Steven Nadler at the Times Literary Supplement:
When exactly did philosophy become “modern”? In his film Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask (1972), Woody Allen’s medieval jester tries to hasten his seduction of the queen by warning her that “before you know it the Renaissance will be here and we’ll all be painting”. But of course there is neither a clean beginning nor end to the Middle Ages, or some moment or event that represents the commencement of the Renaissance. Why, then, should there be a specific point that marks the start of modernity in philosophy or a single thinker or movement that can be undisputedly identified as the first modern philosopher or philosophy? Descartes is often called “the father of modern philosophy”, and understandably so. Many of the metaphysical and epistemological questions that have come to dominate philosophy since the early twentieth century are expressed, quite beautifully and some for the first time, in his works. But plausible claims to the title could also be made on behalf of Thomas Hobbes, Francis Bacon or (several decades earlier) Michel de Montaigne, all of whom made original and significant, but very different, contributions to what A. C. Grayling refers to as “the modern mind”. On the other hand, we might want to save the founder’s honour for some figure later than Descartes, someone whose thought seems more familiar to us, less influenced by Scholasticism and less informed by theological assumptions and ostensible religious motivations – say, John Locke, with his radically empiricist theory of knowledge; or Baruch Spinoza, the most iconoclastic thinker of his time; or, even later, the sceptical atheist David Hume.