New Essays on the Rationalists

New Essays on the Rationalists

New Essays on the Rationalists

New Essays on the Rationalists

Synopsis

This volume, which grew out of a 1995 NEH seminar on the Rationalists, presents nineteen previously unpublished papers on the work of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. These three philosophers are the most important representatives of the 17th and 18th century movement known as rationalism, which can be characterized by the idea that knowledge can be acquired a priori, without sensory experience, from pure thought or reason. Particularly in epistemology and metaphysics, their work has remained at the centre of philosophical interest. The volume is thematically organized into three Parts: Matter and Substance, Freedom and Necessity, and Mind and Consciousness.

Excerpt

The seventeenth-century philosophers René Descartes (1596-1650), Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), and Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) are clearly three of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy. These so-called "rationalists" were united in the belief that the intellect and human reason are powerful tools in our ability to know about the ultimate nature of mind and matter. Although the contrast with so-called "empiricism" can sometimes be misleading, it is a belief in the power of human reason that often separated the rationalists from many of their contemporaries who believed that all knowledge can ultimately be traced to sense experience. Of course, we must be careful not to view the rationalists as believing that the unaided intellect is always able to understand the true nature of reality. They are, in many cases, also concerned to draw limits on what we can know or understand.

This idea for this volume grew out of our participation in Jonathan Bennett's 1995 National Endowment for the Humanties (NEH) Summer Seminar on Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. We wanted to put together a collection of previously unpublished papers on the rationalists. Most of us who participated in the seminar agreed to write new essays, emphasizing metaphysics and epistemology. We then invited several other philosophers to contribute chapters to the collection (Michael Della Rocca, J. A. Cover, Edwin Curley and Greg Walski, Geoffrey Gorham, Don Garrett, Margaret D. Wilson, and Catherine Wilson). It has been a real team effort: each author commented on at least two other chapters before the final works were submitted. We thank everyone for his or her cooperation.

The book is divided into three parts. Part One contains papers on the nature of matter and substance, a topic dear to the hearts of all three rationalists. Jonathan Bennett . . .

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