European Intellectual History Syllabus

History 346 Spring 2002

Week Two Study Questions on web-linked readings


A)  Read either Descartes, "Discourse on Method" at or  Descartes "Mediations" (it is ok to just read the Synopsis, then decide if you want to read any of the specific meditations) at

From the "Discourse":

In what sense does the scope of Descartes' interests and his education reflect the principles of the Enlightenment?  

In what sense does the approach he developed to philosophical problems reflect the methodology of the scientific revolution?

    From the "Meditations"

According to Descartes, does matter exist only through our thoughts?

Can we understand God's purpose in creation?

What are we capable of knowing through our senses, and why is this important?

B) Read Voltaire, "Religion" from The Philosophical Dictionary at

Voltaire, "Religion" from The Philosophical Dictionary

What made Voltaire contemplate the "problem" of God?

What was the point the "archangel" showing Voltaire bones?

What does Voltaire consider the aim of religious wars?

What point was Voltaire trying to make in the "discussion"  with Socrates, Jesus, etc.?


C) Read selections from Rousseau, The Social Contract at

What does Rousseau see as the basis of the social contract?  Who contracts with whom, and with what results?

Do you see any tensions between the rights of the individual and the rights of society/community in Rousseau's arguments?  


D) Read Kant, "What is Enlightenment?" (, and then read the "Introduction" to the Critique of Pure Reason ( Be sure to click on the link to the Introduction.  We will discuss pp. 041-055.

    In "What is Enlightenment, how does Kant define Enlightenment and its purpose?

What is the "categorical imperative"?

What does Kant mean by freedom?

Does Kant think that Enlightenment should be "safe"?  Explain!

    In the Critique of Pure Reason, what does Kant mean by the difference between a priori and a posteriori knowledge?  

What kinds of knowledge do we have a priori

What does Kant mean by the difference between "analytical" and "synthetic" judgments?

Is a priori synthetic judgment possible?  What are some examples of its function in mathematics and science, and what does this imply for metaphysics (the branch of philosophy that focuses on "first principles," or the basis of reasoning)?


E) Read the linked web-essay on Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan at

Explain Hobbes' view of the nature and function of science and of human nature.

Explain Hobbes' conception of government as a "contract." 


FRead Locke, "Introduction" to "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" ( and "State of Nature" in his Second Treatise of Government at

    Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

What is the aim of this essay?

According to Locke:  where do our ideas come from?

What is the difference between propositions that are according to reason, above reason, and contrary to        reason?

What is the difference between faith and reason?   Can faith contradict reason?

    Locke, "State of Nature"

What is Locke's view of the "state of nature" and how does it differ from Hobbes'?  Did Locke see nature as wild and irrational?

For Locke, why was government necessary and what was the nature of the social contract?


G) Read Hume, "On Miracles" (

Hume, "On Miracles"

Why does Hume say that "a miracle is a violation of nature"?  How does he prove this?

H) Read Smith, The Wealth of Nations (selections) (

Smith, The Wealth of Nations

According to Smith:  what are the advantages of the division of labor?

How does the market shape or limit division of labor?

What gives commodities their price/value?

What is the difference between "natural" and "market" prices?

What is the source of a nation's wealth?

Why do people produce?    

We will also discuss the idea of the "invisible hand"...         

European Intellectual History Syllabus