010: Modern Reason
Instructor(s) David Bates
Human beings have often been defined by their capacity for reason. But what do we really mean by this word? Are there different kinds of reason? This course will explore the history and theory of modern reason since the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century. We will start with Descartes and Hobbes, looking at how human reason was defined with respect to new ideas about machines and bodies. We will then look at various modern perspectives on reason, within a broad range of contexts. We will study, for example, Rousseau’s human being in the state of nature, the figure of the “detective,” the nature of scientific discovery, forms of legal reasoning, the possibility of “unconscious” reasoning, and the importance of analogy in the function of reason, before concluding with debates on artificial intelligence. Our goal will be to think carefully about how cultures understand thinking – and especially what makes human reasoning distinctly human. Can a machine or a computer really exhibit human rationality? For that matter, can animals reason? Are human beings really rational in the first place?
Readings will range from the 17th to the 21st century, and will include literary detective stories, philosophy, cognitive science, philosophy of history, and legal theory. Lectures will be informal and will encourage student interaction.
Short weekly writing assignments will be the main requirement of the course. There will be an in-class midterm and a final exam.
Descartes, Discourse on Method
Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality
Kuhn, Structure of Scientific revolutions