I work primarily on early modern moral psychology. Some of the questions most central to my research include: What motivates human action? What is the nature of desire, how are we able to control our desires, and to what extent do we need to do so? What is it to be free? What is it to be a person? I currently have two major research projects in which I take up these questions in the philosophical writings of John Locke and Ralph Cudworth.
Locke. My first project builds on my dissertation, John Locke and the Demand for Self-Determination. Locke is convinced both that desire determines us in willing all of our actions and that our desires are often irrational. Taken together, he worries that these two claims threaten to undermine human freedom, rendering us slaves to the vicissitudes of desire. One of Locke’s chief tasks in the Essay’s discussion of human agency, therefore, is to explain how our rational capacities (reason, judgment, and the power to suspend desire) render us free despite the pervasive influence of desire. One upshot of my interpretation is that these rational capacities end up playing a much larger role in Locke’s account than is usually recognized.
Cudworth. My second project takes up similar questions in the philosophy of the “Cambridge Platonist” Ralph Cudworth. Best-known for his magnum opus, The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), Cudworth also left behind a series of five manuscripts containing his notes on a variety of topics in psychology, which he intended to turn into a treatise on free will. The shortest of these manuscripts was published in 1838 as A Treatise of Freewill, but the rest remain unpublished. Cudworth argues that traditional accounts of the mind have failed to offer an adequate explanation of free will, a failure that he attributes in large part to the misguided distinction between understanding and will. Cudworth thus proposes to discard this distinction and, in its absence, to develop a new psychological framework centered upon his novel account of (self-)consciousness. He then uses this framework to explain the nature of free will and of the mind’s power of “freewill”, which consists roughly in its ability self-consciously to reflect upon its desires and deliberate about what is best. Along the way, he develops sophisticated (and often prescient) views on a number of other philosophical topics. In moral epistemology, for example, he argues for a position that in some ways anticipates 18th-century moral sense theory. He also distinguishes the self (or person) from the soul to which this self is related, in some ways anticipating Locke’s celebrated discussion of personal identity in Essay 2.27.
- A paper on Locke’s doctrine of suspension.
- A paper on the intersection between Cudworth’s doctrine of freewill and his moral epistemology.
I’m revising a paper on Locke’s theory of motivation, finishing a paper on Cudworth’s doctrine of freewill, and beginning a project on Cudworth’s views about self-consciousness and personhood. I’m also beginning to make plans for a book-length project on Cudworth and a paper on the relation between Locke’s account of liberty and his doctrine of suspension.
John Locke and the Demand for Self-Determination
- “Cudworth on Freewill”, 16th Annual Atlantic Canada Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy, Dalhousie University, July 2019
- “Cudworth on Freewill”, 2019 Finnish-Hungarian Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy, University of Helsinki, June 2019
- “Cudworth on Freewill”, Dutch Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy VI, University of Groningen, May 2019
- “Cudworth on Freewill: A More Plausible Libertarianism?”, Cambridge Platonism and the Origin of the “Philosophy of Religion”, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, May 2019
- “Ralph Cudworth’s Epistemology of Love”, The Ontology of Love, University of Cambridge, April 2019
- “Cudworth on Freewill,” Department Colloquium, York University, April 2019
- “Ralph Cudworth on Freewill (and the Compatibility of Freewill and Divine Grace)”, The D Society, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, March 2019
- “The Role of Desire in Cudworth’s Account of Agency”, Agency in Early Modern Philosophy Workshop, University College Dublin, September 2018
- “Locke on the Motivation to Suspend Desire”, 15th Annual Atlantic Canada Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy, Dalhousie University, July 2018
- “Locke’s Gatekeeper”, The 8th Margaret Dauler Wilson Philosophy Conference, SUNY Buffalo, June 2018
- “Locke and the Possibility of Self-Control”, 2018 Annual Congress of the Canadian Philosophical Association, Université du Quebec à Montreal, June 2018
- “The Gatekeeper of the Will: On Locke’s Claim that Judgment and Desire Both Determine the Will”, 2017 Annual Congress of the Canadian Philosophical Association, May 2017
- “Locke on Persons, Kinds, and Composite Ideas”, History of Early Modern Philosophy Working Group, University of Toronto, March 2017
- “Locke on Persons and Substance-Mode Composites”, Dutch Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy IV, University of Groningen, February 2017
- “Locke on Judgment, Desire, and Weakness of Will”, History of Philosophy Works in Progress, Harvard University, November 2016
- “Cudworth on Personality”, Personal Identity in the History of Philosophy, University of Melbourne, August 2016
- “Locke, Cudworth, and the Vulgar: What’s Wrong With Really Distinct Faculties?”, 13th Annual Atlantic Canada Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy, Dalhousie University, July 2016
- “Cudworth on Reason and Moral Knowledge”, The 7th Margaret Dauler Wilson Philosophy Conference, Northern Arizona University, June 2016
- “Cudworth on Reason and Moral Knowledge”, Scottish Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy VII, University of St. Andrews, May 2016
- “Cudworth on Reason and Moral Knowledge”, Harvard-Yale Graduate Workshop in the History of Philosophy, Harvard University, April 2016
- “Reconciling Freedom and Suspension: Locke on freedom of the will and ‘the source of all liberty’”, Locke Workshop, Yale University, October 2014
- On Ruth Boeker, “Locke on Vital Union”, Vitalism in Early Modern Philosophy, Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, March 2019
- On Elisabeth Thorsson, “Revisiting Locke’s Thinking Matter: A Third Way?”, 2018 Locke Workshop, Mansfield College, University of Oxford, July 2018
- On Elliot Rossiter, “Mixed Modes and Moral Epistemology in John Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding”, 2018 Annual Congress of the Canadian Philosophical Association, Université du Quebec à Montreal, June 2018
- On Ruth Boeker, Chapter 2 of Locke on Persons and Personal Identity, Book Workshop on Locke on Persons and Personal Identity by Ruth Boeker, Columbia University, March 2018
- On Julie Walsh, “Malebranche and the Tension Between Virtue and Goodwill”, The Society for Early Modern Philosophy at Yale (SEMPY), November 2015
- On Stephen Darwall, “Cudworth, Shaftesbury, and Leibniz”, The Society for Early Modern Philosophy at Yale (SEMPY), October 2015
- On Kenneth Winkler, “The Scope of Sensitive Knowledge”, The Society for Early Modern Philosophy at Yale (SEMPY), December 2014
- On Martha Bolton, “Locke on Substance and Identity: a Univocal and Internally Consistent Theory”, Locke Workshop, Yale University, October 2014