28013 - History of Philosophy (LM)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

Students learn to become familiar with trends, issues, important authors of modern philosophy, and to orient themselves in its historical interpretations. They are trained in the critical reading of philosophical texts, and in evaluation of argumentative and rhetorical strategies.

Course contents


The course aims to reconstruct the eighteenth-century philosophical debate on the crucial issues of the rights of conscience, the legitimacy and autonomy of secular ethics, and the principle of tolerance.This debate, raised by the so-called "paradoxes" of Bayle on of the possibility of a society without religion, approaches the relationship between religion, morality and politics as it was developed at the origins of modern thought, giving voice to its protagonists, among the most important exponents of the philosophy of Enlightenment, from Montesquieu to Hume, from Voltaire to Rousseau to Kant.

The course is divided into two parts:

1. monographic course

2. seminars


    The following works or parts of them will be read:
    1. P. Bayle, Pensées diverses sur la comète and Continuation des Pensées diverses (selected pages)
    2. Montesquieu, De l’Esprit des Lois, Books XXIV, XXV
    3. Hume, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion; Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, X: Of Superstition and Enthusiasm
    4. Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique: Athée, Catéchisme chinois; Chine, Philosophe, Tolérance
    5. Rousseau, the problem of the civil religion in the Manuscrit de Genève and in the Contrat social
    6. Kant, Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?


The following bibliography is useful for the preparation of the exam:

E. Cassirer,The philosophy of Enlightenment, English transl., Princeton, Princeton University Press; Revised ed., 2009

M. Firpo, Il problema della tolleranza religiosa nell'età moderna, Torino, Einaudi, 1978

M. Foucault, Qu’est-ce que les Lumières, Paris, Bréal, 2004

  1. I filosofi e la società senza religione, a cura di M. Geuna e G.B. Gori, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2011
  2. P. Hazard, The Crisis of the European Mind: 1680-1715, English trans., New York, NYRB Classics; Main edition, 2013

    J. Israel, A revolution of the mind. The Radical Enlightenment and the intellectual origins of modern democracy, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2011

    H. Marcuse, Kritik der reinen Toleranz, Suhrkamp Verlag KG, 1995

    G. Paganini, E Tortarolo (ed.), E Tortarolo (a cura di), Illuminismo. Un vademecum, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri, 2009M. Vovelle, L’homme des Lumières, Paris, Seuil, 1995.

    N.B. Students are required to arrange with the teacher the english translation of these texts.

    A collection of some of the texts of the monographic course will be available to the students (Via Zamboni, 38, II floor).





The seminar aims to reconstruct the figure of the “virtuous atheist” in eighteenth-century literature and philosophy.

The following works will be examined:

Spinoza, Theological-political Treatise (parts)

Bayle, Dictionnaire historique et critique: entry “Spinoza”

The seminar intends to examine the issue of religious tolerance in philosophical reflection between the end of the seventeenth and the second half of the eighteenth century.

The following texts will be read:

J. Locke, A letter concerning toleration, London, Merchant Books, 2011 (and some other editions)

Voltaire, Traité sur la tolérance.

N.B .: The student chooses only one seminar for the exam.

N.B. Students are required to arrange with the teacher the english translation of these texts.


The course will be held in the first semester, starting from 24 September 2018

Monday, 3 pm-5pm, Room VI (via Zamboni, 38)

Wednesday, 3 pm-5pm, Room C (via Centotrecento)

Thursday, 3 pm-5pm, Room VI (via Zamboni, 38).

Office hours: Thursday, 10 am

In the months of June, July, August and September the office hours will be modified, which will be announced in good time


For the bibliography, see the program.

Teaching methods

The lectures concern specific themes, and intend to analyze them in reference also to the peculiarities of historical contexts, the diversity of cultures and of philosophical problems, and, finally, the determination of intellectual options of individual philosophers. The predominantly seminar format of the lessons involves students in an independent and shared research, conducted with bibliographic tools and discussed in dialogic forms of scientific communication.

Assessment methods

The exam is oral and is held in the office of Prof. M. Spallanzani (Department of Philosophy, Via Zamboni, 38, III floor).

The oral examination tends to verify:
1. historical and philosophical knowledge acquired through the class attendance, the study of the texts and bibliography, contextualising them in historical and philosophical traditions;
2. the level of critical assimilation of conceptual contents;
3. the property and the adequacy of linguistic expression;
4. the knowledge of the main lines of classical interpretations.

The examination provides an opportunity for further discussion and further dialogue with the professor. In this sense, students are also invited to examine particular subjects close to the topics of the lectures.

Assessment criteria and assessment thresholds:
30 cum laude: Excellent, excellent solidity of knowledge, excellent expressive properties, excellent understanding of the concepts.
30: Very good, complete and adequate knowledge, well-articulated and correctly expressed.
27-29: Good, satisfactory knowledge, essentially correct expression.
24-26: Fairly good knowledge, but not complete and not always correct.
21-23: Generally sufficient knowledge but superficial. Expression is often not appropriate and confused.
18-21: Sufficient. The expression and articulation of the speech show important gaps.
<18: Insufficient knowledge or very incomplete, lack of guidance in discipline, expression seriously deficient. Exam failed.

Teaching tools

The lectures aim to examine classical texts, which are available in Italian and English translation, but with many references to the original language.

Seminars offer the reading of significant texts of philosophical debate around the theme of the lectures course, extending it with references to some other authors. The student is required to follow and to prepare for the exam only one seminar (I or II). The seminar format engages students in active participation, which mobilizes the acquired knowledge and transforms it into questioning the texts and discussing the topics.
The student may propose reading other texts or writing papers agreed with the teacher.

Office hours

See the website of Mariafranca Spallanzani