General Information

Contact Information

 Abe Stone ([1]Please feel free to contact the instructor and/or your TA with questions about the substance of the course (philosophical issues, questions about the meaning of the texts, questions about paper topics, etc.). On administrative issues (grades, lateness/extensions, due dates, section times, etc.) please try your TA first.
 Cowell Annex A-106
Zoom class meeting:
Office hours:
 Wednesday 3:00-4:00pm (in person)
Zoom office hours:
 Wed. 3:00–4:00pm; Thurs. 11:30am–12:30pm (or by appointment)
Teaching Assistants:
Takuma Nishiike
Edwin Wolf

Discussion Sections

AMon. 2:40–3:45pmCrown Clrm 203Takuma
BTue. 5:20–6:25pmCrown Clrm 203Takuma
CWed. 10:40–11:45amCrown Clrm 203Edwin
DThur. 8:00–9:05amCowell Acad 223Edwin

Course Description

Readings from the three most famous members of the school of 17–18th century Continental Rationalists: René Descartes (1596–1650), Benedict (a.k.a. Baruch) de Spinoza (1632–1677), and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716).

Modality: In general, I will lecture in person in our assigned classroom, but I intend also to live-stream every lecture over Zoom. I will also make a recording of every lecture available on YouTube.

Course Requirements

Participation in discussion sections (good participation will be possible grounds for raising course grade, especially if it is on a borderline).

“Metaphysics exercises” (kind of a short take-home multiple choice quiz), due most class days (all exercises together are worth 35% of the final grade; graded heavily on a curve). These will be made available on-line via the “Tests & Quizzes” tool on Canvas.

Two short papers (2–3 pages), due Tuesday, February 6 and Tuesday, February 27 (each worth 15% of the final grade).

One longer paper (6–8 pages) (worth 35% of the final grade). The paper is due Wednesday, March 20, but you must hand in an introductory paragraph and brief outline (approximately one sentence per paragraph of the proposed complete paper) at some time on or before Monday, March 11. Your TA will send this back to you as soon as possible with suggested changes, which you should take into account. This preliminary assignment will not be separately graded, but if you do not hand it in at all or if it is wholly unsatisfactory, your grade on the final paper will be reduced by one half step (e.g. A to A-).

All paper assignments are available on-line, and there are links to them from this syllabus as well as from my main course page. I will discuss the assignments in class when the due date draws near.

Papers are to be handed in, as attachments, via the “Assignments” tool on Canvas. Please submit in MSWord format , or in a format easily convertible to MSWord. The system will accept late submissions, but late papers may not receive full credit. The system is not set up to allow resubmissions: once you press the “submit” button, it will not let you change your response. If, however, you mistakenly submit something and want to change it, please contact me and I can make an exception.

Please do not plagiarize. If you do and I catch you, you will receive no credit for the assignment and may fail the course, and you will also be subject to “disciplinary sanctions” from the University. (In contrast: if you hand in a paper consisting mostly of quotes from or paraphrases of other sources you have consulted, properly cited, you will not get a good grade — a good paper will contain your own interpretations and thoughts — but you will not fail, either.) If you have any questions about what plagiarism is or how to avoid it, you can ask me, or consult the resources listed on the Library website.[2] For possible consequences of plagiarism, see the Academic Misconduct Policy.[3]

As noted above, the ME’s will be accessed and submitted on-line via Canvas. (The system will accept late submissions, but credit — possibly reduced — will only be given up until the time that the correct answers are available, usually one week after the due date.)

AI policy: I encourage the use of AI assistance with proper caution (i.e., keeping in mind that current AI is often wrong). You may use AI assistance basically in any way that would not constitute cheating if you used a human for the same thing. Similarly, you should cite the AI in cases where you would cite a human. If in doubt, feel free to ask me for clarification.

All assignments are due by 11:55pm on the due date.

Attendance at lecture is strongly encouraged, but it is not a course requirement and I will not be taking attendance.

You can find answers to some commonly asked questions about my assignments and grading in my FAQ.


Descartes, Selected Philosophical Writings
, tr. J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff and D. Murdoch (Cambridge, 1988) (ISBN: 0521358124).
Most, if not all, of the assigned readings from this text are available, in a different translation, on Google Books and Wikisource. There are LibriVox recordings (again, in a different translation) of the Discourse on the Method and the Meditations.
Leibniz, Philosophical Essays
, ed. R. Ariew and D. Garber (Hackett, 1989) (ISBN: 0872200620).
This collection is available on-line (free to read, but costs to download) on Scribd. Many of (but not all) of the assigned readings are to be found free on Google Books. There is a LibriVox recording of the Monadology.
Spinoza, The Ethics, Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, and Selected Letters
, tr. S. Shirley, ed. S. Feldman (Hackett, 1991) (ISBN: 0872201309).
Again, there are free versions of the Ethics on Google Books and LibriVox, though not in the same translation.

The above texts have been made available as e-books via “Inclusive Access.” For more information about this program (which I’m using for the first time as an experiment, so please let me know if you have comments or criticisms!), see this FAQ. You can opt out of Inclusive Access if you wish to access the readings in some other way: e.g. if you want to buy print copies, use the copies on reserve at McHenry, and/or use the above public domain alternatives. Readings not from texts on the above list are available on Canvas.

Creative Commons License This document, and all other instructor-generated material in this course, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.