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 2: In this volume Jonathan Bennett examines the views of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume on thought and sensation, meaning, language, classification, innate ideas and knowledge, our knowledge of necessary truths (bringing in Descartes and Leibniz as well), the basis for our belief that we live in a world of material things, causation, the fundamental difference between colours and shapes, the passage of time and our ability to live through it. While finding much to criticize, Bennett shows that we can learn much about these and other topics under the guidance and inspiration of the energy, courage, and insight of these three great British philosophers.