SP20 PHIL414/514

British Empiricism
Professor: Larry Nolan
Mondays & Wednesdays  ·  12:30pm–1:45pm  ·  LA5–246

In this course we shall investigate the rich and lively philosophical debates between the three leading British Empiricists (Locke, Berkeley, and Hume) and between them and the Continental Rationalists (Descartes, Spinoza, Malebranche, and Leibniz). Topics will include the origin of ideas, the nature of the mind or self, proofs of God’s existence, proofs for the existence of the external world, skepticism and the limits of human knowledge, causation, primary versus secondary qualities, real versus nominal essences, and the problem of induction. Open discussion of the philosophical issues will be strongly encouraged.


  • Regular attendance and frequent participation
  • Two take-home assignments
  • Final Exam
  • Extra-credit option: in-class debate


  • Two take-home assignments (or term paper)
  • Final Exam
  • Critique sampling of undergraduate papers

Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Penguin)
Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (Oxford)
Berkeley’s Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (Oxford)
Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Hackett Publishing)