CFP – Teaching Early Modern Philosophy: New Approaches

Most survey courses in early modern philosophy are informed by a familiar narrative, based on the development of empiricism and rationalism and their synthesis in Kants philosophy. Over the last few decades, this narrative has come under heavy criticism and is now rejected by many scholars. The narrative focuses primarily on epistemological and metaphysical issues, whereas scores of early modern authors had little interest in epistemology and were driven by natural-philosophical, political, or theological concerns. The traditional classifications of empiricists and rationalists have been questioned. Many regard the standard account of developments within each camp (Locke begat Berkeley, Berkeley begat Hume) as inadequate. A large body of scholarship has brought to light the historical relevance and intrinsic significance of numerous figures beyond the empiricist and rationalist triads. The omission of women philosophers from the canon is hard to justify and perpetrates deleterious stereotypes. Despite scholarsdissatisfaction with the standard narrative, the narrative still informs most survey courses, manuals, and anthologies. A growing number of teachers are keen to try new approaches to the teaching of lower-levelcourses (in the American system, or undergraduate courses in the British system). Yet scholarly up-to-date, pedagogically well-thought-out models that they may follow or draw inspiration from are far and wide in between.

To remedy this, Metaphilosophy solicits papers illustrating new ways of teaching lower-level courses on early modern philosophy. The papers will be published in a symposium, guest-edited by Alberto Vanzo (University of Warwick). Submissions may address, among others, the following issues.

– Should teachers focus on a narrow set of canonical authors and if so, which ones? If we should abandon the very idea of a canon and follow the contextualist approach that is popular in recent scholarship, what criteria should guide teachers selection of philosophical problems, texts, and authors?

– Scholarly developments have helped us make better sense of the relation of early modern philosophical doctrines with political events and with developments in a wide range of disciplines, from medicine to theology. Taking these developments into account has proven necessary to correctly understand severalarguments of early modern philosophers. How much weight should teachers give to the ways in which philosophical developments were influenced by non-philosophical factors, vis-à-vis focusing on the internal logic of philosophers arguments?

– The early modern period saw significant shifts and disagreements on the nature, tasks, and methods of philosophy. How can these be highlighted in low-level courses, so as to familiarise students with competing stances on the nature of philosophy and its relation to the natural sciences?

– Teachers are sometimes torn between competing demands and expectations: that they give students a historically accurate understanding of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophies, which include unpalatable or idiosyncratic claims, and that they highlight the continued relevance of those philosophies to current-day discussions, at the risk of reinventing (instead of merely reconstructing) early modern views when the gulf between past and present appears too wide. How should teachers balance these tendencies in low-level courses?

– How can one effectively integrate areas, traditions, and figures that were traditionally marginalized (e.g. moral philosophy, women philosophers) within the curriculum, rather than simply juxtaposing them with standard topics and authors? How can teachers of lower-level courses give their due to the scores of Aristotelians, school philosophers, and other losers of early modern philosophy?

Deadline for submissions is 1st October 2014. Manuscripts should be prepared according to the guidelines available at and should be submitted via email or regular mail to:

Department of Philosophy
Southern Connecticut State University
New Haven, CT 06515, USA

For information, please email Alberto Vanzo (

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