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Unit outline_

PHIL3605: Early Modern Theories of Perception

Semester 2, 2022 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

This unit examines theories of perception from Descartes to Reid. It comprises four main themes. First, early modern accounts of sense perception are discussed in tandem with developments in the science of optics and the understanding of visual perception. Second, perception as a faculty of the understanding, that is, mental perception, is studied in the writings of Locke and Condillac. Third, sense perception and mental perception are treated together in a detailed assessment of the Molyneux Problem from Leibniz and Berkeley to Diderot. And fourthly, the course examines the notions of a moral sense and an aesthetic sense in the writings of Hutcheson.

Unit details and rules

Academic unit Philosophy
Credit points 6
12 credit points at 2000 level from the Philosophy major
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Peter Anstey,
Lecturer(s) Peter Anstey,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Final exam (Take-home short release) Type D final exam Final exam
Final exam; short essay format
50% Formal exam period 3 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Assignment Essay
Long essay
40% Week 08
Due date: 25 Sep 2022 at 23:59
2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO2
Assignment Tutorial Assignment
Assignment based on in-class tutorial presentation.
10% Week 13
Due date: 06 Nov 2022 at 23:59
500 words or 5–10 minute podcast
Outcomes assessed: LO3 LO4 LO5
Type D final exam = Type D final exam ?

Assessment summary

Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100



75 - 84



65 - 74



50 - 64



0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 1. Introduction: the legacy of ancient theories of perception Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 02 New theories of light and vision: Kepler, Descartes and Newton Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
1. Mancosu: acoustics and optics; 2. Shapiro 2008 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 03 Descartes' theory of perception Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
1. Descartes, Optics; 2. Treatise on Man; 3. 6th Meditation and Replies to Sixth Objections Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 04 Perception and the theory of qualities Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
1. Locke, Essay II. viii; 2. Leibniz, 'Letter to Queen Sophie Charlotte' Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 05 The Molyneux Problem: Locke and Leibniz Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
1. Locke, Essay II. ix; 2. Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 06 Malebranche: seeing all things in God Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
1. Mariotte, A new discovery; 2. Malebranche, The Search after Truth; 3. Locke, Examination of Malebranche Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 07 Berkeley's theory of perception and the Molyneux Problem Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Berkeley: An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 08 Condillac on the Molyneux problem Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
1. Cheselden, An account; 2. Condillac, Essay; 3. Condillac, Treatise on the Sensations Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 09 Francis Hutcheson: the seventh sense Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
1. Hutcheson, Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue; 2. Haidt, The emotional dog and its rational tail Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 10 Denis Diderot: Blindness and the Molyneux Problem Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
1. Diderot, Letter on the Blind; 2. Gallagher, How the Body Shapes the Mind; 3. Maurer et al. 1999 4. Held 2011 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 11 David Hume: perception and scepticism Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
1. Hume, Treatise on Human Nature; 2. Hume, Enquiry Concerning Understanding Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 12 Thomas Reid and direct realism Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Reid: Essays on Intellectual Powers of Man Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 13 1. Recap; 2. Visit to Rare Book library Lecture (2 hr) LO4
Exam preparation Tutorial (1 hr)  

Attendance and class requirements

  • Attendance: According to Faculty Board Resolutions, students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences are expected to attend 90% of their classes. If you attend less than 50% of classes, regardless of the reasons, you may be referred to the Examiner’s Board. The Examiner’s Board will decide whether you should pass or fail the unit of study if your attendance falls below this threshold.
  • Lecture recording: Most lectures (in recording-equipped venues) will be recorded and may be made available to students on the LMS. However, you should not rely on lecture recording to substitute your classroom learning experience.
  • Preparation: Students should commit to spend approximately three hours’ preparation time (reading, studying, homework, essays, etc.) for every hour of scheduled instruction.

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. gain detailed knowledge of leading early modern theories of perception
  • LO2. understand the scope and range of early modern theories of perception
  • LO3. demonstrate skills in argument analysis and conceptual analysis
  • LO4. understand interdisciplinary research methods through drawing connections between philosophy, lierature, science and history
  • LO5. understand historical perspectives on the origins of contemporary notions of disability and enhancement.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

Some minor changes have been made to the readings since this unit was last offered.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.