Innovation and Orthodoxy (Reading Questions for 1/14)

Here are some questions that you should be able to answer after reading Rutherford’s opening chapter in the Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, Innovation and orthodoxy in early modern philosophy.

Donald Rutherford is a contemporary scholar of Early Modern Philosophy who is trying to explain some of the main themes and developments of the period as clearly as possible in a general way. Thus, his discussion will likely be easier to follow, analyze, and summarize than will be the discussions contained in many of the primary source readings we will be doing. I have tried to make this initial guided reading exercise very straightforward by grouping my questions according to the section headings provided in the text. Take advantage of these features to get some practice in the kind of reading, analysis, and discussion we will be focusing on in this course. Remember, you should come to class with your answers to these questions prepared… you never know when you will need to use them.

You should also feel free to start a discussion in the comments section below. If you have any questions about what the author is claiming, or about where the text addresses these issues, feel free to post them here. If you have answers (or you think you have answers, or you just have something to add) feel free to do that as well.


Early Modern Philosophy is often characterized in terms of a radical break with the past that is brought on largely by the Scientific Revolution.

  • What general reasons does Rutherford give for maintaining that we should be careful about accepting this characterization?


  • What are the two central elements of the synthesis contained in the thought of Thomas Aquinas?
  • What are the central features of the doctrine that emerges from it?


  • What currents lead, by the end of the fifteenth century, to increasing questions about this synthesis and an increased focus on questions about human knowledge?
  • What tends to remain constant through the changes brought on by these currents?


  • How do Galileo and Bacon serve as particular examples of the kind of attitude towards science and religion that is prevalent in the seventeenth century?


  • What does the term mechanism mean in this context?
  • What does the term dualism mean in this context?
  • Why do these features of Descartes’s synthesis lead some to see it as posing a threat to religion?


  • What do the terms compatibilism and incompatibilism mean in this context?
  • What does the term deism mean in this context?
  • What does the term naturalism mean in this context?
  • In what way does Spinoza’s philosophy represent a more revolutionary break with tradition than the philosophy of other eighteenth-century figures?

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