The Rationalists
by John Cottingham


A History of Western Philosophy: 4
OPUS series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988
ISBN 0-19-219209-4/ 0-19-289190-1 Pbk.

‘I am grateful for this book. I have learned from it, and so will students, professional philosophers and motivated general readers’
Jonathan Bennett,
Times Literary Supplement


1. Background
Rationalists and empiricists
Reason, system and necessity
René Descartes
Benedictus Spinoza
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

2. Method
Descartes’s fresh start
Mathesis universalis
Metaphysical foundations
Analysis and synthesis
Problems with the Cartesian method
Spinoza and the ‘geometrical order’
Definitions, essences and apriorism
The denial of contingency, and Spinoza’s grades of cognition
Leibniz and the ‘art of combination’
Necessity, contingency, and Leibniz’s ‘rationalism’
Innate ideas

3. Substance
The classical background
Descartes on substance: God, mind and matter
The asymmetry of Descartes’s dualism
Spinoza and independent substance
‘God or nature’
The existence of uncreated substance in Descartes and Spinoza
Leibniz’s critique of the ontological argument
Leibniz and individual substance
The monads: activity and self-containedness
Causality, connection, and the role of God

4. Matter and Mind
Descartes’s immaterialist theory of the mind
The problem of interaction
The Spinozan response
Mind and body in Spinoza
Leibniz’s critique of Cartesian matter
Leibniz’s theory of the mind
Souls, consciousness, and transparency

5. Freedom and morality
Divine goodness and Cartesian freedom
Leibniz on liberty
Spinozan freedom: endeavour and rationality
Human nature and the good life in Descartes and Spinoza
Reason, faith and the human lot.