As a follow-up to Lewis’s post on Early Modern Survey Courses, which has an an excellent discussion in the comments, I thought I would pose a narrower question.
How do you teach the rationalism-empiricism distinction in your survey course?
Do you structure your class around the distinction, reading the rationalists together and the empiricists together? Does Kant save the day? Do you avoid the distinction? Do you teach separate courses on rationalist and empiricist thinkers? Do you emphasize some other distinction or a network of issues?
I wonder if, even though many of us don’t find the distinction very useful in our own research, we might still find it a useful heuristic for students first encountering early modern thought.
My version of the survey course would seem, on a brief scan, to divide roughly into rationalists and empiricists, but I don’t present the class this way. In fact, about midway through I give a 10 minute talk about “rationalism vs. empiricism.” I tell them that people will expect them to be able to discuss our figures along this line after they leave this course, here are 6 or 8 different things that people sometimes mean by that distinction (each of which draws the line differently), and here are a few reasons for thinking the distinction is not particularly helpful or deep.