Jonathan Bennett engages with the thought of six great thinkers of the early modern period: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume. While not neglecting the historical setting of each, his chief focus is on the words they wrote. What problem is being tackled? How exactly is the solution meant to work? Does it succeed? If not, why not? What can we learn from its success or its failure? These questions reflect Bennett's dedication to engaging with philosophy as philosophy, not as museum exhibit, and they require a close and demanding attention to textual details; these being two features that characterize all Bennett's work on early modern philosophy. For newcomers to the early modern scene, this clearly written work is an excellent introduction to it. Those already in the know can learn how to argue with the great philosophers of the past, treating them as colleagues, antagonists, students, teachers.
Volume 1: In this volume Jonathan Bennett examines the views of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz on matter and space, the foundations of physics, atomism and alternatives to it, causation, knowledge of necessary truths, how mind relates to body, the nature and significance of human desires, our perception of the material world, and other topics. While exhibiting and celebrating the wonderful breadth, depth, and boldness of the thinking of these philosophers, Bennett also tracks them into the details, where the life is, evaluating their doctrines and arguments on their own merits and in relation to current philosophical problems and interests.