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Birth of the Modern Mind: The Intellectual History of the 17th and 18th Centuries


TTC Birth of the Modern Mind: The Intellectual History of the 17th and 18th Centuries
24 lectures, 30 minutes per lecture, 580 Mb total

Modern science, representative democracy, and a wave of wars were caused by a revolution of the intellect that seized Europe between 1600 and 1800.
Shaking the minds of the continent like few things before or since, this revolution challenged previous ways of understanding reality and sparked what Professor Alan Charles Kors calls "perhaps the most profound transformation of European, if not human, life."

The Walls begin to Crumble
A series of fundamental assaults upon the inherited intellectual system dominated the intellectual life of the 17th century.
* Francis Bacon, politician and philosopher, criticized the entire Western intellectual inheritance, revising the human quest for knowledge and transforming the uses of knowledge into power over the forces of nature.
* Renй Descartes created a coherent philosophical system that became the major challenge to scholasticism on the Continent. Descartes sought to demonstrate that humans can establish a criterion of truth and, with it, know with certainty the real nature of things.
* Thomas Hobbes, author of the monumental work of political philosophy known as Leviathan (1651), argued that the entire world was matter in motion according to mechanical laws. Thus, there was no freedom of the will, and all things were the necessary results of prior causes.
* Blaise Pascal was one of the 17th century's most influential fideists. Philosophical skepticism is the belief that we may know nothing with certainty. When used to humble human reason and demonstrate our dependence on religious faith, it is termed "fideism"—yet another systematic assault on

Physics, Politics, and the End of the Old Order.
The new knowledge had gained a foothold, but then you see how Newton made it dominant. The 1687 publication of Newton's Principia Mathematica was not merely a major event in the history of Western science but a watershed in the history of Western culture.
Newton's Principia convinced the majority of its readers that the world was ordered and coherent and that the human mind, using Baconian inductive methodology and mathematical reasoning, could grasp that order.
John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) changed the way in which the culture thought about the whole phenomenon of human knowledge.
To Locke, the mind begins as a blank slate on which experience imprints ideas via the senses and via reflection. Because experience is not logically determined, our knowledge of the world is merely probable. The Baron de Montesquieu expanded Locke's idea in the areas of law, society, and politics.

The Dam Bursts
The 18th century sought to take the models of Newton and Locke and apply them to the fullest possible range of human inquiry and endeavor.

The heirs of that conceptual revolution—the "new philosophers"—both popularized what they took to be the substance and implications of what had occurred in the 17th century and extended them to new areas of inquiry.

* They dealt with the dramatic implications of the new philosophy for religious issues: miracle, revelation, supernaturalism, the authority of the priesthood, human nature, sin, and virtue.

* They sought to understand both society and religion in increasingly natural terms, to establish the rights of freedom of inquiry and belief, and to discredit, reform, or replace those authorities that could not justify themselves by the new criteria and proper uses of knowledge.

By the end of the 18th century, the prestige of ancient thought and of the inherited system was a thing of the past.

The new ideas were not accepted without dissent. Rousseau, writing in the middle of the 18th century, framed a profoundly influential critique, which echoes down to our own day. He argued that cultural "progress" inevitably leads to moral decadence via the proliferation of artificial needs and inequalities. But his protest did not stop the march of progress.

Educated Europeans believed that they had a new understanding of thought and the human mind, of method, of nature, and of the uses of knowledge — with which they could come to know the world correctly for the first time in human history and with which they could rewrite the possibilities of human life.

Soon, under the weight of these new ideas, all over the globe, monarchs fell.

This course puts us at the heart of the most far-reaching and consequential intellectual changes in the history of European civilization.

Course Lecture Titles
  1. Intro—Intellectual History and Conceptual Change
  2. The Dawn of the 17th Century—Aristotelian Scholasticism
  3. The New Vision of Francis Bacon
  4. The New Astronomy and Cosmology
  5. Descartes's Dream of Perfect Knowledge
  6. The Specter of Thomas Hobbes
  7. Skepticism and Jansenism—Blaise Pascal
  8. Newton's Discovery
  9. The Newtonian Revolution
  10. John Locke—The Revolution in Knowledge
  11. The Lockean Moment
  12. Skepticism and Calvinism—Pierre Bayle
  13. The Moderns—The Generation of 1680-1715
  14. Introduction to Deism
  15. The Conflict Between Deism and Christianity
  16. Montesquieu and the Problem of Relativism
  17. Voltaire—Bringing England To France
  18. Bishop Joseph Butler and God's Providence
  19. The Skeptical Challenge to Optimism—David Hume
  20. The Assault upon Philosophical Optimism—Voltaire
  21. The Philosophes—The Triumph of the French Enlightenment
  22. Beccaria and Enlightened Reform
  23. Rousseau's Dissent
  24. Materialism & Naturalism—The Boundaries of the Enlightenment

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