Course level: Undergraduate
What can I know?
What ought I do?
What may I hope?
What is man?
According to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), these four questions are the questions of philosophy. His answers to these questions transformed the trajectory of Western philosophy. From epistemology to metaphysics, ethics to aesthetics, religion to politics, Kant’s writings set a new agenda for how we approach almost every area of philosophy.
During the first nine weeks of this course, we will focus on Kant’s major work from his so-called ‘critical’ period: the Critique of Pure Reason (1781/87). In analyzing this work, we will explore the account of metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind that Kant defends, and we will consider Kant’s hope of building a system of nature and freedom. We will address the negative aspects of his project, including his criticisms of rationalist metaphysics, empiricist skepticism, the illusory tendencies built into our own reason, and the need to limit the pretenses of reason. We will also examine his positive views regarding the nature of the mind, the nature of experience, transcendental idealism, the foundations of natural science, and the possibility of freedom and religious belief.
During the remaining four weeks of the course, we will turn to Kant’s formidable critic and the most influential post-Kantian German idealist, G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831). We will focus on his most important work, The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), which seeks to show that all human intellectual development up to now is the logically necessary working out of Mind’s coming to know itself. In analyzing this work, we will explore Hegel’s dialectical logic, his conception of freedom, his views on the relationship between the mind and the natural world, and the “Absolute idealism” that he defends in this text. At the end of the course we will address both the limits and prospects of Kant’s critical project. In the former vein, we will address concerns pertaining to Kant’s views on race; in the latter vein, we will see how Kierkegaard develops Kantian themes in his works.