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PHILOS 4A03 Early Modern

Academic Year: Fall 2017

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. James Sikkema

Email: sikkej@mcmaster.ca

Office: University Hall 314A

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 26465


Office Hours: By Appointment

Course Objectives:


This course will offer an advanced study of Spinoza’s mature philosophy by 1) investigating his masterwork Ethics and, additionally, selections from his Letters, the Theological-Political Treatise, and the Political Treatise and 2) select readings from philosophers in the early modern period reacting to Spinoza’s radical philosophy of immanence.



By the end of the course students will:

  • Have an understanding of Spinoza’s philosophy, its problems, and influence
  • Become better readers of, and writers on, philosophical texts

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

All texts will be available online at earlymoderntexts.com


Method of Assessment:

  • 10 Text Summaries – 50% (Due in Class)
  • 3 – 4 page Text Criticism – 20% (Due Friday, October 6)
  • 4 – 5 page Text Comparison – 30% (Due Wednesday, November 29)


Note on Text Summaries

A text summary involves choosing a short selection from the required reading for the week and providing a 2-page synopsis and criticism of that portion of text.  You will need to identify the context within which the selected portion takes place, the relevance and/or importance of the selection for the author’s overall goal(s), an articulation of your understanding of the main claims in the selection, and one or two questions this selection raises in your mind.  You are required to complete 10 text summaries for the term.  Summaries must be physically submitted in the class corresponding to the reading selection.  Summaries will be graded on a Pass/Fail basis.  A pass will be granted if the work is submitted on time and according to the stated criteria.  Unless extenuating circumstances intervene, there will not be an opportunity for late submissions. 


Note on Text Criticism

A text criticism will involve many of the same elements of a text summary (viz. selecting a portion of text, identifying context, articulation of main claims, etc.), but will involve the presentation of a critical evaluation of the validity of claims, the soundness of arguments, and/or the cogency and coherence of explanations.


Note on Text Comparison

With a text comparison you will be tasked with critically evaluating the claims being made in one text in reference to those being made in the other.  So, e.g., when Leibniz criticizes Spinoza’s substance monism you would be tasked with providing an evaluation of the claims of the former in relation to those made by the latter.


Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

All extension requests must be communicated with the instructor at least one day prior to the due date of the assignment.  Should you fail to perform such a communication your assignment will not be protected from late penalties.

The late penalty for any assignment not submitted on time will be 2% per day.

If you must use MSAF for any assignment please be sure to send the instructor an email stating that you have used MSAF for X assignment.  Once the instructor receives word he will then work out an alternate date for you to submit the missed coursework.  Should you fail to communicate your use of MSAF and fail to work out an alternate deadline for the missed assignment with the instructor you may be liable to receive no credit for the missed coursework. Any late submissions after that time will be subject to late penalties. 

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.