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Spinoza & Leibniz - PHI00077I

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. David Ingram
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2018-19

Module summary

An advanced introduction to some ideas from the metaphysical systems of Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2018-19

Module aims

This module begins in looking at Descartes’ discussion of substance, attribute, and the mind/body relationship. It then moves to consider the radically distinct responses to Descartes’ work, and the problems found in it, in the work of Benedict Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz. We will find that Spinoza and Leibniz each produce startlingly original and challenging metaphysical accounts, which we will explore.

This module aims to give an introduction to key issues in rationalist metaphysics, including but not limited to –

- The problem of the relationship between mind and body

- The relationship between God and Creation

- Theories of causal explanation

- The nature of substance

This module will develop core philosophical skills, not least the ability to interpret and critically manipulate challenging and complex texts.


Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

—understand and explain a range of key problems, issues, and debates in Spinoza and Leibniz's philosophy and express this understanding in clear, precise, and accessible terms

—develop and articulate ranges of alternative solutions to problems and issues in Spinoza and Leibniz's philosophy in an open-minded way, drawing on module materials

—develop and articulate arguments for the alternative solutions considered in relation to problems and issues in Spinoza and Leibniz's philosophy, drawing on module materials, identifying some points of weakness and some potential points for development

—make a judgement about what is the best view on a particular problem in Spinoza and Leibniz's philosophy and argue in defence of this judgement

—identify some of their strengths and weaknesses by evaluating their own work in relation to departmental marking criteria

—apply simple strategies for improving their work, based on critical reflection, advice, and feedback

—demonstrate informed sensitivity to cultural and historical context in interpreting and responding to the work of others

Module content

This module is an advanced introduction to some ideas from the metaphysical systems of two important and influential 17th century philosophers: Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716). We will focus in particular on ideas and arguments developed in three works: Spinoza’s Ethics, Demonstrated in Geometrical Order (1677), and Leibniz’s Discourse on Metaphysics (1686) and The Principles of Philosophy, or, the Monadology (1714). Spinoza and Leibniz are both Rationalists and system builders who propose original and challenging metaphysical accounts. During this module, we examine their accounts of substance, attribute and mode, their conceptions of God, and their views about the nature of mind. We approach their systems by scrutinising both the primary texts (the Ethics, Discourse, and Monadology) as well as interesting contemporary secondary literature (from Michael Della Roca, Margaret Dauler Wilson, and others).


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 70
University - closed examination
Spinoza & Leibniz
1 hours 30

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

The formative assessment will consist of a 750-word response to an essay-style question or prompt, due in Week 7 of the Autumn Term.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 70
University - closed examination
Spinoza & Leibniz
1 hours 30

Module feedback

Feedback on formative work will be returned within 2 weeks of submission, and by the end of term at the latest. Feedback on summative work will be returned 4 weeks after the assessment deadline.

Indicative reading

  • Spinoza, Ethics, Demonstrated in Geometrical Order
  • Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics
  • Leibniz, Monadology

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

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