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

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

Professor Alan Charles Kors, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania

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

Course No. 447
Professor Alan Charles Kors, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
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4.6 out of 5
103 Reviews
80% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 447
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  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version features around 40 portraits, illustrations, and photographs of the major figures discussed, including Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Voltaire, plus on-screen text covering many key points.
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Course Overview

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."

Revolutions in thought (as opposed to those in politics or science) are in many ways the most far-reaching. They affect our entire sense of legitimate authority, of the possible and impossible, of right and wrong, and of the potentials of human life.

The goal of these lectures is to understand the conceptual and cultural revolution of the Enlightenment. In them, you see the birth of modern thought in the dilemmas, debates, and extraordinary works of the 17th- and 18th-century mind.

Professor Kors is Henry Charles Lea Professor of European History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has taught for over 30 years. His courses on European intellectual history have won two awards for distinguished teaching.

He is the editor-in-chief of the multi-volume Oxford University Press Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment and has written and edited several books on European intellectual history.

The Power of Aristotle and the Churchmen

When the 17th century dawned in Europe, past authors who had stood the test of time dominated the world of learning and understanding.

Their system of thought—Aristotelian scholasticism—emerged from the fusion of those authorities and Christian doctrine. Professor Kors shows how fully these ideas had suffused and controlled thought and society.

The Walls begin to Crumble

A series of fundamental assaults upon the inherited intellectual system dominated the intellectual life of the 17th century.

Those assaults constituted nothing less than a conceptual revolution that altered the European relationship to thought, nature, and human possibility. With Professor Kors, you examine the key thinkers who changed the world.

  • 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.
  • René 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 Aristotelian scholasticism.
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. You study the work of David Hume, Voltaire, the "philosophes," and the encyclopedist Denis Diderot.

  • 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.

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24 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x

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Alan Charles Kors

About Your Professor

Alan Charles Kors, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
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...
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Reviews

Birth of the Modern Mind: The Intellectual History of the 17th and 18th Centuries is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 103.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from too slow, terrible presentation Way too slow, each 30 minutes could be covered in less than 10 minutes. His presentation is weird , never just talks, but almost every sentence is like with an exclamation point. Very annoying. Topics covered are spotty, barely mentions the printing pres! Choice of past people is strange & biased some how - not clear what his are. Annoying always says the "17th century" instead of "in the 16 hundreds. copyright date is 1998 ! This should have been junked long ago, this one is going back.
Date published: 2016-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extraordinary learning experience Audio download. For those considering purchasing this lecture series (of course when it's on sale and you have a coupon), please, please do it...you'll be the wiser for it. Despite, or maybe because of, Dr Kors deliberate delivery style these lectures provide a clear pictures of the extraordinary evolution of human thought that happened in the 16th to 18th centuries that resonate with us today, especially we in the US. Kors adroitly traces the history thinking process from Aristotelian scholasticism and rationalism to empiricism and naturalism (and the scientific method). These are all big words that, before listening (and re-listening...again and again) I had little sense or context. 'Calvin and Hobbes' was just about a young boy's imagination. Newton was responsible for my 'C' in Calculus 101. Voltaire was into satire...you get the idea. Dr Kors methodically takes us through this philosophical evolution, largely stimulated by huge leaps in the understanding of how the universe works. Scientific discoveries by Descartes, Pascal and, of course, Newton changed the way humans looked at the deeply entrenched dogmas so prevalent at the time, by advancing man's knowledge of the universe. Works by Bacon, Bayle and Butler were countered or augmented by Montesquieu, Locke, Hobbes and Voltaire (you'll have to look elsewhere for Spinoza). Naturalism became more widely accepted...Deism allowed humans to consider careful observation of nature over supernatural causes. The Enlightenment's legacy involves our desire to learn from experience and to apply that learning to all aspects of living. In the concluding lectures, Finally, Kors reflects on Diderot's writings which state (in part): "Time and purely natural agencies transform the living into inorganic and the inorganic into the living. Life and death are two modes of the same matter. The hypothesis of God explains nothing, confuses much, and is unnecessary." My summary is oh so inadequate. These lectures are powerful and should pondered often as they summarize so clearly the foundations of our society today. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-11-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but too much for a beginner to follow. I like to watch it, but if you are new to the subject area it is difficult to remember what was covered before when he talks about various individuals in the same 30 minutes. 30 minutes is a short time to try to cover such deep subjects. He does a very good job. I guess I just have a hard time keeping them all straight as the lessons go forward.
Date published: 2016-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Birth of the Modern Mind: The Intellectual History Very thought provoking. Appropriate depth of presentation and nexus among topics. I am enjoying it very much and suspect I will re-listen to it many, many times.
Date published: 2016-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from extraordinary one of the very best courses from TGC, a wonderful amble through the philosophical currents that shaped Western culture in the 17th and 18th Centuries - Professor Kors delivers his lectures at a walking pace, he is passionate, eloquent, and eminently, and evidently, well prepared, the classes are effortless and, simultaneously, utterly fascinating - I couldn't recommend these lectures too highly, they are each and every one of them a revelation
Date published: 2016-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Birth of the Modern Very interesting material. The course is a classic. How did we begin thinking as we do. (Modern). It is a survey of the highly renowned European philosophers of the 17 and 18centuries. Names I have heard throughout, but with little knowledge of why they are important. Kors (lecturer, As a NYer even for me his NY (he says NJ) accent takes some getting used to) does a very great job of hitting the high points. Most importantly to me, he has sufficiently provoked my interest so that I want to read more about several of these modernists. Bacon, Descartes, Newton, Locke. It seems to me that To some extent their differences are equivalent to "dancing on the head of a needle." But Newton explained the universe for the first time. And that has made all the difference in the transition from the dark to the light.
Date published: 2016-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good general overview Just like a fish in water doesn't perceive it's watery surroundings, and only notices them once they are not there, humans exist in an environment of shared "common sense" cultural assumptions. The study of history, art, philosophy, and anthropology raises interesting, and sometimes disturbing questions, about the origin, coherency and value of these frequently uncontested takes on the world around us. This course uses a combination taken mostly from the history of ideas, with some political history and social history, to provide a narrative about the beginning of the change from a medieval world view suffused with Christianity and Aristotelianism to our modern secular world view. This is a fascinating period and Professor Kors well brings out the various attempts of the early moderns to thrash out answers to questions on what we can truly know, and how we can go about getting that knowledge. All this happening in an age where the generally unquestioned authority of a single church and single scientific approach was crumbling. Professor Kors is a very clear speaker, although he repeated some points a bit too much for my taste (in fairness, I was quite familiar with the thought of several of the figures already, so someone else may appreciate this repetition). This is not a history of wars, battles, and great conquerors, but of ideas that have shown themselves to be more powerful than the mightiest leaders. Recommended to anyone who wants to get a grasp of why the west, despite political and social differences at the local scale, has come to develop such a historically distinctive world view.
Date published: 2016-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A truly transcendent experience If you love ideas, history, philosophy, discoveries, and how these concepts occur in the human mind, you'll love this course. I have listened to this course 4 times, it is dense with facts, ideas, clarifications. Dr. Kors's knowledge of this period is very deep, and his presentation is clear, profound because of the ideas, with clear explanations that communicate why he loves this subject. And you can tell he loves this subject, the clear tone, the excitement in his voice, he still is deeply in love with these geniuses from the past. If i would have taken this course at university, i'm sure it would have stuck out and been one of my favorites. A good time for people who love ideas.
Date published: 2016-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant I simply cannot praise this course and the professor enough to do it justice. His lectures are clear, enthusiastic and important. As a side benefit, without him consciously pointing to it, the implications of these philosophers on the founding fathers of the United States become crystal clear. Anyone who wishes to understand the intellectual background of the founders' must take this course.
Date published: 2016-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Essential for understanding the modern era Audio CD review. I cannot praise this course enough. By all measures it is absolutely brilliant. Unless you are a philosophy professor or otherwise a philosophy junkie, of which I am neither, then you will gain immeasurably from this course. It provides a base rock foundation of the modern intellectual tradition upon which further studies in almost any discipline can be built. I had multiple “ah haa” moments, when the light bulb in my otherwise dimly lit brain glowed and I gained understanding of what the key thinkers of the subject era meant. Dr. Kors’ treatment of John Locke’s epistemology and how it impacted so significantly during the time was particularly illuminating. Dr. Kors really delivers on the “birth” metaphor in the course main title. He expertly weaves the ideas and impacts of the individual thinkers to show their interactions and how all the concurrent intellectual developments culminated in the change in thinking that distinguishes the modern world from what came before.
Date published: 2016-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Bucket List Experience Yes, the "bucket list" reference may be trivial. But make no mistake. Alan Charles Kors, long a distinguished member of the Teaching Company faculty, is a force of nature. Say what you will about his sometimes deliberate delivery. He forces your brain to work. And he does it in such a way as to be an intoxicant. If you decline to take this ride with him, it is you who are the loser. One of Professor Kors' gifts is that, even if you never find the time to read some of the core texts he references, you still gain from his extraordinary insight. It is as if you are sitting with him in a "coffeehouse" experience, learning on the fly. He makes the Enlightenment come alive. Take this journey.
Date published: 2016-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant This is a wonderful and important course: it is focused on some of the biggest intellectual revolutions of mankind. Ever. And the presentation is superb! The course starts out by plotting in the first two lectures what intellectual history is, and what were the recognized intellectual paradigms prior to the first revolution that is to be analyzed – the scientific revolution. Professor Kors then starts to describe the fascinating story, step by step, of how people gradually dropped their preconceptions of a god that is involved with every single minute detail of our universe (and lives) and at the end of the process is content with writing the rules that govern the universe and letting things run pretty much on their own. This is a very different god indeed, and to get there one had to stand on the shoulders of people like Francis Bacon, Galileo, and most of all Newton. The physical field that would be the canvas on which this new scientific method was to be tried on most intensively was astronomy, but others were to follow soon after the first glorious successes… Another very important consequence was that one was forced to let go of other preconceptions that were thought to govern the physical world, even older than Christianity: the Aristotelean overview. The next part of the course is dedicated to the other revolution – the enlightenment revolution. Professor Kors shows how in many ways this new way of thinking was inspired by the scientific revolution, and how the new paradigms created for describing the physical world made their way into fields further and further away. This is shown brilliantly in evolutional analyses of the French “Philosophes”. At the end of this process we are left with an extremely secular perspective of our world – one which could not have been imagined by most of the helmsmen of the scientific revolution. Professor Kors presented a very well structured and fascinating narrative of this intellectual evolution – revolution. The course was simultaneously mind broadening and entertaining. Indeed, it is the perspective of an intellectual historian rather than that of a philosopher (as he indeed emphasizes during the course), that makes the course so compelling - since the course is primarily focused on the evolutionary process of going from one paradigm to the next, and not necessarily on drilling down extremely deeply on the paradigms themselves. I found this course to be a first rate introduction to the scientific and enlightenment intellectual revolutions.
Date published: 2016-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A shockingly good course by a first class scholar Professor Kors is among the finest lecturers I have ever heard. And this series (on my forth time through) has become my favorite of all the Great Courses of all time. This is a totally engaging distillation of the major intellectual upheavals of the 17th and 18th century. From the intellectual revolution of Francis Bacon (“I cannot be called on to abide by the sentence of a tribunal which is itself on trial.”) and Descartes to Newton-fueled upheavals in physics, and beyond. All of it tied together and put into context with Locke, Deism, Voltaire, Hume, Butler and many others. What a clash of cultures and traditions! And what an amazing (and confusing) time to be alive! All brought to life by one of the best scholars of our own age. I’ll put in a pitch here, as well, for Professor Kors’ lectures on Voltaire, which are shockingly good.
Date published: 2016-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Destruction of Ossification As my midlife crises some years ago I began to watch the Great Courses and to read. I was concerned that my steady diet of non-intellectual entertainment was ossifying my brain and in short turning me into a bonehead. My study of history and other things has slowly started my brain working again and occasional lectures on things like Greek philosophers, certain authors and the enlightenment have touched on the topic of thought itself. This is the first course I've taken dedicated significantly to the mind. Frankly it was as if someone took an intellectual hammer and smashed at the hardened shell of my mind with questions. This was both frightening and oddly exhilarating. The Professor is a surprise. He looks and sounds like a fellow you might meet in that old sitcom watering hole Cheers. Yet he can pull dusty figures from historical tomes and bring them and their ideas and beliefs to life in an astoundingly effective manner. While a few of the lectures are more about ideas in general or a bit of a recap of how we got to this point in intellectual history, the majority focus on the ideas of one man from the perspective of both that single individual and the time period in which he philosophized. This is an excellent college course, but only for those interested a fairly intense learning experience. If like me you were raised in conservative Christianity or generally taught not to think, prepare to be challenged in significant ways. Not a course for homeschoolers, very conservative folk or folks just beginning adult education.
Date published: 2015-12-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Course of Value For the most part, I thought this course was one of real merit. The professor is very bright, scholarly in his consideration of the topic, and well organized in his presentation. Most of the major bases of intellectual activity in these Enlightenment centuries in Europe are covered quite capably. I particularly appreciated the professor's focus on the effect of the scientific revolution and enlightenment thinking on faith and religion. His pursuit of this matter in such depth has added greatly to my understanding of the weakening of organized religion in this period and thereafter. But there are deficiencies as well. It would have been good, given this emphasis on religion, to have learned more about how people and leaders of faith fought back, for indeed they did. And, while the professor so frequently denied having a point of view, he seemed to be poorly masking his enthusiastic support for the many ways in which ideas from this era "added to our humanity." I happen to agree with him, but not completely. It was, after all, only two centuries after the old regime of fixed order and older notions of God were deposed by the new order of science, reason, and human autonomy that we came to one of the most brutal centuries in human history - the 20th century. I fully realize that the deists and atheists of the 18th century would never claim responsibility for the godless brutes who used their own autonomy and the fruits of mechanized science to bring such destruction to the world. Nor should they. But Professor Kors should have addressed, however briefly, the fact that the consequences of overthrowing the old order were not all positive. I have other, less important criticisms, but, overall, I commend the professor and TGC for this worthy course.
Date published: 2015-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great introduction to the enlightenment Somehow I missed the Enlightenment in college but this course was a great way to catch up. The course has so many intellectual themes-the rise of modern empirical science and the scientific method, the struggle of how to consider God in the face of expanding scientific knowledge, political theory that is reflected in so many documents written at the founding of the US, Professor Kors' descriptions of the tremendous contributions of the French philosophers led me to read Rousseau's Confessions, a gem. There is little visual information so an audio version should be fine. Professor has a strong NJ accent and great enthusiasm for his topic. He seems to increase his energy as the lecture proceeds.. As an introductory course to one of the greatest intellectual periods in the history of mankind, this course fits the bill and would be difficult to beat.
Date published: 2015-06-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Magnificence in slow motion A revolution of the mind occurred in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. In this course, loving scholar Alan Kors captures the awesome characters and remarkable story of religion, science, and philosophy evolving out of medieval darkness to modern views. This course introduces a pantheon of intellectual giants - Bacon, Hobbs, Newton, Locke, Voltaire, and Rousseau, to name a few. It covers the great emerging ideas - empiricism, scepticism, induction, deism, humanism, liberalism--you name it. The material is fascinating and essential. A word of warning--Professor Kors has a voice like bartender Moe from the Simpsons and he narrates slower than grandma drives. He can drag a single syllable long enough for you to grab a smoke break and get back to catch the end of his sentence. Don't be turned off--you'll get used to it. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2015-06-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from What happened to Spinoza? This is an enjoyable series of lectures. Kors handles his material impeccably and with intellectual honesty. He is the very model of the modern intellectual historian. But in an intellectual history of the 17th and 18th centuries, omitting any reference to Spinoza--Kors could have touched on the significance of Spinoza in the otherwise excellent lectures on Bayle and Deism--is a distortion as egregious as dropping Nietzsche from a course on the 19th and 20th centuries. In "Radical Enlightenment" Jonathan Israel writes: "Spinoza then emerged as the supreme bogeyman of Early Enlightenment Europe. Admittedly, historians have rarely recognized this. It has been much more common, and still is, to claim that Spinoza was rarely understood and had very little influence, a typical example of an abiding historiographical refrain which appears to be totally untrue but nevertheless, since the nineteenth century, has exerted an enduring appeal for all manner of scholars." Kors appears to be in that camp. But Israel corrects the misperception. "In fact, no one else during the century 1650-1750 remotely rivaled Spinoza's notoriety as the chief challenger of the fundamentals of revealed religion, received ideas, tradition, morality, and what was everywhere regarded, in absolutist and non-absolutist states alike, as divinely constituted political authority." The Enlightenment without Spinoza, as Israel writes the history, is like "Hamlet" without the prince. That may be the greatest problem with the Kors lectures.
Date published: 2015-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Truly Great Course This course has been in the Great Courses catalog for several years now, but I can say that it's been several years since I have enjoyed a course, or gotten as much out of one, as I have with this course. Professor Kors achieved for me what I consider the target of learning; he caused me to continually re-examine my long held beliefs and opinions. The professor makes a point of reminding you at the start of each disk that the point of view he will be presenting is that of the individual or individuals highlighted in the lecture, not his. He then proceeds to present that point of view with such passion and conviction that you can't help but feel that this is an idea worthy of your time to consider. I can appreciate the comments of other reviewers that his delivery is a bit drawn out. I especially noticed this, having just concluded another great Great Course that was delivered by a professor who couldn't get his thoughts out quickly enough, and started his next sentence before finishing the first one. Two very different styles, each achieving the same intent; that of drawing you the student into the subject. I can not recommend this course highly enough!
Date published: 2015-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best course I have ever heard. I bought this lecture course many years ago, and listen to it every now and again, learning something new, remembering something that I had forgotten, and seeing new connections between ideas each time I listen to it. Kors has a most remarkable delivery, but his writing is absolutely flawless. He has this way of following a thought from beginning to end logically, rationally, emotionally, that elucidates the ideas of the period in great and detailed strokes, as if he were painting. Greatly recommended.
Date published: 2015-05-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Can't get to the content, teacher too difficult to Not much else to add. Will never order another course with this professor. Excruciating to listen to. Only got through 1 lesson.
Date published: 2015-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from good show Professor uses slow, sparse wording that is loaded with content and a mild amount of drama. Excellent presentation skills, thorough and complete.
Date published: 2015-03-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fine Course This is a very fine course. The Professor is extremely knowledgable and engaging. If I take a point away, it is only because the second half on the Enlightment did not have the high level of interest for me as the early part on the rise of scientific thought in the 17th century. I also would have liked more of a challenge to the mostly positive framework with which Professor Kor presented the philosophes and the Enlightment: maybe by discussing the French Revolution at the end or some of the later critiques of Enlightment thought e.g. Adrono and Horkheimer, Dialectic of the Enlightment. Professor Kor though may see this as working against his emphasis on presenting the ideas authentically in their own historical place and time. But still I would highly recommend this course in intellectual history.
Date published: 2014-12-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from My main language is not english, so maybe it affects my perception that the professor speaks too monotonously and without any passion. It's been hard to me to find the desire to finish this course.
Date published: 2014-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent in Every Way! AUDIO DOWNLOAD Professor Kors is an exceptional presenter, not only in his manner, but also in the content of his lectures. He really keeps one’s attention, making clear what otherwise might be dense and/or boring come alive through his explanations and apt analogies. I expected as much, as I had recently completed Professor Kors’ course on Voltaire. The new systems and outlooks of this period broke completely with the past, making possible “…the birth of modern consciousness: scientific, secular, inquiring, seeking a principle of authority apart from mere tradition and repetition of the past, but tempted by skepticism and leaps of faith, critical, and confused by the range of choices it has created for itself. For better or for worse, we are the heirs of the 17th-century mind, living in its light and in its shadows.” (Course Guidebook Page 51). Included in this development are empiricism, experimentalism, rationalism, quantification of nature, mechanism, skepticism about philosophy and certainty, and the radical separation of theology and natural inquiry, leading to “…a genuine cultural transformation more revolutionary than anything that occurred in the social or political life of 18th-century Europe” (Page 2). Perhaps the most important thing about this course is that it is a treatment “from within” (Audio, Lecture 24), to understand the revolution in thinking “…as the 17th and 18th centuries understood it” (Page 4). Professor Kors succeeds in dealing with major thinkers of the period on their own terms in what they knew and what they wrote, sketching out for us the connections between and among this varied cast and their impact on a wider society. This approach is somewhat unusual among most standard treatments, an intellectual history, the nature of which is admirably set off from other historical approaches in the first lecture. The result is a truly compelling story that helps us “…understand… [the] conceptual and cultural revolution as a historical phenomenon, seeing the birth of modern thought in the dilemmas, debates, and extraordinary works of the 17th- and 18th-century mind” (Page 1). While I enjoyed all the lectures, what drew my interest, quite unexpectedly, is how the matter of God is weaved throughout, notably how God is marginalized in Deism (a more complex religious position than is generally understood) and how thinkers of the period dealt with the existence of evil. Much as we might like to think in absolute terms about the 18th century Enlightenment, according to Professor Kors, there is little finally settled: It “…embodied profound tensions and debates. It sought reform, but by whose agencies? It counseled people to follow nature but disagreed about the meanings of nature. And it was torn between deism and atheism, between optimism and pessimism, and between elitism and egalitarianism” (Page 81). For me, this course nicely complements several other TC courses covering the same time period, most notably Tyler Roberts’ ‘Skeptics and Believers: Religious Debate in the Western Intellectual Tradition’. Professor Kors’ lectures are solid and satisfying in every way and deepened my understanding of the 17th century scientific revolution and the Enlightenment. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2014-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Critical Thinking comes of Age I bought this course on a whim and discovered it to be one of the most insightful courses of the many TGC courses I have taken. It's hard to imagine what our world would be like today if the 17th and 18th century enlightenment had never happened and our knowledge would be limited to Aristotelian Scholasticism. Bacon, Descartes, Locke, Newton, Voltaire and others boldly pushed forth the concepts of rational thought, observation, empiricism and experiment. Dr. Kors presents their ideas in a vivid way that enables the listener to project themselves back in time and experience the unveiling of these new ideas amid controversy with the church, the state and Academia. Dr. Kors' speaks with inflection, emphasis and equal advocacy for opposing views of each philosopher in an engaging way that keeps the listener captivated. As a scientist by training, I found it fascinating how the philosophers opened the door for "Natural Philosophers" like Newton to launch Physics and the critical thinking of the scientific method. It was also clear how these Enlightenment thinkers freed the minds of men to contemplate the ideals of the American Revolution. To accompany Dr. Kors' outstanding lectures, the course guide is very complete. It captures the key points of each lecture in the summaries, contains a timeline, biographical notes, a glossary, and a bibliography. Two thumbs up is my recommendation for this course!
Date published: 2014-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterful I feel privileged to have heard a Professor of this calibre delivering such rich content. Highly recommended (audio CD).
Date published: 2014-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extraordinary Course Professor Kors is an outstanding lecturer--enthusiastic, well spoken, knowledgeable, and inspiring. I loved this course and his course on Voltaire. If more teachers were like him were more common, we'd be a much better educated society. As for his supposed accent, I'm a born and bred Westerner, and I had absolutely no trouble at all listening to him. Every word is clearly spoken and easily understood. His enthusiasm is infectious. Kudos to Professor Kors and The Teaching Company.
Date published: 2014-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Birth of the Modern Mind I have many favorite TC lecturers, but Professor Kors was the first to become my "go to guy" to keep me company in the car. I have now listened to this course for the 3rd time through and will periodically listen to it until the CDs no longer work. This period in intellectual history is so important. It represents a seismic shift in human thought; away from what "authority" demanded and more to what could be observed and justified experientially. Professor Kors presentation is captivating and he succeeds in his stated goal of introducing the listener to the way the minds of that period thought without interjecting his own prejudices. He even livens the lectures up with a little subtle humor #you can just imagine his eyes twinkling# The content was presented mostly chronologically and show how the thinkers of the time used and expanded the work of those that came before. The lectures didn't simply dwell on those giants of whom all have heard #Newton, Locke, etc# but also discussed thinkers who are lesser known in the 21st century but who influenced the minds of those who lived in that period such as Joseph Butler and Beccaria. These were new names to me but were highly influential at the time. I would have liked this in a 36 lecture #or longer# format rather than a 24 lecture format as I am sure Professor Kors could have easily packed a longer course with fascinating information and I am hungry for more.
Date published: 2014-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Course Dr. Kors delivers a masterful presentation that holds your attention. The ideas and concepts proposed by the historical figures involved are often not easy to understand, but the professor does it in a straightforward way that does not envelope one in a fog of incomprehension.
Date published: 2013-11-27
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