Early modern philosophy

From Descartes to Kant, covering metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind and language, philosophy of nature, philosophy of science, moral and political theory

We are interested in exploring and understanding early modern philosophy: how thinkers from the 17th and 18th centuries perceived and participated in philosophical debates on topics such as ethics, language, science, and the nature of existence. Understanding 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 in helping us deepen our understanding and critique of current philosophical thought.

Our core expertise is in early modern philosophy (Descartes to Kant), but our interests also extend to subsequent developments from the German Romantics to British Hegelians. The early modern philosophy grouping maintains close links with faculty in the Departments of History, English and Science Studies, and with the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities with whom we collaborated on the Embodied Values project.

Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities

Embodied Values

Kant and the laws of nature


Core philosophy faculty working in this area include:


Research interests
Dr Alix Cohen

Early modern philosophy, Kant, Kantian ethics, Rousseau, Hume.

Dr Andrew Mason 18th century Scottish Philosophy, particularly ethics, aesthetics and philosophy of religion.

Professor Michela Massimi

Kant; Philosophy of Science; Early Modern Philosophy

Professor Pauline Phemister

17th century philosophy; Leibniz; Descartes; Spinoza; Locke; philosophy and the natural world
Dr Alasdair Richmond Berkeley; metaphysics of time; philosophy of science; British empiricists, epistemology and the philosophy of explanation; Bayesian interpretations

Dr Michael Ridge

Ethics; political philosophy; action theory; epistemology; philosophy of mind; philosophy of language

Other staff and post-docs (including those in other subject areas) with an interest in Early Modern Philosophy include:

Dr Thomas Ahnert (History)

Law and moral philosophy; intellectual history of early modern Europe; early modern religious thought; interdisciplinary connections in the early modern period; Enlightenment responses to classical antiquity; reception of Newtonian science in Germany 

Professor Emily Brady (GeoSciences)

Aesthetics and Environmental Ethics, especially: landscape and aesthetic values; aesthetics of nature in the history of philosophy; Kant's aesthetics; theories of imagination and emotion; environment and the self; aesthetics of the everyday; interdisciplinary animal studies
Professor John Cairns (Law) Legal thought and legal education in the Scottish enlightenment
Professor David Fergusson (Divinity)

Reformed theology from the 16th century to present day; relationship between church and society; political liberalism; natural sciences

Dr Nicholas Phillipson (History) Cultural and intellectual history of early modern and modern Scotland, especially the Scottish enlightenment; early-modern British and French political thought
Professor Charlie Withers (GeoSciences) Historical geography of science; geography, travel and exploration; geography and the Enlightenment; histories of cartography

Postgraduate study

MSc Philosophy (specialisation in Early Modern Philosophy available)

PhD and MSc by Research programmes

For more information about postgraduate study in Early Modern Philosophy, contact Professor Pauline Phemister.

Email Pauline Phemister

Meetings and events

We regularly organise events around themes in Early Modern Philosophy, including conferences, seminars and reading groups.

Previous Early Modern Philosophy events