I am going to be taking an undergraduate course with a prof who marks quite severely. She mentioned that the course expects a working knowledge of Early Modern Philosophy, and specifically to read the first 4 sections of Hume's Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

Was just wondering if anyone else could recommend some authors, or excerpts of authors that are economic enough to be read alongside the course and might help me with my understanding? I understand that the whole history of philosophy informs itself, and that any author is better read not in isolation. But with that said, if someone was taking a course on Kant without any direct background in Early Modern Philosophy, who would you recommend they read? And most helpful will be specific sections/excerpts, as I won't be able to really read any full length books alongside the course.

: )

  • Do you know what exactly you are going to read in this course? Makes a big difference to what would be helpful
    – Canyon
    Sep 6, 2018 at 7:59
  • 1
    Not a full answer, but a recommended start with many historical settings and references: Eckhart Förster, The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy, chs. 1-3 (for the Critique of Pure Reason) and 4-6 (for the bigger picture). Altogether 75 pages (or 153 respectively) well worth the time. Presumably, reading the indicated passages of Hume afterwards before dipping into primary literature (reading Kant himself) will let the texts make much more sense and their relation more obvious.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Sep 6, 2018 at 9:30
  • @Canyon: From the remarks, it seems to me that the course is about the Critique of Pure Reason in particular, since a) the practical philosophy used to be the stoic philosophy at the time apart from Spinoza (whose ethics and philosophy in general is seldom part of undergraduate courses and irrelevant for Kant himself - not so much for German Idealism) and b) the other theoretical works of Kant do presuppose knowledge of Kant's first critique more than knowledge of Early Modern Philosophy, really.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Sep 6, 2018 at 10:07

1 Answer 1


Kant represents a weaving together of the Rationalist and the Empiricist approaches, mainly but by no means exclusively to epistemology and metaphysics. His own work is an attempt to expose the crucial and irremediable flaws of both traditions and to create a synthesis that avoids these errors and also illuminates, even solves, the principal problems to which they were in his view inherently inadequate.

So to understand Kant at more than a superficial level you need some acquaintance with the two traditions : the traditions of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz (Rationalists) and of Locke, Berkeley and Hume (Empiricists). It would be a heavy job to work through all these before tackling Kant, and possibly impracticable in your circumstances.

An introduction to Rationalism and Empiricism is called for - a brief but reliable text. I suggest actually two such texts :

John Cottingham, The Rationalists, ISBN 10: 0192891901 / ISBN 13: 9780192891907 Published by Oxford University Press, U.S.A., 1988.

R. S. Woolhouse, The Empiricists, ISBN 10: 019289188X / ISBN 13: 9780192891884 Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988.

When you start on Kant, there will be unavoidable references in whatever commentaries you use to his dissatisfaction with the two traditions as a major impetus to his work : and you will have some understanding of this dissatisfaction.

Other answers may recommend different texts by which to approach Kant. There is nothing wonderful about Cottingham and Woolhouse; I have simply found them useful. Keep alert to other recommendations.

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