Many philosophy departments require a course in the history of (usually early) modern philosophy for their majors. My impression of the way such courses are usually taught is that they focus on metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind: the metaphysics of substances; the epistemology of empiricism versus rationalism, both of which are classically foundationalist; ideas, impressions, and other varieties of sense data in the philosophy of mind. I imagine that this curriculum was set back in the mid-twentieth century, when M&E was considered “real” philosophy. But nowadays, it strikes me as bizarre.
Nobody believes in sense data these days. Nobody thinks concepts are mental images. Nobody believes that the epistemological prime directive is to avoid error at all costs. Nobody thinks experience is theory-free. Not many people have a dog in the substance-metaphysics fight. (Obviously, sentences about philosophy which begin, “Nobody believes…” are all false; I mean these views are not widely influential.)
On the other hand, consider some of the social and political views formed in the early modern period. Lots of people believe in natural human rights. Lots of people think of social and political associations as a variety of contract. Lots of people believe that humans are natural individualists, that human beings are not intrinsically social animals. Lots of people believe church and state should be separated and that conscience should not be coerced. Lots of people believe that morality is more a matter of sentiment than of reason. Lots of people believe that society corrupts a person born naturally good.
And lots of people disagree with them! These are huge debates in our society today. Couldn’t you make an excellent case for teaching the reverse of the traditional curriculum: skipping the M&E of the 17th and 18th centuries entirely, and teaching only social, political, and moral philosophy? Does anybody do that?