Saturday, August 12, 2006

PHL407 The Enlightenment: SYLLABUS

Northwest Christian College

PHL 407: History and Philosophy of the Enlightenment

Fall, 2006
Beth Bilynskyj, instructor
TTh 2:30-3:45

Description of Course:

In this seminar, we will read and discuss texts from 18th century England, France and America. Authors will include:
• Newton, Locke, Reid, Hume;
• Voltaire, Condillac, d’Holbach, Montesquieu, Condorcet, d’Alembert, Rousseau;
• Jefferson, Franklin, and Paine.

Attention will be paid to the following ideas and events:
• the Scientific Revolution nature, natural law, determinism, mechanism, causality
• self, mind and body, man as machine, autonomy, individualism,
• epistemology as “first philosophy,” empiricism, induction.
• natural religion, faith vs. reason, Deism, theodicy, tolerance, progress
• rights, freedom, social contract, the French and American Revolutions.

For Christians, the Enlightenment is typically viewed either as a period of promise or problems, which will be noted throughout our discussions. We will also consider the degree to which this period has shaped American society, and evaluate its impact. Was the Enlightenment Project a success, or a failure? Finally, we will reflect on how we-- as heirs of the Enlightenment--ought to relate to societies which did not experience it as part of their history. Using Alisdair MacIntyre’s analysis, we will ask whether these traditions are incommensurable and doomed to rivalry, or if there is some way in which these traditions can coexist.

Purpose of Course:

• To provide a fundamental part of a Christian liberal arts education, integrating NCC’s biblical and Christian studies with rigorous philosophical study.
• To identify, discuss and evaluate the achievements and the failures of the 18th century in England, France, and America.
• To see how the Enlightenment has shaped our culture today, and how we might relate to non-Enlightenment cultures.
• To prepare students for effective and successful roles in ministry, teaching, counseling, science and technology.
Course Objectives:

Upon completing this course, you will be able to:
• Explain some of the formative ideas and events of the Enlightenment in England, France and America, by having read primary sources for yourself.
• Critically evaluate those ideas (by means of presentations, essays and lively class discussion) in order to use, modify or reject them in your own life.

Textbook and Resource material:

• Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment
• The Portable Enlightenment Reader, edited Isaac Kramnick
• Handouts, online materials, blog and library reserve items

Strongly Suggested:
• Carl L. Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers
• Alisdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry: Tradition, Encyclopedia, Geneology.
• Jacques Maritain, The Person and the Common Good

Online and Offline bibliographies will be provided.


Students are invited to check the course blog for updates to the course calendar, bibliographies, additional resources, and to continue conversations outside the classroom.

Instructor Information:

• Beth Bilynskyj, M.A. Philosophy, University of Notre Dame, 1979.
• 744-9343 (home phone; leave message and best time for me to return your call) (probably the best way for us to immediately connect)
• Office Hours: TBA

Please feel free to contact me. It is important that we end confusion and answer your questions as soon as possible. I also welcome your comments on the content of the course, and/or any suggestions you have to improve the class. Most of all, I want to get to know you, and invite you to the Great Conversation which is philosophy, by introducing you to the 18th century philosophes and their interpreters.


1. Reading, discussion/participation and attendance (40%)

a) Reading (10%)

Philosophy has been described as a “great conversation,” so the focus of our time together will be discussing the day’s assigned readings. Plan to spend at least two hours in preparation for every hour in class. Outlining is an excellent way to master material so you can begin to wonder about it. Those who have not read the material will be unable to contribute profitably to the seminar, and thus weaken the quality of the class as a whole.

NOTE: Students should be prepared to offer at least one written question, comment, or criticism about the day’s reading to each session. Students failing to do so will receive a lower reading grade.

b) Discussion/Participation (20%)

As this is such a small seminar, its success depends upon you. Your class discussion/ participation grade will be calculated by the frequency of your contributions to class discussions, and the quality of your questions, observations and conclusions.

NOTE: Should participation and discussion flag, I reserve the right to give “pop” quizzes, which will be counted as part of this discussion/participation grade.

c) Attendance (10%)

Absence is the greatest damper for discussion, so you should make every effort not to miss class. Everyone has something to contribute, so your presence is crucial. Please refer to the attendance policy below.

2. Presentations (20%)

Each student will choose one chapter of Cassirer to outline and explain to the class in a 15-20 minute presentation. Refer to the course calendar to see when you will be expected to present.

3. Essays (2 worth 20% each, total 40%)

Emphasizing clear exposition, critical thinking and evaluation, these essays give you an opportunity to interact with philosophical claims on a more personal level. You will be given a choice of selected questions upon which to write, or may appeal to the instructor for permission to write using your own question. Each essay should be 4-6 pages in length, and will be graded on the basis of clarity, conciseness and completeness.

These are not simply to be understood as research papers, but rather critical examinations of concepts and/or arguments. To that end, secondary source materials given in the Online and Offline Bibliographies will offer excellent fodder. The successful student will attend to proper grammar, diction, and syntax, and turn in his or her work on time. Please refer to Late Work policy below.

As I rule I prefer to receive hard copies rather than online copies, so unless you have had prior permission to submit your work virtually, your grade will be reduced. Refer to the handout on Essays for further information.

First Essay Due: Tues, 10/17/06
Second Essay Due: in lieu of final, on the scheduled final date (TBA)

Academic Policies:

(quotations taken from Mick Bollenbough’s syllabi)

1. Attendance

“There is an expectation that students will come to class on time and be in attendance every day we are scheduled to meet. Students are excused from class only in cases of illness, emergency, and recognized commitments to the College, e.g., NCC days, intercollegiate softball and basketball. Being absent from class more than three times leads to significant grade reductions, i.e. A becomes A-, B+ becomes B, etc. Ten or more unexcused absences will result in automatic failure of the course.”

2. ADA policy

“If you are having difficulty and are in need of academic support because of a documented disability, whether it is psychiatric, learning, physical, or sensory, you may be eligible for academic accommodation through the disability services office in the Dean of Students office.” Please make contact with the Dean of Students within the first two weeks of class, as accommodation cannot be guaranteed if contact is made after this time.

3. Timeliness and Academic Honesty

“Students are expected to submit their work on time. As a general rule, no late work will be accepted. It is expected that all work will be the product of students’ own efforts. Plagarism and academic dishonesty in any form will not be tolerated.”

and now, JUST FOR FUN…

Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours. --John Locke

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, "Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?" No. "Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?" No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. --David Hume

I keep the subject of my inquiry constantly before me, and wait till the first dawning opens gradually, by little and little, into a full and clear light. --Isaac Newton

Love truth, and pardon error. --Voltaire

It is all very well to talk of getting rid of one's ignorance, of seeing things in their reality, seeing them in their beauty; but how is this to be done when there is something which thwarts and spoils all our efforts? This something is sin. --Thomas Carlyle

Society's institutions, like government, schools, the arts, and the media, corrupt naturally good individuals. --Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.--
Thomas Paine

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. --Voltaire

Enjoy your own life without comparing it with that of another. --Marquis de Condorcet

The love of democracy is that of equality. --Charles de Montesquieu

A witty saying proves nothing. --Voltaire

Welcome to the conversation!


Blogger Dan said...

Well now that I have had a sec, a simple comment to ceom formo the wisdom of Dan regarding todays class: I am of the thought that Reason must be tempered with Revelation. This is because if we are to go soley by reason we will will find the end of that road with Hume, if revalation alone we wil never know anything for ourselves, it is a balancing act between the to types of knowing that is required for knowledge. In my humble opinion.

4:09 PM  
Blogger Beth B said...

Thanks, Dan, for your comment. I would agree!

One reason I am a premodern in my thinking is that I believe that there are some things about what is real that I would not otherwise know unless they were revealed to me.

There are truths about me that no will ever know (or guess) unless I tell them. Why shouldn't the same thing be the case with God?

Thomas Aquinas says there is a set of truths which we can know simply by our own reason; that you don't find in scripture. For example, this one: "Alpha Centauri is 4.5 light years from earth."

Then there are others that we can know either by our own reason or from revelation. For example, "God exists."
Part of becoming a mature Christian is to "be able to give a reason for the hope that is within you," (I Peter 3:15). Where possible, God wants us to move beyond simply taking truths on authority to being able to understand, explain and defend them.

Then finally, there are those truths which we can only know if God reveals them to us. For example, "Jesus Christ is Son of God, who takes away the sins of the world."

We have to take those last truths "on faith," that is, trusting the one who reveals them, and not as a result of our own reasoning. This doesn't mean that those revealed truths aren't rational. It just means that maybe we need a wider definition of "reason" than what the Enlightenment philosophes operated with.

9:31 PM  

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