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

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Always Engaging and Thought-Provoking I came away from every lesson thinking about the philosophies as interpreted by Dr. Kors. They proved to be good conversation starters. The lectures also inspired me to write posts in my blog which is normally focused on travel, for which I was quite grateful particularly in this year when the world was shut down and healthy people were quarantined...a fascinating subject for philosophical debate in itself. I highly recommend this Great Course to anyone, and in particular to people like me, who always enjoyed Philosophy and Psychology classes taken to fulfill general education requirements but who never spent as much time pursuing the subjects once life started unfolding and real life took precedence over theories.
Date published: 2021-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Penetrating and Fascinating This course details the vast changes in how Western people thought due to intellectual innovations in the 17th and 18th centuries. It's remarkably unbiased and deep in getting into the very bone marrow of thinking in different time periods. It also discussed changing institutions affecting how the culture functioned intellectually, such as the Royal Society and coffeehouses as intellectual gathering places. Lecture #13 was a totally unnecessary recap of the first half of the course and several lectures right after that on deism were quite boring, but other than that, the course held my interest and made me think in new ways. Some highlights: * The Aristotelian defense of authority that dominated universities for centuries * Bacon's influential change from deduction to inductive thinking * Neo-Pythagoreans shifting from qualitative to numerical inquiries * Why Descartes' work crushed superstition and mysticism * Hobbes as the "Devil's Advocate" of Europe whom everyone had to refute * Montesquieu and Voltaire imaginatively taking on themes of cultural differences Highly recommended.
Date published: 2021-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb overview of the Enlightenment This course is outstanding. I have bought a lot of Teaching Company courses over the years. Almost all were excellent, and this course is one of the best. The course covers the intellectual developments that took place in Europe over the period 1600AD-1800AD, i.e., the Enlightenment. It begins with a review of the intellectual conditions prevailing at the end of the 16th century and then proceeds generally in chronological order to explain the various developments in science and philosophy that emerged, starting with Francis Bacon and ending with Julien de La Mettrie. Most of the people discussed are familiar: Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc. Some are less well known but nonetheless historically important, such as de La Mettrie. The individual lectures and the course as a whole are organized well. Professor Kors does a fine job of distilling and explaining the essence of the important ideas and discoveries of the Enlightenment. He also explains well the progress of the Enlightenment from its early emphasis on natural science to its late forays into morality and social organization. The course explains it all and ties it all together. Professor Kors says very little about the connection between the Enlightenment and the political developments of the time, most notably the American Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, both of which were influenced strongly by Enlightenment thought and which were politically significant as the first formal declarations in history of government by the consent of the governed, with separation of powers, with limited and enumerated powers. However, Professor Kors does mention the US experience briefly in two of the last lectures of the course. Also, his lecture on Beccaria and the proper role of law in a just State gives much insight into the intellectual currents that helped mold the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights even though Professor Kors does not mention any of those documents in the Beccaria lecture. Indeed, that is a characteristic of the course. Many of the lectures touch on important themes that are not mentioned in the lecture titles. There is a lot of material here! A few reviewers comment unfavorably on Professor Kors’s lecture style. Some say he speaks in a monotone. That is an inaccurate description. At first I, too, had some trouble with Professor Kors’s style, but after I listened to a few lectures I figured it out and then had little trouble with it thereafter. Professor Kors delivers each lecture almost as if it were a sermon by a true believer. No matter what the topic, Professor Kors is enthusiastic about it. Christianity, Deism, atheism - each is presented enthusiastically. When the course was finished, I had no idea what Professor Kors’s own views are on any of the controversial topics that had been discussed. That’s exactly the way it should be. The professor’s job is to present the state of knowledge in an unbiased way. Any opinions should be identified as such and not presented as facts. Professor Kors presents the material just that way. He definitely does *not* speak in a monotone. If any criticism is to be made, it might be that he is a little too enthusiastic. It took me a bit of time to get used to his style, but I did get used to it after a few lectures. Indeed, by about the middle of the course I was excited each day to listen to the next lecture and had a twinge of regret at the end of the course that there were no more lectures to hear. I recommend this course highly to anyone who wants an overview of the main themes and the important people of the Enlightenment.
Date published: 2021-02-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from for overwhelmed parents great overview for kids stuck at home with virtual learning during pandemic.
Date published: 2020-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course The professor did a very good job explaining how human beings began to use the ideas of reason and science to explain the world. I was impressed with how he could present the case for competing ideas, giving compelling arguments for each without apparent bias. I also liked the way that he made it clear how thinkers were reacting to each other. So often we are taught a philosophical idea without it being put in context. For example, even though I have read a lot about utilitarianism, I came to a much greater understanding by seeing how it related to changes in religious ideas of the time. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2020-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So interesting!!! I'm impressed by how the Professor expertly synthesized and connects the dots regarding the different philosophies and ideas of the past.
Date published: 2020-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My favorite lecturer Of several Great Courses on (intellectual) history I have listened to so far, the lectures by Alan Kors are my favorites: He speaks at a good pace (not too fast) and transmits his enthousiasm. Kors is really great in translating the sometimes complicated philosophical views into a language that listeners can make sense of. I listen to this one over and over again.
Date published: 2020-09-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lackluster delivery Although the ideas discussed in this set of lectures are interesting, I find the presentation from the professor somewhat boring. There are a lot of tangents and I find myself losing interest in almost every lecture, contrary to many other series I have purchased. This is a lecture series I would not recommend and will not revisit. If I could get a refund, I would.
Date published: 2020-05-11
  • y_2021, m_4, d_19, h_17
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.14
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_7, tr_134
  • loc_en_CA, sid_447, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getReviews, 5.98ms
  • REVIEWS, PRODUCT
Introduction—Intellectual History and Conceptual Change
1: Introduction—Intellectual History and Conceptual Change

Revolutions in thought—as opposed to those, for example, in politics or science—are in many ways the most influential and far-reaching, because they affect our entire sense of legitimate authority, of the possible and impossible, of right and wrong, and of the potentials of human life.

34 min
The Dawn of the 17th Century—Aristotelian Scholasticism
2: The Dawn of the 17th Century—Aristotelian Scholasticism

The intellectual inheritance of the educated world in the 17th century was a fusion of Aristotelian, and other Greek, philosophy and of Christian theology. It was—and is—known as "scholasticism," or, more precisely, as Aristotelian scholasticism. This system dominated the universities and schools of Europe at the time.

31 min
The New Vision of Francis Bacon
3: The New Vision of Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon, politician and philosopher, undertook the sizeable tasks of criticizing the Western intellectual inheritance, revising the human quest for knowledge, and transforming the uses of knowledge into power over the forces of nature—upon which humans' suffering, or well-being, was thought to depend.

31 min
The New Astronomy and Cosmology
4: The New Astronomy and Cosmology

Astronomy was an eminent science in the 17th century, and much of the challenge to scholasticism began in that field of inquiry. Among the challenges to Aristotelianism was neo-Pythagorean thought, which viewed the universe in terms of mathematics and geometry, not in terms of Aristotelian "qualities," and which saw the Sun as an emblem of God's divinity.

31 min
Descartes's Dream of Perfect Knowledge
5: Descartes's Dream of Perfect Knowledge

In the first half of the 17th century, Descartes created a coherent philosophical system that became, on the Continent, the major challenge to scholasticism. Descartes sought to demonstrate that humans can establish a criterion of truth and, with it, know with certainty the real nature and the real causes of things.

31 min
The Specter of Thomas Hobbes
6: The Specter of Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes, author of the monumental work of political philosophy known as Leviathan (1651), argued that the world, including the entire realm of human experience, was matter in motion according to fixed, mechanical laws; there was no freedom of the will, and all things were the necessary results of prior causes.

31 min
Skepticism and Jansenism—Blaise Pascal
7: Skepticism and Jansenism—Blaise Pascal

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 Aristotelian scholasticism. Blaise Pascal was one of the 17th century's two most influential fideists.

31 min
Newton's Discovery
8: Newton's Discovery

A significant number of critics of Aristotelianism were in communication with each other by the middle of the 17th century. In England, such a group evolved into the Royal Society, which first published the monumental scientific work of Sir Isaac Newton.

30 min
The Newtonian Revolution
9: The Newtonian Revolution

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.

31 min
John Locke—The Revolution in Knowledge
10: John Locke—The Revolution in Knowledge

John Locke's influence upon the late 17th and early 18th centuries cannot be overestimated; his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) changed the way in which the culture thought about the whole phenomenon of human knowledge.

32 min
The Lockean Moment
11: The Lockean Moment

In Locke's empiricist view, the mind begins as a blank slate on which experience imprints ideas via the senses and via reflection. We cannot know, nor should we speculate about, what is beyond our experience. Because experience is not logically determined, our knowledge of the world is merely probable.

32 min
Skepticism and Calvinism—Pierre Bayle
12: Skepticism and Calvinism—Pierre Bayle

Although obscure to most contemporary readers, the French Protestant fideist Pierre Bayle was one of the most influential authors of his time. His Historical and Critical Dictionary (1697) is intended to expose the arrogance of reason and show that anything but a simple, peaceful faith leads to superstition, intolerance, and cruelty.

32 min
The Moderns—The Generation of 1680-1715
13: The Moderns—The Generation of 1680-1715

This generation of readers and authors increasingly rejects the presumptive authority of the past, increasingly believes induction from data (not deduction from inherited premises) to be the path to truth, and makes a systematic inquiry into experience—now seen as "the book of nature," the heart of natural philosophy, which holds that there are no supernatural beings or causes in the world.

32 min
Introduction to Deism
14: Introduction to Deism

Deism, a widespread religious phenomenon among the educated classes of Europe in the 18th century, embodies belief in a God whose existence and goodness are proven by nature, and disbelief in the Judeo-Christian (or any other) tradition and revelation.

33 min
The Conflict Between Deism and Christianity
15: The Conflict Between Deism and Christianity

Deism represents the first fundamental challenge to Judeo-Christian theology to emerge strongly within Christian culture itself. Deist and Christian thinkers clash over the most essential theological issues: the source of our knowledge of God, the grounds of religious belief, sin, and more.

31 min
Montesquieu and the Problem of Relativism
16: Montesquieu and the Problem of Relativism

If, as the Lockeans believed, knowledge and moral ideas are determined by one's experience, then one's sense of the world must necessarily be relative to one's time, place, personal experience, and physical senses. The Baron de Montesquieu explores this idea, particularly as it touches on questions of law, society, and politics.

30 min
Voltaire—Bringing England To France
17: Voltaire—Bringing England To France

Few works had greater impact in popularizing the intellectual revolution of the 17th century, and in inaugurating the debates that would shape the 18th century in France, than Voltaire's Lettres Philosophiques (1734), in which the author celebrates English religious, political, commercial, and intellectual liberty.

31 min
Bishop Joseph Butler and God's Providence
18: Bishop Joseph Butler and God's Providence

Bishop Butler, the preeminent moral theologian of the Church of England, argued that human beings are made for happiness and virtue, and that our nature conduces to both simultaneously. Among those influenced by this revered and pious churchman's views was Thomas Jefferson.

31 min
The Skeptical Challenge to Optimism—David Hume
19: The Skeptical Challenge to Optimism—David Hume

In his posthumously published Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), the philosopher and skeptic Hume challenged the fundamental premise of natural religion: That we must infer logically from the data of nature a wise, intelligent, good, omnipotent, and providential God.

32 min
The Assault upon Philosophical Optimism—Voltaire
20: The Assault upon Philosophical Optimism—Voltaire

Candide is Voltaire's most famous and enduring work. On the surface it is a lively satirical novella. It has dark and serious undertones, however, for it marks the author's agonized rejection of the optimistic notion that God would only have created "the best of all possible worlds" and, thus, that all things in the world serve an ultimate good.

31 min
The Philosophes—The Triumph of the French Enlightenment
21: The Philosophes—The Triumph of the French Enlightenment

In 18th-century France, there emerged a diverse community of thinkers and writers who thought of themselves as new philosophers and whose mission was a critical re-examination of knowledge, authority, and institutions. These were the philosophes of the French Enlightenment.

31 min
Beccaria and Enlightened Reform
22: Beccaria and Enlightened Reform

The view that both individuals and societies should seek happiness led the 18th century to place great weight on the role of the legislator. This, in turn, spawned a great interest in the law and one of the most influential works of the time, Cesare Beccaria's On Crimes and Punishments (1763)—an effort to reform, rationalize, and soften the criminal laws of Europe.

31 min
Rousseau's Dissent
23: Rousseau's Dissent

Rousseau, writing in the middle of the 18th century, dissented from prevailing Enlightenment beliefs. He framed a profoundly influential critique, which echoes down to our own day, by arguing that cultural "progress" inevitably leads to moral decadence via the proliferation of artificial needs and inequalities.

32 min
Materialism & Naturalism—The Boundaries of the Enlightenment
24: Materialism & Naturalism—The Boundaries of the Enlightenment

The natural, and at times atheistic, world of the philosophe and encyclopédiste Denis Diderot marks the ultimate rejection of the purposeful, qualitative world of Aristotelian scholasticism and begins the debates of the modern age in all of their intensity.

33 min
Alan Charles Kors

Voltaire always has the last laugh on us all, which may be by design. Laughter was a weapon for Voltaire, and irony was essential to that laughter.

ALMA MATER

Harvard University

INSTITUTION

University of Pennsylvania

About Alan Charles Kors

Dr. Alan Charles Kors is Henry Charles Lea Professor of European History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been teaching since 1968. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and his master's and doctoral degrees from Harvard University. He received postdoctoral fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.

Professor Kors won two awards for distinguished college teaching and the Engalitcheff Award for defense of academic freedom. He is president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Professor Kors is the author and editor of several books on European intellectual history, including D’Holbach’s Coterie: An Enlightenment in ParisAtheism in France, 1660-1729: The Orthodox Sources of Disbelief; and Anticipations of the Enlightenment in England, France, and Germany. He is editor-in-chief of the four-volume Oxford University Press Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. With Harvey A. Silverglate, he is coauthor of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses.

Professor Kors has served as a member of the Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities and on the editorial boards of several scholarly journals.

Also By This Professor