Philosophy Course: Philosophy of Enlightenment

Philosophy Course: Philosophy of Enlightenment

Philosophy short courses in Sydney or Online, open to everyone.

Study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence with our Philosophy courses in Sydney or Online.

Philosophy is the study of human existence, which calls us to critique our own pre suppositions, and asks us to assess ideas in relation to our own lives and society. Learn Philosophy with our Philosophy courses in Sydney or Online - short courses open to everyone.

To be ‘enlightened’ is to be set free from false beliefs: in that sense of the word it is as relevant to our world as it was to the eighteenth century. But this is a complex story; the ideas of progress, reason and economic capitalism, unleashed in the eighteenth century have also fed into the destructive feature of Modern history. This philosophy course aims to understand the philosophy of the Enlightenment from within its own dynamic, but also to assess those ideas in terms of the historical outcomes down to our times. Voltaire sets the tone with his satirical polemics influencing both the American and French Revolutions. Jonathan Swift produces his biting satire of the stupidity of war and power hungry politics. Gulliver’s Travels was written against the backdrop of the industrial revolution and the coming of age of science, but Swift is also wary of ‘progress’ for its own sake. Kant turns his attention to the epistemology of human understanding, and produces a radical new theory of the autonomous human subject. Mary Wollstonecraft sets the agenda for a theory of justice based on equality; she knows only too well what happens when inequality is taken as ‘natural’ in both the private and public spheres. We will also consider Adam Smith on economics, Rousseau on “the general will” and Hegel on the state.

Learning Aims

This philosophy course aims to:

  1. Give an in-depth understanding of the politics, ethics, epistemology and economics of the eighteenth century.
  2. Give the student an understanding of how the eighteenth century has impacted on the Modern and contemporary world.
  3. Facilitate discussion on the ideas of some of the great philosophers of the Enlightenment and how they still speak to us.
  4. Give an understand of the benefits and limitations of reason in personal and social life.
  5. Promote discussion on the issue of ‘progress’ in politics, science and technology: what does it mean to ‘make progress’?

Learning Outcomes

At the completion of this philosophy course you will have:

  1. An understanding of the term ‘enlightenment’ and the complexity of its uses and applications in history.
  2. The ability to better understand the relationship between the eighteenth century and now.
  3. A greater ability to reason about your own human nature and the workings of your own mind.
  4. A greater ability to discuss philosophical ideas and see a pattern in those ideas.
  5. The ability to better assess your own ideas against the ideas of the philosopher we have studied.
  6. An understanding of how to research the topic further.

Course Content

This philosophy course will cover the following topics:

Central Concepts of the Enlightenment.

General introduction to the period and its philosophy of reason, science, liberty, autonomy and secularism.

Jonathan Swift 1667-1745.

Gulliver’s Travels sets a high standard for political and social satire, which influences much of the eighteenth century.

Voltaire 1694-1778.

Voltaire’s polemics influenced both the American and French Revolutions. He was an advocate of civil liberties, freedom of religion and free trade in economics.

Rousseau 1712-1778.

We will study Rousseau’s theory of the ‘general will’ and gage its connection to later socialist ideas.

Adam Smith 1723-1790.

The Wealth of Nations is considered by many to be the foundational text of Modern economics.

Hume 1711-1766.

We will study Hume’s Epistemology and Psychology, and his work on custom and reason. Hume asks: Should our account of personal identity differ from our account of the identity of physical objects? Text: Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

Kant 1724-1804: The Autonomous human subject.

Kant’s philosophy had a profound impact on all subsequent theory, including law and psychology. Kant asks: Can you be a moral agent without autonomy? Texts: Critique of Pure Reason; Critique of Practical Reason .

Kant on Power, Imagination and Idealism.

Can a transcendental idealist also be an empirical realist?

Mary Wollstonecraft 1759-1797: A Revolutionary Life.

We will study Wollstonecraft’s critique of the public/private split; the limits of state intervention into private matters; and her proposals on how to bring about equality between the classes and between men and women? Text: The Vindication of the Rights of Women.

Hegel 1770-1831. On the End of History

We will consider his theory of the Modern state, and his Phenomenology of Mind.

Intended Audience

This philosophy course that is suitable for anyone interested in gaining insights into identifying, analysing and constructing cogent arguments. This philosophy course is designed for those interested in developing their ability of engaging in insightful philosophical conversations with others.

Delivery Style

This philosophy course will be delivered as an interactive workshop consisting of an instructor-led lecture, analysis of case studies and group discussions. This philosophy course strives to encourage active and informed participation, group analysis and debate of the facts, issues and insights into our changing world.

Course Prerequisites

This philosophy course has no prerequisites and is open to all members of the public.

About your instructor

Kerry Sanders

Kerry Sanders

Dr Kerry Sanders gained her PhD in philosophy at The University of Sydney and was recently awarded the title of Honorary Associate at the Department of Philosophy, The University of Sydney. She lectured at Sydney College of the Arts University of Sydney for 10 years, giving Hon and Masters Courses in the philosophy of aesthetics. Kerry has taught in the areas of Philosophy of Mind; Ethics; Critical Thinking; Political Philosophy; Contemporary Philosophy of Technology; Phenomenology; and the Philosophy of Music. She has a particular interest in the new developments in neurobiology which have significantly changed ideas about the nature of consciousness and the workings of the human mind. Kerry also participates in the Gifted Students Program, giving philosophy sessions to high school students who show an interest in a broad scope of ideas and wish to develop their thinking abilities through the challenge which philosophy gives. Kerry has also published a book of poetry.

Kerry’s Approach to Philosophy

Philosophy is a living practice which calls us to critique our own pre suppositions, and asks us to assess ideas in relation to our own lives and society. In engaging with the ideas of philosophy we both study philosophy but also do it. Philosophy can be thought of as engaging in an ‘adventure sport for the mind’, in which we can develop critical thinking techniques and learn to use the mind in new and exciting ways. The skills which are developed in the practice of philosophy are also relevant to many other areas of academic study, as well as in the complex living of our ordinary lives. Much of Western philosophy is based on the priority of reason and logic in human thought, however to fully understand the human condition we must also consider the role of experience, emotions and the body.

Other Academic functions
  • Supervision of Postgraduate Seminar Groups.
  • University Preparation Course in Philosophy 2000 – 2015.
  • Sydney College of the Arts University of Sydney.
  • Four years of Australian Postgraduate Research Award.
  • Vera Edith Thorpe Scholarship.


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Course Features

Available classes for Philosophy Course: Philosophy of Enlightenment

Please note: This is streamed via live video link. A reliable Internet-enabled device with camera and microphone is required and we recommend that you test your connection here. Details of how to join the online meeting will be sent by email 24 hours prior to scheduled commencement. Connectivity will be available 15 minutes prior to, and following, scheduled times. You may also wish to review minimum system requirements for PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android (as applicable).
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