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Regular version of the site
Bachelor 2020/2021

History of Western Philosophy

Area of studies: Economics
When: 1 year, 1-4 module
Mode of studies: offline
Instructors: Alexander Koryagin
Language: English
ECTS credits: 6

Course Syllabus


The History of Western Philosophy is a one-year course on the principal philosophers of the western world from the ancient Greeks to the twentieth century. In this course we investigate the central ideas of each of the great philosophers in order to understand how the main traditions of epistemological (theory of knowledge), moral and political thought in western philosophy have developed. These philosophers and their ideas will be studied in their historical, social and economic context as we try to understand the connection between ideas and their socio-economic origins. As we examine the systems of the great philosophers, some of the questions that we will address are following: To what extent can ideas be reduced simply to their social and economic function? What do philosophers mean when they claim that an idea or a belief is true? How cogent are the arguments for moral relativism and moral absolutism proposed by philosophers such as Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant and Nietzsche? How do these philosophers understand the idea of the good and the good life? What are the essential differences between the ideas of the European rationalists and the British empiricists? What is human identity and what does it mean to have a self? What is the meaning and purpose of human existence according to philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Augustine, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche? The course will begin with an investigation into the origins of philosophy in the west. We will examine the Pre-Socratic philosophers and their importance for understanding the central questions of philosophy that are more fully addressed by Plato and the later history of Greek philosophy. Then we will give careful attention to the life and thought of Socrates as told by Plato in some of his early dialogues and Plato’s political thought in the Republic. Then we will consider Aristotle’s criticism of Plato’s moral and political philosophy as part of Aristotle’s inquiry into the nature of the good life. We will conclude our study of Greek philosophy with a discussion of the ways in which the philosophical thinking of the Epicureans, Skeptics and Stoics changed after Greek city states lost their independence and came under Macedonian rule. As we study Greek philosophy during the first semester we will take note of these questions: How do the ancient Greek philosophers understand the idea of happiness and the good life? How important is politics to their conception of happiness? How do they view the relation between beauty, goodness and truth? How do they understand human desire and the nature of love? What have the Greek philosophers contributed to the emergence of the political and cultural institutions of the West? This survey of the history of philosophy also provides the necessary historical and philosophical background for courses in politics, law, sociology and in philosophy and the methodology of the social sciences. Through both primary and secondary sources students are introduced during the first semester to the central questions of Western philosophy from the Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, later Hellenistic philosophy and its encounter with Christianity in the Greek East and the Latin West, especially in the writings of St. Augustine. The course will then proceed by considering the ways in which Christianity, Judaism and Islam responded to the critical challenges that arose form their encounter with Greek philosophy as a result of the availability of nearly all of Aristotle’s works in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In our study of medieval philosophy, we will give special consideration to Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Abelard, Al-Farabi Avicenna, Al-Ghazali, Averroes, Moses Maimonides, and Thomas Aquinas. We will examine their attempts to harmonize philosophy and religious faith through the use of scientific reason and Greek logic. How did this encounter of medieval theology and philosophy with ancient Greek thought shape the conceptions of religious faith, morality and politics that defined the ideals and cultural institutions of the West? Alfred North Whitehead said that the history of Western philosophy is simply a series of footnotes to Plato. To what extent did the Platonic tradition and its Aristotelian modification affect the subsequent history of philosophy? We will also examine the impact of Aristotle’s philosophy in shaping the conception of money and usury- the practice of making money with money- in medieval philosophy. We will also take note of the idea of the universal and the individual in medieval philosophy and discuss how the notion of the individual emerged as a reaction against Platonic universalism.
Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • critical awareness of the assumptions and conditions that lie behind scientific theories and arguments
  • identification the scientific nature of the problems in the professional field
  • solving problems in professional sphere based on analysis and synthesis
  • information processing: finding, evaluating and using information from various sources, necessary to solve scientific and professional problems (including those on the basis of a systematic approach)
Expected Learning Outcomes

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • To characterise the historical background of the European Civilization, including the concepts of myth, religion and philosophy and the origins of speculative thought.
  • To be able to use the key ideas of Greek thinkers from Thales to Aristotle, including: the debate around virtue, justice, truth and the possibility of rational explanation of the universe.
  • To be able to characterise key ideas of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim uses of philosophy from Philo of Alexandria through Augustine to the early Middle Ages, including the main debates in Theology around the knowability, existence and attributes of the Divine.
  • To characterise the key ideas of High and late Middle ages to the Renaissance.
  • To characterise the key philosophical ideas of the Scientific Revolution from Copernicus and Galileo to Kepler and Newton.
  • To characterise the key ideas of The Rationalist Tradition including the epistemological positions of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz.
  • To characterise the key ideas of the major British Empiricists, including the epistemological positions of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley and Hume.
  • To evaluate the key ideas of the European Enlightenment, primarily of Immanuel Kant, including his contributions to epistemology and moral philosophy.
  • To assess the key ideas of Hegel, Mill and Marx, including their contribution to moral and political philosophy, and to the emerging tradition of Social Theory.
  • To characterise the key ideas of the major philosophical movements at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, including Existentialism, Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis
  • To characterise the key ideas of the major philosophical movements after the Second World War, including Poststructuralism and Postmodernism.
Course Contents

Course Contents

  • Historical background of European Civilization
    A. Myth, religion and philosophy: The origins of speculative thought. B. A brief survey of Minoan and Mycenaean civilization C. The flowering of Greek culture, 500-336 BCE. D. The beginnings of Greek philosophy in Miletus and Southern Italy.
  • History of Ideas from early Greeks to Aristotle
    Beginnings of Greek Philosophy. The development of pre-Socratic thought: Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides and the Atomists. The Sophists and Socrates. Plato. Aristotle.
  • Jewish, Christian, and Muslim uses of philosophy from Philo of Alexandria through Augustine to the early Middle Ages.
    Ancient Philosophy after Aristotle: Hellenistic Thought. Philosophy and Christianity in the Roman Empire. Augustine and the Transformation of Ancient Thought. Medieval Islamic and Jewish Philosophy
  • The High and late Middle ages to the Renaissance
    The Golden Age of Medieval Scholasticism. Thomas Aquinas and late medieval philosophy. Renaissance Philosophies.
  • Philosophy and Science in Modern World.
    Philosophy and Science in the Seventeenth Century: Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, The Royal Society, Cambridge Platonism, Newton, and Pascal.
  • The Rationalist Tradition in European Culture
    The Rationalist Tradition in European Thought: Descartes and the Skeptical Crisis of the Seventeenth Century, The Metaphysics of Spinoza and Leibniz.
  • British Thought in the 17th & 18th Centuries: Social, Political and Epistemological
    The Empiricism of John Locke, David Hume and Bishop Berkeley.
  • The European Enlightenment, Kant and his successors
    European Social and Political Philosophy in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century. Social contract theories and the basis of governmental authority. The European Enlightenment: Reason, Progress and the Conquest of Nature. Kant’s Copernican Revolution and His Moral Worldview
  • The Hegelian Synthesis and its Collapse: Hegel, Mill and Marx
    Philosophy after Kant: Schelling, Fichte, Hegel and Marx. Philosophy after Hegel: Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Feuerbach and Nietzsche. For and against the Enlightenment: Liberalism, Romanticism, Utilitarianism, Positivism, and Social Darwinism: Bentham, J. S. Mill, Spencer and Comte.
  • The Great Philosophers at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century
    G. Frege C. S. Peirce William James Bertrand Russell L. Wittgenstein The Freudian revolution. The unconscious and reason. Husserl and Heidegger. Existentialism: Sartre, Jaspers and Camus.
  • Philosophical Movements in the 20th Century
    Structuralism and Post-Structuralism, Feminism and philosophy Philosophers of human rights, justice and freedom at the end of the 20th century Postmodern rejection of scientific reason and rationality
Assessment Elements

Assessment Elements

  • non-blocking Seminar participation sem 1
  • non-blocking Essays
    There will be two essays in total, one in each semester, with equal weights (10% each)
  • non-blocking Winter Test
  • non-blocking Summer Exam
  • non-blocking Seminar participation sem 2
    In order to get full marks for the seminar participation students need to actively participate in the class discussions, to demonstrate familiarity with assigned readings and lecture material, including being prepared to answer the questions that the class teacher may pose.
Interim Assessment

Interim Assessment

  • Interim assessment (4 module)
    0.2 * Essays + 0.2 * Seminar participation sem 1 + 0.2 * Seminar participation sem 2 + 0.2 * Summer Exam + 0.2 * Winter Test


Recommended Core Bibliography

  • History of Western philosophy, Russell, B., 2010

Recommended Additional Bibliography

  • История западной философии и ее связи с политическими и социальными условиями от античности до на... : пер. с англ., Рассел, Б., Целищев, В. В., 2009