School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences Philosophy


Early Modern Philosophy @ Edinburgh


The history of modern philosophy is an integral part of the ongoing debates that constitute philosophical practice. An understanding of the sometimes radically different ways in which figures from the past conceived human nature and the world is important not only in itself, but also insofar as it deepens and questions current analyses. Our core expertise is in early modern philosophy (Hobbes to Hume), but our interests also extend to subsequent developments from the German Romantics to British Hegelians. Within these periods, Early Modern Philosophy members address issues in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind and language, philosophy of nature, philosophy of science, as well as moral and political theory.

Our research intersects with that of the other research clusters in Philosophy at Edinburgh. Early modern reactions to the ancients and our work on early modern theories of causation, perception and ideas underpin our research links to the Ancient Philosophy and Epistemology research clusters. Our research on the moral and political philosophy of Hobbes and Locke maintains close synergies with the Ethics research cluster. The early modern philosophy-led interdisciplinary research project on Embodied Values resonates with key themes in the Mind and Cognition research cluster. More recently, the work conducted as part of the Leverhulme-funded Kant and the Laws of Nature project (hosted by Edinburgh's Eidyn Research Centre) connects themes in early modern philosophy with work conducted by members of our Philosophy of Science research cluster.

The early modern philosophy grouping also maintains close links with faculty in the Departments of History, English and Science Studies and with the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. It plays an active part in REMSIS (Renaissance and Early Modern Studies in Scotland). The early modern philosophy grouping hosts research events in this area, such as international conferences, workshops, reading groups and the hosting of visiting scholars (for more details, see below).

Research projects

  • Kant and the Laws of Nature. Lessons from the Physical and the Life Sciences of the Eighteenth Century (2012-15)
  • Embodied Values (2010-12)

Research events

Recent and forthcoming events hosted by this research grouping include:


Conferences and Workshops

Reading Groups

  • Spring 2014: Eighteenth Century Monadologies Interdisciplinary Reading Group. Please contact Jeremy Dunham for further details.
  • Spring 2013: Kant/Schelling Interdisciplinary Reading group.
  • Summer 2011: Hume Reading Group.
  • Spring and autumn 2010: Hume's Essays (Aesthetics Reading Group).
  • Spring 2007: Malebranche, Search After Truth.

Past Events

A rich feast of University events to commemorate the tercentenary of the birth of David Hume took place throughout 2011. These included public lectures, theatre performances, exhibitions as well as academic lectures and seminar series.

The 38th International Hume Society Conference, Hume After 300 Years, was held at Old College, University of Edinburgh, 18 - 23 July 2011.


The core members of faculty who work in the history of modern philosophy are:

  • Andrew Mason is interested in 18th Century Scottish Philosophy, particularly ethics, aesthetics and philosophy of religion. He teaches a course on Hume's first Enquiry, and has recently launched a course on Philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment.
  • Michela Massimi is the author of "Kant and Philosophy of Science Today" (CUP, 2008). She works in both philosophy of science and early modern philosophy, especially Kant, and a series of themes at the intersection between history of philosophy and history of science. She is currently the Principal Investigator for a Leverhulme Trust international network grant on "Kant and the laws of nature. Lessons from the Physical and the Life Sciences of the Eighteenth Century", whose research activities (workshops, public lectures and conference) will span over a three-year period (November 2012 - October 2015), and will involve eight institutions, nationally and internationally.
  • Pauline Phemister is author of Leibniz and the Natural World and The Rationalists: Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz and has recently completed an abridged edition of John Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding for Oxford World Classics. She is currently working on a book on seventeenth century philosophy and a book on philosophy of nature from the early modern period to the present day.
  • Alasdair Richmond is author of the Reader's Guide to Berkeley's Principles of Human Knowledge (Continuum). His recent research has focused on the metaphysics of time but he retains interests in philosophy of science, the British empiricists, epistemology and the philosophy of explanation. His forthcoming papers include an application of probabilistic Doomsday-style reasoning to Cartesian dualism and Descartes' conception of immortality. He is currently investigating Bayesian interpretations of Hume's account of miracles, Hume's probabilistic psychology and compatibilism and Berkeley’s immaterialism.
  • Michael Ridge works primarily in moral theory, with an emphasis on metaethics. His current research focuses on the defence of a novel form of expressivism, a view which finds inspiration in the work of David Hume. He has published previously on the intersection of Hume's moral theory and his epistemology.

Other staff in philosophy and in the wider university community at Edinburgh interested in the history of modern philosophy include Dr Jeremy Dunham (Philosophy), Dr Nicholas Phillipson (History), Dr Thomas Ahnert (History), and Dr Emily Brady (Geography), Professor David Fergusson (Divinity), Professor Charlie Withers (Geography), Professor John Cairns (Law).

Visiting Scholars in Philosophy





Visiting Scholars in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, 2010-11

  • Professor Lorraine Code, York University, Toronto (January - April 2011)
  • Professor Don Garrett, Carnegie Centenary Professor, New York University (May - August 2011)
  • Dr Axel Gelfert, National University of Singapore (January - June 2011)
  • Dr Peter Millican, IASH David Hume Illumni Fellow, Hertford College, University of Oxford (January - June 2010 and January - July 2011)
  • Professor Daniel Schulthess, University of Neuchatel (February - May 2011)
  • Professor Kiyoshi Shimokawa, Gakushuin University, Tokyo (July - September 2011; January - March 2012)

Previous fellows include:

  • Professor John Haldane, (University of St. Andrews), September - December 2008.
  • Dr Tom Toremans, (Katholieke Universiteit Brussel), October - December 2008.
  • Dr Lívia Guimaraes, (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil), December 2008 - March 2009.
  • Dr Leemon McHenry, (California State University), January - June 2009.
  • Dr Axel Gelfert, (National University of Singapore), May 2009 - July 2009.
  • Professor Peter Loptson, (University of Guelph), 2007.

Research affiliations

The History of Modern Philosophy grouping’s interests fit closely with research themes at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), particularly Dialogues of Enlightenment and the Science of Man. Edinburgh University’s Renaissance and Early Modern Studies in Scotland (REMSIS) group hosts regular seminars on renaissance and early modern themes.

Drs Dawson and Phemister serve on the Executive Committee of the British Society for the History of Philosophy.


Postgraduates may study for the Philosophy Taught MSc specialisation in early modern philosophy or conduct research in a topic in early modern philosophy, registering for either the PhD in Philosophy or the Research MSc in Philosophy.

If you are interested in doing research in history of modern philosophy at the University of Edinburgh then contact Dr Pauline Phemister who will be pleased to help.