism and deism

  • Bayle, Manicheans (Palmer 177-188)
  • Diderot, Philosophic Thoughts (Jourdain 27-67)
  • Voltaire, Theist (Palmer 208-209) 


Sept 30

Mechanist materialism and atheism

  • De La Mettrie, (1748), Man a Machine,  1‐76


Oct 7

Epistemology and metaphysics

  • Diderot, Letter on the Blind, (1749)  (Jourdain, 68-117 only)

*October 10-16

Mid-term recess*



Oct 21

Molyneux’s Problem

  • Diderot end of Letter on the Blind (Jourdain, 117-141); extracts from Condillac , Treatise on the Sensations 


Oct 28


  • Diderot, D’Alembert’s Dream, Parts 1 & 2 (Rameau 89-166)


Nov 4

Mores and Morals 1

  • Diderot, D’Alembert’s Dream (Sequel) (Rameau 166-175)
  • Diderot, Bougainville’s ‘Voyage’, (Rameau 177-228)


Nov 11

Human rights

  • Diderot, Natural Rights
  • Rousseau, Political Economy
  • Condorcet, The Future Progress


Nov 18

The problem of evil (no class)

  • Voltaire, Candide (Palmer 43-141)


Nov 25

The problem of evil

  • Bayle, Leibniz, Pluche, Voltaire, (Palmer 175-222) 


Dec 2

Mores and morals

  • Mandeville, Fable of the Bees
  • Diderot, A Conversation… (Rameau 246‐275)



Other Course Information:

Grading and Course Regulations

  • If you have a minor ailment, please use the on-line MSAF. You should contact me by e-mail immediately after submitting the form. I will usually then grant you (at most) a one-week extension on the assignment, based on the original due date. Use these forms wisely (and honestly!), as you only get one per semester. For any major medical or other problem leading to absence, you should go to your faculty/program office, and they will contact me accordingly.

  • You must let me know at least 24 hours in advance if you are unable to make it to class on a day when you are scheduled to lead discussion or give a presentation.

  • Students registered with SAS should come to see me as soon as possible after the start of the semester. I would like to know who you are and if there is any special assistance you require, while you should provide me with a copy of your accommodations letter.

  • Please retain a copy of all your graded papers and assignments.

  • The scale used by the Registrar's Office ( http://registrar.mcmaster.ca/calendar/2012-13/pg145.html ) will be used to convert number grades into final letter grades.

  • You will have the opportunity to evaluate my teaching and the course as a whole towards the end of the term.