The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida

Course No. 4790
Professor Lawrence Cahoone, Ph.D.
College of the Holy Cross
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Course No. 4790
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Course Overview

What is reality? It's a seemingly simple question. But penetrate beneath its surface and the simplicity drops away, a succession of subsequent questions luring you deeper—to where even more questions await. Ask yourself whether you can actually know the answers, much less be sure that you can know them, and you've begun to grapple with the metaphysical and epistemological quandaries that have occupied, teased, and tormented modern philosophy's greatest intellects since the dawn of modern science and a century before the Enlightenment.

During this rich period of philosophy, fascinating minds like Kant, Locke, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein (to name but a few) struggled to improve our understanding of the world against the backdrop of unprecedented scientific, technological, and historical developments. The resulting tension brought forth a vast range of questions:

  • Is the scientific view of the world compatible with human experience? And is the issue made more difficult by concepts like free will, moral responsibility, and religion?
  • What is the mind's place in a physical world? And is the mind itself different from the brain?
  • Is there such a thing as objective truth? What are the implications of the answer for politics, science, religion, and other aspects of human civilization?

And, ultimately, the most important question of them all:

  • What is the ultimate nature of reality, and what are the limitations on our knowledge of it?

To understand the answers to these questions—as well as the ideas of the modern philosophers who asked them—is to amplify not only your understanding of the Western intellectual tradition, but of history and science as well. And you will likely become an even more astute observer of contemporary trends and events by developing broader and deeper perspectives from which to observe them.

The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida offers you an introduction to the basics of modern and contemporary Western approaches to the philosophies of both reality (metaphysics) and knowledge (epistemology), right through the end of the 20th century, when some philosophers were even questioning the value of philosophy itself. Led by author and award-winning Professor Lawrence Cahoone of the College of the Holy Cross, these 36 lectures will take you on an engaging intellectual journey that encompasses prominent figures from all the major traditions of Western philosophy.

You'll explore the ideas behind modern philosophy's most important movements, including

  • dualism, where much of modern philosophy began;
  • rationalism, which views reason as the seat of all knowledge;
  • empiricism, which views the senses as the source of all knowledge;
  • idealism, where ideas formed the basis of the nature of reality;
  • existentialism, the iconic 20th-century philosophy of alienation; and
  • postmodernism, which radically refuses all notion of objective truth.

Just as important, you'll get a clear sense of how these and other movements fit into philosophy's broader progression—for example, the division into "analytic" and "continental" philosophy—to the present day.

Explore a Radical Period in Western Philosophy

Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Peirce, Nietzsche, James, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Rorty, Derrida—these and the other minds you meet in this course are easily recognized today as among the most influential in human history. But this was not always the case.

While these thinkers were indeed shaped by the currents of thought that swirled around them and their ideas frequently respected and accepted, they were also often considered intellectual radicals, their views appreciated far less in their own era than in later ones. This is, in fact, a key reason why the work of so many of them has endured and why we still read them today.

Their unique perspectives on generally accepted ideas and frequently divergent views pushed philosophy in dramatically new directions. As intellectual radicals unwilling to passively accept the contemporary status quo, they offer an enduring bond of kinship with anyone who is eager to encounter new and challenging approaches to the most fundamental questions the human mind can seek to answer.

Draw New Connections between Philosophy, Science, and History

As Professor Cahoone notes, historical and scientific changes have driven the progress of modern Western philosophy. He points out the origins of modern philosophy among great social changes you might not expect to encounter in a philosophy course, including the discovery of the Americas, the decline of feudal aristocratic institutions, the growth of a commercial middle class, the Protestant Reformation, the growth of the nation-state, and the Scientific Revolution.

Similarly, throughout The Modern Intellectual Tradition, you'll be reminded repeatedly of the links connecting history, science, and philosophy, against a backdrop of further transformations such as the growth of liberal republicanism; the rise of industrial capitalism, Communism, and Fascism; and the scientific advancements of the 20th century. You learn how natural science grew out of what was once called natural philosophy, how the seeds of the social sciences were first planted in the soil of philosophical inquiry, and why Professor Cahoone believes that it is philosophy itself that holds the key to reintegrating the divergent fields with which it has a bond.

Moreover, the course's focus on metaphysics and epistemology will strengthen your understanding of the entire process of "doing" philosophy. For it gives you a chance to ask yourself the same question so many thinkers before you have had to confront as they pondered where the starting point of philosophy should be. And you may well find, as so many of them have, that your answer depends on just which aspect of an increasingly complex world you have foremost in mind.

Meet Some of Modern Philosophy's Greatest Minds

One of The Modern Intellectual Tradition's great strengths is the skill with which Professor Cahoone conveys both an understanding of the new and sometimes complex directions offered by the great minds in the course, and a glimpse into their human sides as well.

By presenting his portraits with clarity, an easy-going style, and constant attention to where each thinker fits into philosophy's historical matrix, Professor Cahoone demonstrates exactly why his teaching skills have been honored.

You learn, for example, that

  • Baruch Spinoza, the Jewish philosopher whose presentation of "pantheism" helped reconcile the existence of God with Aristotle's metaphysics, was actually a lens-grinder and had at a young age been excommunicated from his synagogue as an accused atheist;
  • Immanuel Kant—the great philosopher whose influence on Western philosophy is on a level with Plato, Aristotle, and Hegel—spent the first half of his life as a mathematical physicist whose only reported instance of being late for his daily constitutional was the day he first read Rousseau;
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, perhaps the most influential philosopher of the 20th century, was originally training to become an aeronautical engineer when he became so obsessed with questions of mathematical logic that he eventually abandoned his studies to learn under Bertrand Russell; and
  • Alfred North Whitehead, convinced that metaphysics must keep pace with 20th-century physics, developed an alternative formulation of Einstein's general relativity with empirical predictions that initially performed just as well as Einstein's.

With The Modern Intellectual Tradition, you'll get to experience these and many other great thinkers, both individually and together, from all the major traditions of modern Western philosophy. All you need to bring is your own curiosity about how you can know the world. From there, you'll learn how the things you know come together and discover the implications that come with whatever position you take on the world around you.

As centuries of thinkers before you have learned, it's a journey of unending wonder.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Philosophy and the Modern Age
    Preview the course, beginning with the scientific and social changes of the 17th through 19th centuries that forced all major philosophers to develop dramatically new views. Then see how the 20th century unleashed three diverging pathways for Western philosophers, each producing its own wave of this radically new thought. x
  • 2
    Scholasticism and the Scientific Revolution
    Grasp how the Scientific Revolution arrived in a world already reeling from religious and social upheaval, fragmenting the medieval Aristotelian-Christian view of the cosmos. Can philosophers discover a way to follow God and the new science at the same time? x
  • 3
    The Rationalism and Dualism of Descartes
    Learn how Descartes forged the first and most influential solution. He posited a private self-consciousness, with its own innate ideas, as the foundation of knowledge, with reality fundamentally divided into both matter and mind (or soul). The former is the realm of science; the latter is that of religion, psychology, and ethics. x
  • 4
    Locke's Empiricism, Berkeley's Idealism
    See how Locke's denial of innate ideas created the modern empiricist view of knowledge as based solely on experience, instigating centuries of empiricist-rationalist debate. Later, Berkeley inaugurated modern idealism with his conclusion that empiricism must deny matter's very existence; there are only minds, with experiences programmed by God. x
  • 5
    Neo-Aristotelians—Spinoza and Leibniz
    Follow the attempts of two thinkers to integrate religion, philosophy, and science without straying from Aristotelian foundations. For Spinoza, everything is one substance—God. For Leibniz, every substance has its own mental properties and "view" of the universe, with God binding all together. x
  • 6
    The Enlightenment and Rousseau
    Watch the Enlightenment's self-conscious heralding of modernity, where science, freedom, and cosmopolitan education will mean progress in the face of superstition, authority, and tradition. The greatest dissenter is Rousseau, who argued that progress in art, science, and the economy yields no progress in morality or happiness. x
  • 7
    The Radical Skepticism of Hume
    Watch Hume drive empiricism to the extreme of radical skepticism, dismissing all metaphysics as nonsense. If we only know through experience, all we know is experience, so science cannot rationally say that the sun will rise tomorrow or even that it probably will. x
  • 8
    Kant's Copernican Revolution
    Learn how Kant tried to find an answer to Hume, without which neither science nor philosophy can claim general knowledge of reality. His reasoning changed philosophy forever as he argued that the human mind does not passively receive our experience of the world but actively constructs it from sensation. x
  • 9
    Kant and the Religion of Reason
    Kant's saving of science came at a price—the ability to know things as they appear but never "things in themselves." Reason, he argues, cannot prove—nor can science disprove—God, the soul, or free will. Kant protected faith from contradiction and created a different path for the German Enlightenment. x
  • 10
    The French Revolution and German Idealism
    See how the French Revolution and Kant inspired German idealists like Fichte and Schelling to invent a new kind of philosophy, with spirit—hence, freedom—as the basis of nature, not the other way around. x
  • 11
    Hegel—The Last Great System
    Grasp Hegel's synthesis of Fichte's idealism and Schelling's panentheism with world history as the story of God's coming to self-consciousness. We can follow the "dialectic" of partial, incomplete historical perspectives up to the perspective of the Whole, that is, of God. x
  • 12
    Hegel and the English Century
    Watch how the Industrial Revolution, the rise of European imperialism, and the philosophy of Hegel inspired other thinkers—including Comte, Spencer, Bentham, James Mill, John Stuart Mill, and, especially, Darwin and Marx—to create historical explanations for the development of mind and society. x
  • 13
    The Economic Revolution and Its Critic—Marx
    The socially wrenching birth of industrial capitalism, with its massive human costs, provoked many critics, but the most influential was a young German follower of Hegel, Karl Marx. See how his ideas became the 20th century's greatest challenge to Western liberalism. x
  • 14
    Kierkegaard's Critique of Reason
    Kierkegaard remains the most radical philosophical critic of reason itself. Follow his rejection of Hegel and any attempt to "rationalize" the human condition. For Kierkegaard, the human spirit is subjected to fundamental choices that cannot be reconciled, particularly religious faith, which is intrinsically irrational and higher than reason. x
  • 15
    Nietzsche's Critique of Morality and Truth
    Meet the most violent critic of the Judeo-Christian and, to some extent, Greek values of Western civilization. Nietzsche declared that morality makes the individual sick. The modern decline of religion leaves only the "will to power" and the need for a new set of values. His deepest concern was what those values would be. x
  • 16
    Freud, Weber, and the Mind of Modernity
    Besides Hegel, Marx, and possibly Nietzsche, two other German-speaking authors created much of the background for analyzing the unique form of life evolving in the 20th century. Listen as Freud's and Weber's arguments that modern society will generate increasing discontent were taken up by later philosophers. x
  • 17
    Rise of 20th-Century Philosophy—Pragmatism
    Watch as late 19th-century philosophy begins to fragment into the three subcultures that would characterize philosophy's next century: analytic, continental, and pragmatic. The last would become the indigenous American tradition, exemplified by its two major contributors, Charles Peirce and William James. x
  • 18
    Rise of 20th-Century Philosophy—Analysis
    Grasp how Frege's invention of the first new logic since Aristotle, combined with Russell's and Moore's attack on the dominant idealism of the age, led to a new approach, "analytic" or "Anglo-American" philosophy. It would become the dominant philosophical approach in all English-speaking countries. x
  • 19
    Rise of 20th-Century Philosophy—Phenomenology
    Watch as Husserl tried to formulate a new ideal philosophy of meaning on the basis of a nonempiricist, holistic analysis of human experience. His solution changed all subsequent European philosophy, liberating the investigation of lived experience from empiricism, psychology, and natural science. x
  • 20
    Physics, Positivism, and Early Wittgenstein
    Witness the logical positivists' reaction to the new physical view of the world offered by special and general relativity, quantum mechanics, and Hubble's discovery of the universe's expansion. They declared that reality is knowable only by science's "verifiable" constructions of sense data. As the young Wittgenstein wrote, beyond those limits we should be "silent." x
  • 21
    Emergence and Whitehead
    Learn about both British Emergentism, which argued for a nonreductive metaphysics of science, and the work of Alfred North Whitehead, the one 20th-century philosopher to take up the 17th-century goal of a metaphysical system consistent with physics to explain the place of mind, values, and God. x
  • 22
    Dewey's American Naturalism
    Encounter the work of the most prominent American philosopher of the 20th century. Most famous as a philosopher of education, John Dewey called for a transformation of philosophy on pragmatic and naturalist principles and wrote in virtually every area of philosophy. To many Americans, Dewey was philosophy. x
  • 23
    Heidegger's Being and Time
    Learn how one of the most important philosophical books of the 20th century created the basis for modern existentialism, as Martin Heidegger put Husserl together with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to forge a new kind of phenomenology that seeks the meaning of human existence. x
  • 24
    Existentialism and the Frankfurt School
    Witness European philosophers exploring individual alienation in mass culture as the modern Western world swirls in the turmoil of World War II. The German Frankfurt school merged Marx with Freud to find domination in reason itself. The French combined existentialism with Marxism. And Heidegger—without apology then or later—joined the Nazi Party. x
  • 25
    Heidegger's Turn against Humanism
    Watch Heidegger's later work take a new, decidedly anti-humanist direction. He called for a rejection of Western metaphysics—which expressed the triumph of technology and individualism dictating to Being—and instead asked that humans patiently "listen" to the call of Being. x
  • 26
    Culture, Hermeneutics, and Structuralism
    See culture and language seize a prime position in philosophical thought with Ernst Cassirer's neo-Kantian view of culture, Hans-Georg Gadamer's hermeneutics (amplifying Heidegger's claim that language is the "house of Being"), and Ferdinand de Saussure's and Claude Levi-Strauss's creation of structuralism. x
  • 27
    Wittgenstein's Turn to Ordinary Language
    Plunge into perhaps the most influential work of 20th-century philosophy as Ludwig Witt-genstein rejected his own earlier positivism to declare that linguistic meaning is dictated by its use, not by logic but by the contextual social activities in which sentences operate. Philosophical problems are caused by ripping terms out of their practical context. x
  • 28
    Quine and the End of Positivism
    See how Willard Van Orman Quine, who studied with the logical positivists, undermined their view. He showed that their distinction between truths of reason and truths of experience, borrowed from Kant, was a mistake. x
  • 29
    New Philosophies of Science
    With the decline of positivism, see the appearance of new interpretations of scientific knowledge. Learn about Popper's rejection of the idea that science seeks to confirm its theories, Davidson's formulation of an alternative to reductionism, and Kuhn's provocative view of scientific revolutions. x
  • 30
    Derrida's Deconstruction of Philosophy
    Learn about the most famous of the French postmodernists and his "deconstruction" of the history of Western philosophy. All writing (or sign-use, in general), Jacques Derrida asserted, must involve the pretense that the meanings of signs can be controlled, a pretense he vigorously denied. x
  • 31
    The Challenge of Postmodernism
    Derrida's work and that of kindred French thinkers Michel Foucault and Jean-François Lyotard created postmodernism. This movement's radical rejection of modern philosophy's central notions—and perhaps even philosophy itself—joined with a view of postmodern society as no longer requiring a "metanarrative" or foundational philosophy. x
  • 32
    Rorty and the End of Philosophy
    Sample the thinking of the most famous American contributor to philosophical postmodernism. Richard Rorty argued that the search for the foundations of "knowledge" —little more than whatever the verification procedures of society say it is—is a bankrupt enterprise. Traditional philosophy, according to Rorty, is well forgotten. x
  • 33
    Rediscovering the Premodern
    Learn how a series of 20th-century philosophers—including Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, and Alasdair MacIntyre—called for reincorporating premodern notions to supplement modernity. For if modern philosophy is indeed at a dead end, might not its departure from premodern thought be responsible? x
  • 34
    Pragmatic Realism—Reforming the Modern
    See how pragmatism enjoyed a resurgence as a means of preserving the philosophical search for realist truth in the absence of foundationalism. Encounter a variety of attempts at nonfoundational epistemology, as thinkers like Habermas, Putnam, Margolis, and Campbell demonstrated this pragmatic renaissance. x
  • 35
    The Reemergence of Emergence
    While various applications of pragmatism resurfaced in the theory of knowledge, there was also a noticeable return of the metaphysical doctrine of emergence. Witness this return not only in the work of philosophers of science but also in science itself, exemplified by the late 20th-century interest in "complexity." x
  • 36
    Philosophy's Death Greatly Exaggerated
    After the unprecedented philosophical radicalism of the 20th century, the question of philosophy's future still remains. Sample some of the most likely approaches by which philosophy might successfully integrate—and find common ground among—an increasingly complex array of human activities. x

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  • 152-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • 152-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Lawrence Cahoone

About Your Professor

Lawrence Cahoone, Ph.D.
College of the Holy Cross
Dr. Lawrence Cahoone is Professor of Philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, where he has taught since 2000. He holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. A two-time winner of the Undergraduate Philosophy Association Teaching Award at Boston University who has taught more than 50 different philosophy courses, Professor Cahoone is not only a skilled teacher, but also...
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The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 103.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Tough to get through Professor Cahoone clearly knows his stuff. But his style is dry, and he doesn't make the content relatable to our 'everyday' world. I've bought 13 Great Courses, and loved all of them but this, the only one I didn't finish.
Date published: 2014-11-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good overview, but flawed Okay, I'll admit to being a Marxist, and I know we always complain that critics misinterpret the old man, but Cahoone's mistakes in his Marx lecture are inexcusable for a scholar, even if one is not a Marxist. And of course, even if I couldn't name obvious flaws in other lectures, because I'm an expert on Marx, it makes me wonder where else Cahoone has erred, even if I didn't catch it, not knowing enough about those other thinkers. Some of the claims, that for example Marx didn't foresee the possibility of workers taking home a greater salary, or technology/innovation improving the lot of the workers, are completely wrong. Marx expounds on the first point at length in Capital, and in Grundrisse he deals specifically with technological innovation. Marx point was never that the lot of the workers couldn't increase, but what he did foresee was a "proletarization" of the mass of people, that is, the mass of people would have to sell their labor-power to a smaller and smaller class of owners of capital -- and this is indeed the tendency, even in post-industrial societies or "social democratic" ones like the Nordic countries, where the trend is the same: wealth is increasing at the top, and not so much at the middle and bottom. There has always been debate about whether Marx meant that this growing proletarizaton of the masses would mean that their lot was worse and worse off, but most are convinced that we just don't know if this what was Marx thought. What is clear is that his prediction that small industries would get swallowed up by the instability of capitalism is true. Cahoones point about the Gulag is irrelevant to Marx as a thinker, just as the slaughter of the native Americans doesn't invalidate the thinkers and ideas of the American revolution. This is not to say you can't criticize Marx for anything, indeed, there are many things. But not the ones Cahoone has picked. Anyway, I just thought I'd point out these errors, because one would have to assume that there might be more errors in Cahoone's treatment of other thinkers if he made these basic errors in dealing with Marx. Over all though, I think it's a good intellectual history and Cahoone is a very engaging speaker.
Date published: 2014-05-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK presentation, very poor guidebook In general, Mr. Cahoone's presentation was clear and informative, deserving a grade of C+. Unfortunately, his guidebook is devoid of content and deserves a grade of F-. It mostly consists of 20-25 word-long bios of philosophers supplemented by single sentence stabs at what Mr. Cahoone considers to be the major thrust of their philosophy. Compared to the several dozen other course guidebooks from The Great Courses that I've read, it is rather stunning that the company authorized printing Mr. Cahoone's uninformative and worthless guidebook which guides the reader nowhere near information that can possibly supplement his lectures in any meaningful way.
Date published: 2014-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Marvelous A wonderful, wonderful course that clearly and engagingly presents the history of philosophy from Descartes through Derrida, Rorty and the modern scene. Core ideas on metaphysics and epistomology are articulated by Professor Cahoone with clarity and engaging perspectives. His course has sent me to primary and secondary texts of Spinoza, Kant, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Sartre and Macintyre so I will return to this course again someday all the better. The twentieth century is difficult ground involving analytics, positivism, deconstruction, postmodernism and on, but Professor Cahoone gives us a perspective and initial understanding. I cannot recommend this course enough to anyone with an interest in Philosophy.
Date published: 2014-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best TCC of many I find short reviews the most useful, and I will try to be brief. I have purchased well over a hundred courses on intellectual history philosophy religion and literature. Without any reservations this is in the top 2 or 3. Cahoone takes a very difficult subject and explains the works in stunning detail, without being glib or "cutesy" the way some of these professors can be. This is serious stuff but he is never dull or pedantic. Even if philosophy is not your first love, this course will be well worth your while. This is a course you can come back to year after year
Date published: 2014-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Philosophy made fascinating One of my friends lent me his courses to listen to them in the car. During the long hours on the road I learnt more philosophy than after hours of lesson in universities. Professor Cahoon has the ability to focus on the core of what these philosophers teach and to present it in an accesible way. He makes it interesting but does not dilute the contents. He also portrays the concrete applications of philosophers in real life. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of the great authors. I say it is a show of kindness to make authors like Hegel understandable to the ordinary folk. If I ever become a professor I'll try to teach as Proff. Cahoone.
Date published: 2014-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Chunky philosophy soup This course is the most chunky, flavorful, and rich stew of all manner of meaty intellectual morsel. Seriously, no fluff in this course, but the flow and narrative, in addition to the rich content, is one seamless flow of connected, coherent ideas, all marvelously organized. The only complaint is that this course is so full of content and detail, that I had to knock a notch off of value for the lack of a complementary transcript, which, at least for this course, would come in handy (Teaching Co separately charges for transcripts). Many other Teaching Co courses are not as detailed and rich as this--though they are still wonderful--so they don't necessarily need the accompanying text to review details.
Date published: 2013-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from modern philosophy This is the best course I have had from Great Courses. Robert Soloman's No Excuses on Existentialism was also excellent. I have listened to each twice and will be back. Strong clear, easy to listen to teachers.
Date published: 2013-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stimulates Critical Thought Process Professor Cahoone does a superb job within the time constraints of this course of imparting relatively deep examinations of how modern western thought evolved. As has been mentioned he packs a lot of material seemingly effortlessly into 30 minutes. I am in a science based field with little training in philosophy but I absolutely devoured these lectures. In many instances I had to relisten to extricate ever more value but upon completion of each of these repeats I felt absolutely rewarded. I cant recommend this course enough.
Date published: 2013-10-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Essential and Highly Informative Course I have completed several philosophy and intellectual courses with the Teaching Company and most recently the "Birth of the Modern Mind" by Professor Kors. This course was a natural follow on from that course in that covers some of the same material but then progresses through 19th century philosophy to the present day. Professor Cahoone is a wonderful lecturer and manages to cover great amounts of detail in each 30 minute lecture in a style that appears relatively relaxed in terms of pace; you then come to the end of the lecture and realise just how much brilliant analysis he has covered. Some of the lectures on 20th century philosophy were simply breathtakingly brilliant; those covering Phenomenology, Heidigger , Existentialism and Wittgenstein come to mind. I also found lecture 33 covering the thought of Hannah Arendt and Alastair MacIntyre deeply impactful. This should have been a 5 star overall rating but the accompanying course guide was a deep disappointment. It was very thin and some lectures had only half a page of summary narrative which was not helpful when reviewing the lecture. Otherwise this is an absolutely essential course for those interested in philosophy and in particular the modern(and post modern)variety.
Date published: 2013-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What scope! This is one of the best courses I've take, primarily because the scope and integration of the material is so impressive. Though I had to struggle to keep my focus at times (my educational background is NOT philosophical), I am glad to have taken the course. It's not fair to oneself (or others) to believe what one doesn't know the roots of, and gullibility is no doubt a consequence of ignorance. I hope to learn more about this subject, and Dr. Calhoone is one of the best professors ever.
Date published: 2013-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What All These Courses Should Be These lectures offer a remarkably clear and concise outline of the basic ideas in each topic, yet without any hint of pedantry. The clarity of the presentation itself makes the audience more interested, since they are both challenged and invited to think along with the professor. Although the format is too short for a critical commentary, the lectures represent an excellent starting point for further reading and analysis. I disagreed with some of Professor Cahoone's analysis and selection of material to highlight, and the discussion of Schelling was an exception to the overall clarity of the lectures, but since even Hegel said Schelling's philosophy is "the night in which all cows are black," it was an understandable slip. So far I have listened to 17 of the Great Courses, and this is by far the best. The Teaching Company should invite Cahoone to offer some further courses, such as one on Hegel or Heidegger.
Date published: 2013-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Valuable Resource A valuable resource for understanding the philosophical tradition from Descartes to Derrida. The section on Heidegger's Being and Time (1927) is one of the most comprehensible and accessible presentations I've encountered.
Date published: 2013-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from keeps changing my world wow, this course have changed and keeps changing my world, thank you so much!
Date published: 2012-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from -Simply Superb- Of the over 50 courses that I have bought from the Teaching Company, this is one of the best. Professor Cahoone is a terrific communicator. His presentation is clear and well organized. In terms of content, the ability to go between the Anglo-American tradition on the one hand, and the Continental tradition on the other was edifying. Note that listening to these lectures means ‘signing on’ to quite a bit of interpretation by the lecturer. However, I thought that, in general, he reasonably assessed the key points of the philosophical tradition, and the main aspects of continuity and discontinuity. Nevertheless, I was a bit dismayed (1) that he did not give a bit more consideration to Heidegger’s "Being and Time" as a colossal breakthrough, and a solution to many problems of the tradition; and (2) that he did not consider the post Hegelian idealists who first wrestled seriously with problems of the ‘coherence’ school. I received a BA in Philosophy in 1971 from UC Berkeley,and after that had little contact with the field. So I was particularly interested in philosophical thought after that. In regard to some of the criticisms raised by other reviews: To many “in other words…”. Ok, this was a real constant in the lectures. But I thought it was a useful verbal ploy so that the listener would understand that some sort of necessary clarification was about to take place. “Too hard”, “I don’t understand why this Philosopher was taken seriously”, “Information overload” etc. This is not an introductory course, nor is it simply a ‘History of Philosphy’. I suggest that someone with no academic background in philosophy consider reading an introductory book before listening to this course. It will really be worth it. And again, you are getting quite a dose of the lecturer’s point of view (which I feel is interesting). “Shaking, stuttering, backtracking, repetitive…”. I honestly don’t know what these reviewers had in mind. The presentation was outstanding. Many people read reviews to decide on whether or not to buy a course. I don’t recommend listening to this course, or any other in the field of philosophy, unless you have some sort of appreciation for a philosophical point of view, or are at least willing to give it the ‘benefit of the doubt’. Otherwise, it will just seem like and a bunch of nonsense and a big waste of time. As with many other reviewers, I look forward to the next course from Professor Cahoone.
Date published: 2012-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from THE BEST OF ITS KIND! Professor Cahoone is an unbelievable teacher if you are willing to listen, work, not just sit back. He has encapsulated modern philosophy like no other teacher. Please, more courses by Professor Cahoone. Top of the ladder. I was so impressed by his course, I purchased the transcript, which I never do. He's that good.
Date published: 2012-05-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from dissapointed I found myself drifting off. Instead of presenting the material in a clear concise manner, Professor Cahoone would explain the view of each philosopher, then follow it up with "in other words...". Sometimes two and three times for each person. Why not use "the words" you need to make your point. He was very repetitive and made it easy to lose interest. I haven't been able to even start the second set of dics... "in other words", it is hard to listen to, "in other words" it is boring!
Date published: 2012-04-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Cool yer jets kiddo! How about some epistemology? DVD review. Dr Cahoone's THE MODERN INTELLECTUAL TRADITION requires that we first see how philosophy as a discipline lost most of its prestige. Please bear with me... ___________________ Long story short, philosophy in ancient Greek times included all knowledge rationally pursued. Myth and traditional stories might have satisfied more primitive peoples, but they varied between cultures and evolved through time. The Greeks wanted more. They soon focussed on three key concepts: truth, knowledge and reason. KNOWLEDGE was familiarity with truth achieved through reason. And in the Greek vision, TRUTH was unchanging (beyond time), universal (independent of culture), necessary (unique, consistent) and certain (secure from error). It was something hidden beneath the surface changes that mesmerise our senses, and yet it also structured what changes were possible. REASON — thanks to the prestige of geometry — came to be defined primarily in deductive, syllogistic terms. All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal. The royal path to truth was thus the analysis of words, especially general concepts such as justice, the good or being. Such concepts are eternal as long as confusion is brushed away through rational debate. The medievals basically accepted this, but added a layer of religious belief achievable only through faith. Then came the discovery of the New World and the Scientific Revolution during the 16th and 17th Century. The Greek notion of truth was seemingly reversed: empirical study was more reliable than deduction, and mathematics (not words) became the language of nature. More importantly for philosophy, the natural sciences broke away to create their own methodologies, soon to be followed by the social sciences in the 19th Century. These natural sciences quickly outdid philosophy in prestige as they improved the lives of millions through technology. Philosophy was left with epistemology (what is knowledge?), metaphysics (what is the nature of reality and change?), ethics and aesthetics. Pretty thin soup compared to its former self. ___________________ This is where Dr Cahoone's THE MODERN INTELLECTUAL TRADITION comes in. His focus is the development of epistemology and metaphysics since Descartes (1596-1650), with a few side excursions to explore influential intellectuals more interested in broader social issues such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud and Weber. Cahoone is an excellent speaker. His voice is clear. His grasp of the subject extensive. Most importantly, his ability to communicate abstract ideas through concrete examples is impressive. Nevertheless, he covers so many thinkers that he has no time left to look into proofs. Each person's view is stated baldly with references to previous thinkers and later influence. It follows that this course will seriously annoy certain viewer: • Anyone primarily interested in ethics or grand "meaning of life" statements should pass. Cahoone sticks basically to epistemology and metaphysics. • If "absurd" opinions get on your nerves — Berkeley's view that all is mind, for example — you should probably move on. Extreme positions play an important role in the evolution of epistemology. • Finally — and this is the professional trait of philosophers that led me to skip some sections of the second half of this course — they have a tendency to exaggerate certain views to court controversy and acquire tenure. Compared to the TTC science courses, it just feels like a royal waste of time sometimes. A good example is Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" as summarized in Lecture 29. Before Kuhn, philosophers and scientists assumed that science progressed incrementally, adapting its theories gradually every time conflicting evidence turned up. Not so, said Kuhn. At any moment, a scientific discipline functions as an orthodoxy, promoting those that support it and designing experiments that confirm it. So conflicting evidence is ignored or discounted until there is such an accumulation that someone breaks ranks and comes up with a new theory (a new "paradigm") that explains the old data along with the new. Such "paradigm shifts" then create a new orthodoxy. And the cycle starts again. Simple enough. This is more a statement about group dynamics than about TRUTH or REASON in the old, absolute Greek sense. Despite resistance from any given orthodoxy, inconvenient facts reflect external reality and cannot be denied forever. Inevitably, however, some philosophers interpreted Kuhn to be a pure relativist. Old and new paradigms were incomparable, each with self-confirming experiments that made them closed systems. What joy! The pragmatic nature of scientific work was ignored. Instead there was a battle royal among philosophers over the limits of rationality, objectivity and verification. If you enjoy such academic tempests in a teapot, this course will please you enormously. I for one tend to see TRUTH, KNOWLEDGE and REASON as positions and verification procedures that have proven fruitful. They are by nature temporary and subject to group dynamics. . The Greek ideal is dead. Live with it! In conclusion, this course is a pearl for epistemology and metaphysics enthusiasts. Everyone else should read the lecture descriptions very carefully. Over half the thinkers are recent and quite technical.
Date published: 2012-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation I found this to be well organized and very understandable. A clear presentation of the various philosopher's positions and views of the world.
Date published: 2012-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Professor, Very Good Course Cahoone does an outstanding job of introducing many of the key figures and ideas in modern western philosophy and weaving these together into a coherent story. This course will be valuable for anyone interested in the story of modern philosophy. The one problem - and the this has nothing to do with Cahoone or the actual course - is the guidebook that comes with the course. The Teaching Company appears to have moved away from the detailed outline format (which was very helpful) to more glossy, superficial synposes, that offer little help in following the lectures.
Date published: 2012-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a great course I greatly enjoyed this course; I listened to it twice and I expect to come back to it many times in the future. Professor Cahoone does a wonderful job explaining those great philosphers and summerizing their major ideas; I never listened to or read better interpretations of some of them, especially, the lectures on Hume, Kant, Heidegar and the American pragmatic philosophers. I want to thank professor Cahoone for this great course which I recommend highly to anyone interested in philosophy.
Date published: 2012-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Liked the course; hated the printed materials This is a very interesting course that adds to some of the other courses I have experienced.So why it give it a 4 start rating with 3 5-star ratings? It was the printed material that comes with the course. In all my other courses, there was an outline that provided some guidance through the lecture or a convenient way to review it. This series comes with some summary remarks in paragraph form that don't add to your understanding of the lecture or help you follow along. I would suggest that these be written in the more "traditional" form. Since some of the 20th Century philosophy is a bit difficult to follow, I think more organized notes would help.
Date published: 2011-11-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Something to note... I don't know what Dr. Lawrence Cahoone has done for the world of philosophy outside of the internet classroom, but from these lectures all I can gather is he's extremely uncomfortable presenting what he 'knows'. From shaking, stuttering, back tracking to read what we're to presume he has written, I struggle with him trying to learn the material. I've watched one of the neuroscience courses through TGC, and the professor was an authority on the subject and was excited to share his knowledge. While The Modern Intellectual Tradition does a decent job summarizing western thought since cartesian doubt, it's painful hearing the professor struggle sharing basic material, which in turn makes it hard to learn, what you're here for. Read Bertrand Russell's 'History of Western Philosophy' if you want a legitimate outline.
Date published: 2011-11-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from My First Dud, Overwhelming, and Somewhat Boring For some reason everyone seems to like this course. I'll say a few good things first. Professor Cahoone is very well organized, is a good speaker, and very knowledgeable. This course had it's moments. Lecture 2 on Aristotle, lecture 3 on Descarte, lecture 14 on Kiregaard, and lecture 15 on Nietzsche were the bright spots on this course. The first 16 lectures were halfway decent overall. After that the course got really boring with Cahoone pretty much babbling on and on about the same subject, just a different person that none of us have probably ever heard of. In 36 courses he must have talked about at least 100 different philosophers, with the information overload just too unbearable. He devoted the entire 2nd half of the course to the 20th Century while ignoring Pascal and barely mentioning Schopenhauer. Also, the book is garbage. There are only 3 paragraphs per lecture printed, so forget about learning anything from there. The only value to the book was lecture 23 where he maps out Heidegger's Being and Time. Fortunately for me I have not completely lost my interest in philosophy, as I am still interested in reality, free will, determinism, and the existence of God. This is certainly NOT A STARTER COURSE! Perhaps I made the mistake of purchasing this course on DVD? I would recommend for a starter course no more than a 24 course lecture, with a 12 lecture course preferred. I would pick first a philosopher or subject matter you are into first, then purchase this course once you have gotten familiar with some of the content.
Date published: 2011-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant! This is the best course on modern philosophy I have ever taken. I had to listen through it twice as some of the ideas are not easy to grasp. However, they do become clear on the second take. Professor Cahoon is clear, consistent, and very easy to listen to. The one professor format ensures a much needed continuity. What I particularly liked was not just the clear explanation of ideas (eg logical positivism, structuralism, etc) but also why such ideas gradually lost favor. I highly recommend this course. Just be prepared to listen to parts of it more than once!
Date published: 2011-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant but be prepared for some hard work An excellent introduction to modern philosophy taught by a wonderful lecturer. Like all great courses it makes you want to delve deeper into the subject matter. However this course is definitely not for the casual listener. I found myself having to listen twice to some of the lectures in order to understand what was going on and in some cases I still feel that I don't really grasp the subject matter. As of writing this seems to be the only course given here by Professor Cahoone. I hope that he is invited to give more as I will certainly purchase them.
Date published: 2011-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best of the best This set of lectures may continue to amaze you as you listen several times. Ah to be young again and have teachers such as Cahoone. He is my model and guru for how teaching can guide, inspire and amaze.
Date published: 2011-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Challenging! Is philosophy dead? Such is the underlying theme for this demanding and enlightening course that covers the evolution of philosophy between the 17th and the 21st centuries. Professor Cahoone is well organized, serious and objective, in short extremely professional. He keeps his personal views for the final two lectures. These are in fact a wrap-up of the abundant material that precedes and allow him to suggest his own answer to the course’s overall theme. Of course, there is not much suspense since Professor Cahoone does teach philosophy at college level! This course will be appreciated by all who wish to acquire a basic knowledge of that difficult field that has perhaps spent more energy questioning itself in the past centuries than the rest of the universe as it presumably intends.
Date published: 2011-07-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nicely coherent approach One of the best overviews of modern philosophy I've seen in a long time. The lecturer's approach was engaging and insightful. He chose specific philosophical questions to organize the thoughts of these philosophers thereby being able to present a philosopher's thought in some specifics and context, as the breadth and scope of his choice of topic--400 years of philosophy--makes it impossible to present entire thoughts of each philosopher. Although you can't cover everything, he did leave out what I consider the most surprising and intriguing historical treatment of this same time period, Richard Popkin's History of Scepticism 3rd ed. In any event, The only serious problem I have, and I've seen this problem arise in more than a few of the other lectures offered by the Teaching Company is that some of the lecturers are stuck in the cold war. What I mean by that is that when Karl Marx is brought up, the presentation is more of an attack and not of the same quality and sympathetic treatment as the presentation of the rest of the philosophers. Such an unfortunate treatment always lends itself to questioning, even unintentionally, the whole series as to whether it's propaganda, which I hate to do and I know the approaches are interesting and should be given credence. These lecturers should not sour their otherwise thoughtful presentations with a superficial presentation of Marx. I'm not saying there aren't problems with Marx, but in many instances the attacks aren't based on these problems and the treatment comes out more like a knee jerk reaction and not thought out. But, in all, I would highly recommend this course..
Date published: 2011-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow Prof. Cahoone is fantastic. He has a such natural conversational style that it makes it so easy to listen to him. I have never studied philosophy before, but I feel that I learned so much from this course.
Date published: 2011-04-23
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