Historical Introduction to Philosophy: Basic Concepts

This course is an introduction to concepts and theories without which no student of philosophy can do. These concepts and theories will be studied here in their historical lineage, in order to highlight their connections and their evolution as they were developed by key figures of philosophy. Thus we will investigate essential ideas by a limited number of thinkers, starting with Parmenides and ending with Kant. (Great philosophers were born after Kant, but Kant is perhaps the last philosopher who is considered ‘indispensable’ by all contemporary philosophers.) Other names we will meet are: Democritus, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Berkeley, Hume and a few others.

The teacher of this course will attempt:

  • to introduce the ideas in a very simple and yet precise way
  • to classify concepts and theories into a small number of groups, in order to better understand their links
  • to show, whenever possible, how philosophy gave rise to modern scientific developments and disciplines

The teacher therefore hopes that this course cannot only serve as an introduction to philosophy for philosophy students, but also for future students of social, human or natural sciences.

Form: mainly lectures, sometimes reading seminars.

Louis Vervoort:

I studied physics in Ghent (MSc in engineering physics), Marseille (PhD) and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris (post-doc). Already in this period my main interests shifted from classic physics to the foundations of the field – a research area in which the fundamental axioms are questioned and investigated. This brought me naturally to philosophy, which I studied at the University of Montreal (PhD). Some of the advantages of working in philosophy are that it allows to address a broad range of interests, and that it somehow incites to look for the unifying ideas, the fashionable ‘big picture’ (I will leave this little idea here very vague). Philosophy also encourages to ask ethical questions on research, technology, science and society. If I would have to summarize my most eye-opening experience of these last years, then it would be the observation that, at the very fundamental level, science and philosophy are solidly intertwined, and can greatly inspire each other. An idea popular among interdisciplinary practitioners, but not yet popular enough in other communities!