(Undergrad.) Intro to Philosophy: Mind and Will (Early Modern)

Undergraduate course, University of Cincinnati, Department of Philosophy, 2016

Introductory-level undergraduate course offered in Summer 2016 at University of Cincinnati to a small group students of diverse backgrounds (philosophy majors were the minority).

Course Description

Most of us think that we know our own minds as well as, or better than, we know anything else. But it is very hard to see how minds fit in with the rest of nature. Why would the firing of neurons give rise to something so remarkable as conscious experience? And if the mind is entirely physical, must it be governed by the laws of physics? If so, is free will just an illusion? On the other hand, if the mind is not physical, how does it manage to causally interact with the physical world? These are some of the fundamental questions in the philosophy of mind. This course is an introduction to the debates surrounding them. We will examine closely the works of four philosophers from the Early Modern period, namely René Descartes (1596-1650), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), John Locke (1632-1704), and David Hume (1711-1776), focusing on their views about the nature of the mind and its relationship with the body, about whether there is such a thing as innate knowledge, about personal identity, freedom, and non-human minds.

Student work

  • reading questions for each assigned reading
  • four reaction essays (one per philosopher)
  • peer editing of reaction essays


  • Descartes: Meditations and selection from Objections & Replies
  • Leibniz: Monadology
  • Locke: selections from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
  • Hume: selections from Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Sample of student comments:

  • “Instructor obviously extremely knowledgeable about subject matter. He always made himself available to student questions/issues and was even exible with his original weekly deadlines to accommodate student work schedules.”

  • “The reading and questions were fair and not that diffcult. The length of the readings and the questions were the main hard part. The readings definitely were key to understanding the topics clearly and the PowerPoint slides alone would not explain in enough detail to skip the readings. The peer reviews were really helpful and I liked that way of setting up the course!”

  • “In my three years at UC, this was easily the most organized and clear course, with regard to class lectures, assignments, and what was expected of the students.”

  • “In terms of clarity of presentation, positive attitude, and clearly articulated expectations of student work, this instructor put most of the professors I’ve had to shame. Lectures were interesting, assistance was always available, and class material was consistently challenging but never abstruse.”