My primary area of interest is early modern philosophy, especially the connection between philosophy and science in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. More specifically, I have worked on mechanist conceptions of body and their justification, debates surrounding gravity/attraction, and changing views of scientific explanation in the early modern period. My publications include “The Status of Mechanism in Locke’s Essay” (The Philosophical Review, 1998) and “Berkeley’s Natural Philosophy and Philosophy of Science” in The Cambridge Companion to Berkeley (2006). I have taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, and have been a fellow of the Dibner Institute for the History of Science.
Courses: Fall 2012
(More information for enrolled students will be available on Carmen.)
Philosophy 8200 Seminar in History of Philosophy: The Primary/Secondary Quality Distinction
This seminar will explore the early modern version of the primary/secondary quality distinction and its roots in seventeenth-century mechanism. The primary/secondary quality distinction is a prominent place where natural philosophy and metaphysics come together in the period, and we will be interested in the question of just how they are joined: Should the distinction be regarded as belonging primarily to physics? What sort of justification is there for the existence of the distinction? What sort of justification is there for the lists of qualities on each side? What status is assigned to the secondary qualities, and on what basis? If secondary qualities are powers, how should we understand powers?
We will consider the distinction as it is made in the works of (at least), Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, and Locke. This will require some extended exploration of the natural philosophy of Descartes and Boyle, and the metaphysics of Descartes and Locke. Thus, more broadly, we will be (selectively) surveying the philosophy of body in the early modern period.
Philosophy 5230 Studies in 17th-Century Philosophy: Descartes, Malebranche, Berkeley
This course will be based on a close reading of some of the central philosophical texts of Descartes, Malebranche, and Berkeley, emphasizing their interconnections. We will begin by considering Descartes, whose break from Aristotelianism permanently altered the philosophical landscape of the 17th century. We will next turn to Nicolas Malebranche, who regarded himself as a disciple of Descartes (i.e. a Cartesian), but who was in many respects a “deviant Cartesian”. That is, Malebranche departs in many important respects from Descartes’ views, in part because he has other philosophical influences (notably Augustine), but also because he sees serious philosophical difficulties with certain of Descartes’ doctrines. Finally, we will turn to the works of George Berkeley, the Irish bishop who is today more commonly studied in conjunction with his fellow “empiricists” Locke and Hume, but who was often labeled in his own time (despite his protests) as a follower of Malebranche. Though Berkeley is in many respects dramatically opposed to Descartes’ views, the influence of Malebranche (and even of Descartes) on his thought is manifest.
Prerequisite: 3230 or 3240 and 6 credit hours of Philosophy course work at the 2000 level or above.
I have been awarded a Special Assignment by OSU, i.e. one semester’s release from regular duties in order to pursue full-time research.