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Module Code: PI4046/PI4146

Module Name: Idealism

Module Content

Like every term of abuse, 'idealism' is difficult to define. Provisionally, idealism is a metaphysical view of reality that holds that what exist on the most fundamental level are minds and mental things such as 'ideas'. This has been taken as an outrageous position both to common sense and by the majority of philosophers because it appears to divest the external world of reality. One influential view of the history of idealism has therefore stated that it was only with the onset of modern philosophy and its reorientation towards subjectivity and interiority that the preconditions for conceiving of idealism were at all possible. Rather than develop an account of the nature of idealism through the history of thought we will explain idealism in terms of how Kant understood the term. That is, in terms of certain elements in the philosophical views of Descartes, Leibniz and Berkeley.

Though idealism came to be seen as a scandal of philosophy, it was thought to be a probable conclusion of a number of philosophical positions at the time. Accordingly, the 16th and 17th century is the time in history that saw some of the most vigorous debates about philosophical idealism. What was it about early modern philosophy that invited that position? Idealism was pertinent to two debates that shaped the philosophical landscape. The first debate concerned the nature of causation. The other debate concerned the nature and sources of knowledge.

The aim of the seminar is to explore Kant's attempts to refute idealism. Can one or a number of general strategies to refute idealism be identified? Does he develop different arguments to refute his three main opponents? From his very first publications Living Forces and the New Elucidation to notes from the end of his life, he is claiming to have refuted idealism. Why this 'intellectual hypochondria'? 1. Kant attacks different philosophical views under the term 'idealism'. 2. Kant's own view of idealism develops with his increasing understanding of these views. 3. Kant's conception of what counts as a correct philosophical method and doctrine develops in tandem with his conception of his idealist enemies. Can one or a number of general strategies to refute idealism be identified? Does he develop different arguments to refute his three main opponents? Suggestion for main lines to follow through the course: What is the function of the human body in the different arguments against idealism? How does the arguments against idealism relate to Kant's conception of space, time and causation at the time.

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module, students will be able to:

  • understand the sceintific and historical setting in which idealism became an issue;
  • critically evaluate the viability of philosophical idealism;
  • assess Kant's refutation of idealism.