Central Works of Philosophy - Vol. 2

Central Works of Philosophy - Vol. 2

Central Works of Philosophy - Vol. 2

Central Works of Philosophy - Vol. 2


Central Works of Philosophy is a major multi-volume collection of essays on the core texts of the Western philosophical tradition. From Plato's Republic to Quine's Word and Object, the five volumes range over 2,500 years of philosophical writing covering the best, most representative, and most influential work of some of our greatest philosophers, each of them primary texts studied at undergraduate level. Each essay has been specially commissioned and provides an overview of the work, clear and authoritative exposition of its central ideas, and an assessment of the work's importance then and now. Each essay equips the reader with the resources and confidence to go on to read the works themselves. Together these books provide an unrivaled companion for studying and reading philosophy, one that introduces the reader to the masterpleces of the western philosophical canon and some of the greatest minds that have ever lived talking about the profoundest most exciting problems there are. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw a brilliant outpouring of philosophical thought unprecedented in human history.Together philosophy and science pushed medieval and Renaissance scholasticism aside to lay the foundations of the modern world. Beginning with Descartes' Meditations, the contributors examine some of the period's most seminal philosophical texts: Spinoza's Ethics, which presents a complete picture of reality that has at its heart how we can be good, the Monadology, in which Leibniz describes what must underpin reality if it is to be fully explained, Hobbes' Leviathan, which reminds us of the dangers of the unchecked brutality of humanity; Rousseau's Social Contract, a vision of how human nature can be changed for the better in a new society, Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding which wishes us to grasp that we must make knowledge our own through experience not authority, Berkeley's attack on materialism in his Treatise and Hume's search for rational justification for our most basic beliefs about the world in his Treatise of Human Nature. Together these essays offer students a remarkable survey of the key texts and core ideas that make up the age of rationalism and empiricism.


You are an educated person of good common sense who has a healthy dose of curiosity. Imagine yourself as just such a person living in the middle of the seventeenth century, and imagine that you were turning to the most learned people of your day, asking questions about the world around you. Their answers would leave your head spinning. The cutting-edge scientists would be telling you that lemons are not yellow and sugar is not sweet, and that the sun moving across the sky is still but the still earth beneath your feet is moving. The sceptical freethinkers would be hammering you with a battery of persuasive arguments that always force you to the same conclusion: we can never have rational support for believing either that the world is as it seems, or that it is not as it seems. The scholastic philosophers – the Aristotelians who dominated Europe’s universities – would at least be claiming that we have a rational understanding of the world, and that things really are much as they seem to be, but they would be nesting those comfortable claims in a prickly snarl of metaphysical theology about which they endlessly quarrelled among themselves. Faced with these fundamental disagreements, what would it make sense for a person like you to do?

Overview of the Meditations

In 1641, René Descartes published a short work intended to show readers how to find their way out of this bind. Meditations on First Philosophy narrates the sequence of reflections by which anyone might arrive at the correct basic picture of the world. By the end of these meditations, readers will have given up some of their most cherished beliefs, and they will have learned exactly how and why they can defend others. They will see that the worldview of the new science is correct, and that they must give up their common-sense belief that our senses tell us what the world is like. They will also see that the scepticism of the freethinkers is incorrect, and that we really can find a rational basis for beliefs about every aspect of reality. And, finally, readers will see that the scholastic philosophers have been quarrelling over the details of a fundamentally mistaken metaphysics, and they will see how to replace the mistaken theory with a proper understanding of the nature of reality.

The book is thus a sort of recipe for revolution. The book’s readers are to be transformed by working their way through the same series of meditations as the narrator. If we do this, Descartes believes, we shall no longer be baffled by the sceptics and the scholastics; we shall jettison the confused aspects of our ordinary thinking; and we shall see why we can and must accept the philosophical framework within which we can defend the new science.

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