There are three essays total which you must write. Each essay you write should be at least 4-5 substantial paragraphs unless otherwise noted.

Note: I will be grading on your ability to extract, present, explain, and critically evaluate arguments in the readings as you answer the questions. Do not write me a book report lightly paraphrased from Wikipedia. I am not really interested in anyone’s ability to summarize someone else’s summary of Locke. Establish that you know what you’re talking about, yes, but then give me your own critical judgment on what you read. Words like “I”, “me”, “my view”, etc. are all very appropriate to use. I’m interested in your ability to attack or defend or discover a nuanced compromise on the issues modern philosophers were debating. I won’t be grading with a checklist — I don’t have a preconceived list of things I’m looking for or “docking” students points for if they miss. Likewise, I probably won’t notice if you miss one or two of the sub-questions on these essay prompts. But I will expect a sizable amount of time to be put into these essays. (Consider that this class has no term paper or weekly writing assignments). Work to develop a cogent argument of your own.

Question 1

Kant says,

The propositions of geometry are not…a mere creation of our poetic imagination, which could therefore not be referred with assurance to actual objects, but rather…they are necessarily valid of space, and consequently of all that may be found in space (p. 549).

Descartes and Hume agree. However, it never occurs to Hume, as it did to Kant, that mathematical knowledge might not count as genuine knowledge. And in Meditation I Descartes has quite different reasons from Kant for doubting mathematics. Present, explain and evaluate each author’s views about our knowledge of mathematics, answering all of the questions below. Cite all of your sources.

  • Why does Descartes think that it is (temporarily) possible to doubt mathematics?
  • What, for Descartes, ultimately assures him that the propositions of geometry can be “referred with assurance to actual objects”?
  • Why doesn’t Hume ever doubt that mathematical claims count as legitimate knowledge claims?
  • Why does Kant think that Hume should have raised skeptical doubts about mathematics, and how does Kant resolve skeptical doubt about the status of mathematics as genuine knowledge?
  • How does Kant answer the question “How is objectively valid, synthetic a priori knowledge of geometry possible?” (Be sure you explain these key terms: “form of intuition,” “appearance,” and “things-in-themselves”).
  • In your own view, how do we have knowledge of mathematical truths? How does your view differ from Kant or Hume or both? Defend your view.


Question 2

Kant is in many ways indebted to and responding to his predecessors. Most obviously, it is Hume who wakes Kant up:

I openly confess my recollection of David Hume was the very thing which many years ago first interrupted by dogmatic slumber and gave my investigations in the field of speculative philosophy a quite new direction (p. 535).

Do you think Kant learned all the lessons he could have from those who came before him? Or is there one author you wish Kant had responded more thoroughly to? Cite all of your sources. 

As part of your answer, you’ll likely need to answer these questions:

  • What is “Hume’s Fork”? Why did Hume’s use of his “fork” to critique causality awaken Kant from his dogmatic slumber?
  • What is Kant’s “Copernican Revolution”—i.e., what general strategy does Kant use to show that we can have some synthetic knowledge a priori?
  • Why is Kant considered an idealist? How does Kant’s conception of reality (Nature) resemble Berkeleyan idealism, and how does it not?
  • Which of Locke’s views does Kant seem to be borrowing OR rejecting?
  • In what ways are Kant’s a priori concepts both like and unlike Descartes’s notion?
  • What is your own view on this question? What defense you give to someone who disagreed with you?

Note: this question is comprehensive for the entire class, your opportunity to show what you’ve learned over the whole semester. It will probably require a much lengthier answer than the other questions on the exam. Aim for about 6 paragraphs.



Question 3

Critique Hume and Kant’s views on causation and free-will.

As part of your answer you’ll probably need to answer these questions:

  • How are Hume and Kant’s views on causation similar? How do they differ?
  • What does Hume think that “X caused Y” really means?
  • What arguments does Hume give in Sec. VIII to convince libertarians (free will advocates) that they either already do, or should, accept the claim that all human actions are causally determined in his sense of “caused.”
  • Why does Kant think that the concept of causality is subjectively necessary and objectively valid? (Here you will need to say something about causality and time.)
  • What view of free will does Kant take? Why?
  • Selecting either Hume or Kant, critique the author’s argument (which you’ve outlined above) either for the author’s position on causation, or the author’s position on free will. (Thus, there are 4 possible topics)
  • What do you think the weaknesses of the argument are? How do you think the argument could be objected to?




Modern philosophy