Home » [Fall 2022] The Faults of Modern Philosophy

This is not a seminar about modernity, but about modern philosophy—and, specifically, about the fundamental flaws (or faults) which characterize modern philosophy’s thinking.  These flaws, once recognized, show their effects everywhere today: in the endless fragmentation of world, mind, self; in the intransigence of political discourse, the widening cultural divides, the polarization of extremes, and the frail, shrill assertions of expertise, exactitude, and a scientific consensus that appears to hold naught together in truth but the adherents of a narrow ideology.

We will not, in the course of these eight weeks, undertake deconstruction of this fragile and threatening edifice.  Rather, our task is to discover and analyze the underlying faults.  We will accomplish this analysis through a collective effort—with lectures given and discussions led by three faculty (Kemple, Wagner, and Boyer)—that unveils the fundamental mistakes of modern philosophy’s key thinkers.  Though these thinkers are diverse from one another, commonly they are “modern” in holding certain presuppositions about the nature of knowledge and the human person resulting in a discontinuous set of fundamental beliefs concerning the universe and our experience of it.

It would be easy simply to point to the precarity and chaos permeating the world built on such foundations, wave it away, and say that we must begin again.  But such hand-waving not only fails to be efficacious, it is, moreover, delusional.  We are the children of modernity, like it or not, and their errors are our inheritance, abusive though that may be.  If we fail to understand the foundations of the moderns’ thoughts, we will not recognize their influence in ourselves.

Discussion Sessions
2:00pm ET

(World times)
Study Topics &

Week 1: The Modern Context
Lecture: From the Break with Scholasticism to the Incoherence of Today
» Selections from preparatory bibliography.
Week 2: The False Ground of Modern Philosophy
Lecture: The πρῶτον ψεῦδος [first falsehood] of Modern Philosophy: Descartes’ Method
» Descartes, Meditations (I-II).
Week 3: Common Idealism
Lecture: The Lonely Way of Ideas
» Descartes, Discourse on Method (selections).
» Descartes, Meditations (III).
» Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (selections).
Week 4: A Broken “Empiricism”
Lecture: David Hume’s “Empirical” Method: The Tale of Naïve Cartesian
» Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (selections).
» Aristotle, Physics (selections).

Week 5: Immanuel Kant and the Unknowable
Lecture: Kant’s A Priori Prison
» Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (selections).
» Gilson, Unity of Philosophical Experience (selections).
Week 6: Pointing Games
Lecture: Wittgenstein’s Language
» Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (selections).
Week 7: Avoiding Reality
Lecture: Choose Your Own Ontology
» Quine, “On What There Is”.
» Geach, “Symposium: On What There Is”
Week 8: Jean-Paul Sartre and the Nadir of Modernity
Lecture: Antagonism of Person and Nature
» Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism.

This seminar is open to all participants, regardless of prior experience. View the syllabus here and learn more about Lyceum Institute seminars here.

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

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