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Modern Philosophy

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Description: This is a textbook (or better, a workbook) in modern philosophy. It combines readings from primary sources with two pedagogical tools. Paragraphs in italics introduce figures and texts. Numbered study questions (also in italics) ask students to reconstruct an argument or position from the text, or draw connections among the readings. And I have added an introductory chapter (Chapter 0 – Minilogic and Glossary), designed to present the basic tools of philosophy and sketch some principles and positions. The immediate goal is to encourage students to grapple with the ideas rather than passing their eyes over the texts. This makes for a better classroom experience and permits higher-level discussions. Another goal is to encourage collaboration among instructors, as they revise and post their own versions of the book.

Author: Walter Ott, Alexander Dunn

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Review this book

Reviews for 'Modern Philosophy'

Number of reviews: 3
Average Rating: 4.1 out of 5

1. Reviewed by: Travis LaCroix
  • Institution: Simon Fraser University
  • Title/Position: Graduate Student, Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant
  • Overall Rating: 3.9 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

As a brief overview/introduction to the major works, the coverage contained herein is fairly adequate. Certainly there is a degree of the texts seeming to be incomplete, or "chopped" up, but this is because they are. Certainly there is not an expectation in an introductory text to have complete works, but to some extent the degree to which excerpts are excerpted was slightly detremental to focusing on the connection between the constitutive pieces. This is likely just a problem inherent in trying to compile an introductory anthology of this sort, and not necessarily a problem with this particular book.

Overall, the selections were well-chosen. Particularly, it seems that it would be uncommon for a text on the "modern" period of 17th and 18th century philosophy to include background on Aristotle and Aquinas. Nonetheless, Aristotle and Aquinas were incredibly influential to the 17th century rationalists. This book does include the background texts (albeit, also very cut up). This material could be skipped if one desired for teaching a first year course, but that it is there in case one wants to bring that background into the discussion is certainly a virtue.

The glossary at the beginning was sufficient for an introduction to the vocabulary that might be required in order to understand some of the technical terminology contained therein. There was no index to speak of, however. The inclusion of one might be beneficial in order to locate something more quickly. (Although, realistically, this being an e-text, it is simple enough to search for a word, if necessary).

One note about the content, given that this is a text on (early) modern philosophy, it seems that there are some gross omissions here. Primarily, it seems strange to include Descartes and Spinoza, but not Leibniz. Spinoza's major work is really best understood as a whole (given that it is a set of assumptions, propositions, lemmas, and corollaries) it is a bit difficult to really get anything useful out of such a broken up text. The exclusion of Leibniz seems somewhat inexplicable, especially given the inclusion of Spinoza (the latter seems more relevant, to me, to Descartes, for example).

Furthermore, it might be beneficial to include something like a "sectioning" of philosophers in the way that the sections on Aristotle and Aquinas are demarcated by "Background." i.e., Descartes and Spinoza (and Leibniz!) have more in common with one another than they have in common with Berkeley or Hume. Some sort of sectioning to highlight the relevance between contemporaries might be beneficial. (That is, "Modern Philosophy" is not very descriptive, as there were several different lines of thought, more specifically (but still very broadly) construed as, e.g., "rationalists," "empiricists," "idealists," etc.)

The subject areas, being comprised of excerpts from the major influential works, certainly covers the area/ideas appropriately. The notes contained throughout work as helpful interjections for placing the works or clarifying what is being said therein.

Finally, it might be beneficial, for the keen student, to include a list of recommended works to follow up with, or to find more depth in a certain topic, immediately after each section.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

Given that the vast majority of the content contained herein is excerpted from histroical works, it does not appear that a term like "biased" would be relevant to an evaluation of this material. The content, insofar as it is excerpted, is as accurate as the translations that are used herein.

Content Accuracy Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

This section does not seem to be particularly relevant to a book of this nature. The excerpted texts have already proved their longevity, and the comments are not extensive enough to be dated for this kind of an introduction to the texts. The subject of being "up-to-date" is not really relevant to the excerpts here, given that they are historical works in the discipline.

Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

The nature of the works contained in the text are inherently complex in terms of language. However, the notes that are posted throughout, as well as the extensive glossary of philosophical terms posted at the start of the text are helpful for working through the difficult sections of the excerpts.

Clarity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

The text is internally consistent throughout in regard to the terminology used and the framework of the sections.
However, one thing that should be noted is that no date appeared for the Hume's Enquiry or Kant's Prolegomena; this is inconsistent with the format of the works that appear previously (i.e., all of the previous works are accompanied with a date of publication or writing).

Consistency Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

The way that the texts are broken up into section is useful for a course which would cover certain aspects of the period, and not others. It would be quite easy to skip entire sections without any loss of clarity for the subsequent sections. Part of this is derived from the fact that the texts themselves are independent works, but also the way that the texts are carved up allows for reading certain sections without having been exposed to prior sections. There are several ways that the entire text could be reorganized depending on the goals of a course in the subject. As far as I could tell the comments on the individual texts did not (at least unnecessarily) refer to prior text sections.

Modularity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

The text appeared to be set up in quasi-chronological order, with some texts appearing earlier than they should when pertinent (i.e., Descartes Methods prior to his Meditations).

However, as has been noted, no date appeared for the Hume's Enquiry or Kant's Prolegomena; this is inconsistent with the format of the works that appear previously.

Organization Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

I did not make a point of checking every hyperlink contained therein as a shortcut to a particular section (as there were a lot of them). However, of the random sampling of links that I did click on, all of them worked and took me to an appropriate section. There were no charts or images contained therein, so there was no distortion in this respect. However, there were some typographical issues (that have been noted in another section) in regard to the aesthetic flow of the work. i.e., it could be formatted better to help the reader.

Interface Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

Some typographical errors were noted throughout the text. Most of these are minor (i.e., missing space between two words, missing letter, etc.)

Some of the formatting could be cleaned up a bit for aesthetic purposes, if nothing else.

Some colloquial examples might be somewhat confusing.

Grammar Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

The text is not culturally insensitive, but it also does not make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethinicites, backgrounds, etc. However, this is not a particular fault of the text itself, but the material with which it has to work. It is just a matter of fact about the history of philosophy that the majority of texts from this period and earlier were written by a very ethnically non-diverse group of people (the same thing goes here for gender diversity).

Cultural Relevance Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

Again, given the nature of the subject it would be difficult to make the text more culturally relevant (i.e., to Canada or elsewhere). However, some inclusions may be beneficial to the text as a whole in regard to adequately and accurately surveying the philosophical landscape of the time. (As noted in section 2, the omission of Leibniz's major work seems strange given the subject here.)

2. Reviewed by: Dale Martelli
  • Institution: Simon Fraser University
  • Title/Position: Sessional Lecturer
  • Overall Rating: 4.4 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

This text is fairly comprehensive. The “glossary” or introduction to the basic terms and mechanisms of philosophy is useful, clearly presented, and accessible. The background selected works of Aristotle and Aquinas are defensible as necessary to detangle some of the inherited notions in the modern era. A similar argument could be made for Plato, St. Augustine, or even Duns Scotus. It might be useful to have more selection, served by similar or the same set of inquiry questions allowing for students to self-select.
This again might be a matter of canon debate but while the proffered selections are appropriate and sufficient, it is a pity that Hobbes and Leibniz are not included for the early period or that the 19th Century just is represented by Kant. I realize that decisions must be made but perhaps if some of the primary selections were a tad shorter, Rousseau or Hegel may have made the list. Better yet, perhaps there needs to be a second text, taking up what is missing.

I like the idea that there is no “periodization” as I question that Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz can be actually grouped together as they have been except for historical convenience. That being said, if this is “modern” philosophy, it is a pity no 20th century philosophers made the cut. Again, I presume that this is for the sake of length.

I do wish there was a working index. The inquiry questions are both instructionally useful and flexible in application. I am uncertain how to assess the secondary commentary. It is brief and the text relies on the expertise of the instructor. I would find this acceptable but some readers may benefit from more commentary.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

Given that for the most part, this text is a primary text resource, content accuracy is not an issue.

Content Accuracy Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

Content is relevant. And it is amenable for an instructor to include other primary selections, adapting the inquiry questions to those readings.

Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

The glossary, secondary commentary, and inquiry questions are clear, very accessible, and well written

Clarity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

Given the text’s scope and sequence of primary resources, it is internally consistent in all respects.

Consistency Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

Modern Philosophy is adequately divided. I would argue in some of the selections smaller offerings to allow for inclusion of other philosophers. This would perhaps allow for readers to also extend their own critical commentary on their own.

Modularity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

The organization of the text is logical and clear.

Organization Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

Not relevant.

Interface Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

I could find no grammatical errors.

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

In this time of cultural relevance, the title might be adjusted to Modern Western Philosophy.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

3. Reviewed by: Daniel Adleman
  • Institution: BC Institute of Technology
  • Title/Position: Instructor
  • Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

The text is, in effect, a period-centric survey of philosophical thought. As such, its contents, philosophical texts from Aristotle to Kant, are appropriate.

However, in my estimation, they are inadequate. This text presents itself as a "textbook (or better, a workbook) in modern philosophy." Insofar as it is a textbook, merely presenting the works of canonical philosophers along with some guiding study questions is insufficient for classroom instruction. What a "textbook" calls for is some more curatorial work in the form of a lengthier introduction, which would ideally lay out some of the dominant philosophical topics, themes, and conversations at work in the selected texts. An ambitious introduction would also address the coevolution of the philosophical ideas with political, cultural, and scientific developments of the era. Then, each individual section (organized around the work of a particular philosopher) would also have its own, more incisive introduction in this vein.

If this is merely a "workbook," then I would hope that it would be a companion volume to a particular textbook that does this kind of critical curatorial labour. Nevertheless, in my estimation, the only thing preventing the "workbook" from also being a viable "textbook" is the absence of such framing measures.

There is a helpful glossary of terms at the beginning of the book.

There is no index.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

N/A
The overwhelming majority of the content is excerpted from canonical philosophers' work.

Content Accuracy Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

Yes.

Relevance Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

Yes. The glossary does a competent job of preparing the reader for the philosophical jargon they will encounter.

Clarity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

It is internally consistent in the sense that it is a bare-bones selection of philosophical texts. The editors present little in the way of context or guiding threads.

Consistency Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

Yes. But some of the philosopher chapters, especially the Kant section, seem a bit lengthy. They could easily be trimmed down to better accommodate the term cycle. Still, that could be left to the professor's discretion.

Modularity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

In the sense that this is a more or less chronological survey that takes the reader from philosopher to philosopher, the topics in the text are presented in a logical and clear fashion. Still, as I have already mentioned, what is sorely missing is the kind of explicit editorial suturing work that elucidates the tacit and explicit conversations at play between the philosophers. As such, the text does not flow as smoothly as it should. But I appreciate that, as an Open Textbook, it will be available to such interventions.

Organization Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

For the most part, the text is fine. However, some of the Archive.org versions, like the file of Kant's Prolegomena, are a little messy and, at times, hard to read.

Interface Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

I did not find any grammatical errors.

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

The text is not insensitive. But I would consider renaming it something like "Western Philosophy of the Modern Period."

Cultural Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

As a survey of modern philosophical thought and its precursors, this textbook/workbook is adequate. But it does disappointingly little else. Professor Ott is clearly adept at framing the philosophical conversations at play in the modern period, as evinced by his introduction to Causation and Laws of Nature in Early Modern Philosophy. I hope that he (or someone like him) will insert this kind of content into what is currently a fairly inert collection of philosophical texts.