Descartes’ Meditations is one of the most significant texts in Western thought. It marks the beginning of a focus on the natural sciences as the paradigm for knowledge and certainty. It incorporates conceptualizations of God, human nature, knowledge and reality that continue to influence contemporary thought. This unit begins with a detailed critical reading of the Meditations. It then examines excerpts from major texts by other significant philosophers of the period, who may include Hobbes, Spinoza, Cudworth, More, Locke, Newton, Clarke, Hume and Kant. The unit focuses on themes such as the relation of body and soul, the question of certain knowledge and the relationship between scientific, theological and common-sense world views. In addition, attention is given to the dispute between those philosophers engaged in sceptical or atheistic attacks on religion, and those philosophers engaged with defending religion made by other early modern philosophers. (This unit may be offered in intensive mode.)

Unit code: AP2140C (Approved)

Points: 18.0

Unit level: Undergraduate Level 2

Unit discipline: Philosophy

Proposing College: Catholic Theological College

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Learning outcomes


Sketch the progression of the arguments in Descartes’ Meditations.


Explain the primary/secondary qualities distinction as it appears through the thinkers studied in the unit.


Narrate an understanding of the relationship between the defences of a theistic worldview made by e.g. Cambridge Platonists, Locke and Clarke, and the critiques of those defences made by ‘atheistic’ thinkers presented in the unit: e.g. Hobbes, Spinoza, Hume.


Elaborate the motivations for, and structure of Kant’s transcendental idealism.

Unit sequence

36 points of philosophy at first level


Lectures, Tutorials,

Indicative Bibliography

  • Biffle, Christopher. A Guided Tour of René Descartes’ “Meditations on First Philosophy.” 2nd ed. With a complete translation of the Meditations by Ronald Rubin. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1996.
  • Brenner, William H. Elements of Modern Philosophy: Descartes through Kant. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1989.
  • Buroker, Jill Vance. Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”: An Introduction. Cambridge Introductions to Key Philosophical Texts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Copleston, Frederick C. A History of Philosophy. Vols. 4–6. London: Burns and Oates, 1959–60.
  • Cottingham, John, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Descartes. Cambridge Companions to Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Emmanuel, Steven M., ed. The Blackwell Guide to the Modern Philosophers: From Descartes to Nietzsche. Blackwell Philosophy Guides. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.
  • Guyer, Paul, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy. Cambridge Companions to Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Nadler, Steven M., ed. A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy. Blackwell Companions to Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.
  • Trusted, Jennifer. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Knowledge. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1997.
  • Williams, Bernard. Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978


Type Description Word count Weight (%)
Essay 2000 50.0
Written Examination

2-hour written examination

2000 50.0

Unit approved for the University of Divinity by Maggie Kappelhoff on 21 Jul, 2020

Unit record last updated: 2020-07-22 09:24:40 +1000