Dr Tom Kerns
North Seattle Community College



The Empiricist Philosophers


When it comes to epistemological questions, the two primary schools of thought are the empiricist school and the rationalist schools.

The empiricists are well represented by

  • John Locke (British, 1632-1704)
  • George Berkeley (Irish, 1685-1753)
  • David Hume (Scotch, 1711-1776))

The rationalists are represented by

  • René Descartes (French, 1596-1650)
  • Benedictus de Spinoza (Dutch, 1632-1677)
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (German, 1646-1716)

In this course we are going to focus primarily on the philosophers in the empiricist tradition, though someone in class may choose to do their research project on René Descartes or one of the other rationalists.

We will be looking first at some of the main themes in John Locke's philosophy, then more briefly at the work of George Berkeley and David Hume. Understanding what some of the questions were that these three thinkers addressed is a necessary prerequisite to understanding the work of one of the greatest and most influential thinkers of the past two millennia, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).

Kant's work, as we will see, flows directly out of the turbulent confluence of these two opposing (rationalist and empiricist) philosophical traditions.

And out of Kant's thought flows that of Arthur Schopenhauer (and others).