Professor Thomas Ahnert (MA, PhD, FRHistS)
Professor of Intellectual History; History
I read history at St John’s College, Cambridge, graduating with a PhD in 1999. I then worked in the Munich office of an international management consultancy, before accepting a three-year research fellowship at Edinburgh which was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. I was appointed to a lectureship in History in 2005, and subsequently promoted to Senior Lecturer, Reader, and Professor.
I have been the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the Max-Planck Institut für Geschichte in Göttingen. In 2010 – 2011 I was the Rosanna and Charles Jaffin Founders’ Circle Member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In 2019 I was a Shinhan Distinguished Visiting Professor at Yonsei University in South Korea
From 2022 to 2025 I am PI on a research project, funded jointly by the AHRC and the DFG, on 'Rethinking Enlightenment: the Reception of John Locke in Germany'.
Responsibilities & affiliations
Intellectual History from Montesquieu to Marx (3/4 Option)
Enlightenment Scotland, c. 1690 – c. 1800 (4MA)
Early Modern History: a Connected World
The 'Science of Man' in the Scottish Enlightenment
Open to PhD supervision enquiries?
Areas of interest for supervision
Areas accepting Research Students in:
Early modern European intellectual history, c. 1600 - 1830
Process of intellectual transmission and reception
The European Enlightenments
Religion and secularisation in the early modern period
The intellectual history of early modern philosophy
Past PhD students supervised
I have supervised (as primary, co-, or second supervisor) more than twenty successfully completed PhD dissertations
- Britain & Ireland
- Medicine, Science & Technology
- Early Modern
- Eighteenth Century
I work on the intellectual history of early modern Europe, focusing mainly on the German-speaking lands and Britain from c. 1650 to c. 1820. One of my aims is to integrate the discussion of early modern religious thought into intellectual history more generally. Another has been to examine the connections between different intellectual disciplines in the early modern period, when any one area of inquiry and debate, such as religion, science, or morality, cannot be understood in isolation from others. This approach is reflected in my first book, a study of the early Enlightenment thinker Christian Thomasius, who wrote on matters as diverse as heresy, history, Roman Law, morality and natural science.
I have published articles and book chapters on a range of subjects such as religion and Enlightenment, the history of toleration, notions of punishment in early modern moral philosophy, Enlightenment responses to the intellectual heritage of classical antiquity, and the reception of Newtonian science in Germany. I have edited and translated several early modern texts on law and moral philosophy. I co-edited, with the late Susan Manning, a volume of essays on Character, Self and Sociability in the Scottish Enlightenment. My most recent monograph is The Moral Culture of the Scottish Enlightenment, 1690 - 1805.
I have an interest in the reception of classical Greek and Roman thought in the Enlightenment. In 2009 I co-organized (with Michael Lurie and Hannah Dawson) an international conference on Lucretius in the European Enlightenments. This was followed by a series of workshops, organized with Colin Kidd, which was funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The purpose of these meetings was to examine the importance of the critical engagement with classical antiquity for the culture and thought of Enlightenment Scotland.
Current research interestsI am currently writing a book about the reception of Newton and Newtonianism in eighteenth-century Germany. The aim of this study is to present the responses to Newton’s ideas in Enlightenment Germany as part of a more general intellectual history of eighteenth-century erudition, scholarship and philosophy, the concerns of which extend far beyond those of ‘science’ in a narrow sense. It is now well known that eighteenth-century natural philosophers were not constrained by the same disciplinary boundaries as we are. And yet, there is no comprehensive study of the responses to Newton in eighteenth-century Germany which reflects this fact.
I have recently been working on the reception of Newtonianism in the German-speaking lands, from the publication of Newton's Principia in 1687 to the early nineteenth century. This research has been supported by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust.
Watch a short video of Dr Ahnert speaking about his rearch interests - Media Hopper
The Moral Culture of the Scottish Enlightenment, 1690 - 1805 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015).
Religion and the Origins of the German Enlightenment: faith and the reform of learning in the thought of Christian Thomasius (Rochester, N.Y: University of Rochester Press, 2006).
Christian Wolff. The Law of Nations treated according to the Scientific Method, edited and with a revised translation by Thomas Ahnert (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2017).
Christian Thomasius. Institutes of Divine Jurisprudence, with Selections from Foundations of the Law of Nature & Nations, edited and translated by Thomas Ahnert (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011).
Johann Gottlieb Heineccius. A Methodical System of Universal Law: Or, the Laws of Nature and Nations: With Supplements and a Discourse by George Turnbull, co-edited with Peter Schröder (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
Christian Thomasius. Essays on Church, State, and Politics, co-edited and -translated with Ian Hunter and Frank Grunert (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007).
Edited Collections and Journal Special Issues
Character, Self and Sociability in the Scottish Enlightenment, co-edited with Susan Manning (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)
'Nicholas Phillipson and the Sciences of Humankind in Enlightenment Scotland'. Special issue, History of European Ideas 48/1 (2022), pp. 1 - 65.
Selected Articles and Chapters
'The Metaphysics of Moral Entities', in: Knud Haakonssen and Ian Hunter (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Pufendorf (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023), pp. 90-109.
'Another querelle. The Usus Modernus Pandectarum and the Constitution of the Holy Roman Empire around 1700', in: Thomas Wallnig and Ines Peper (eds.), Central European Pasts. Old and New in the Intellectual Cuture of Habsburg Europe, 1700 - 1750 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2022), pp. 292-310.
'Scotland and the European Republic of Letters around 1700', co-authored with Martha McGill, in: Alexander Broadie (ed.), A History of Scottish Philosophy: Scottish Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), pp. 73-93.
'Philosophy and Theology in the mid-eighteenth Century', in: David Fergusson and Mark Elliott (eds.), The History of Scottish Theology: The Early Enlightenment to the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 56-68.
'Newton in the German-speaking Lands', in: Scott Mandelbrote and Helmut Pulte (eds.), The Reception of Isaac Newton in Europe (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), pp. 41-58.
'Forum: The German Enlightenment', co-authored with E. Décultot, S. Grote, I. Michelangelo-D'Aprile, A. Lifschitz, German history, 35(4) (2017), pp. 588–602.
'Soul and Mind', in: Aaron Garrett (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Eighteenth-Century Philosophy (London and New York: Taylor & Francis, 2014), pp. 297-319.
'Samuel Pufendorf and Religious Intolerance in the Early Enlightenment', in: Jon Parkin and Tim Stanton (eds.), Natural Law and Toleration in the Early Enlightenment. Proceedings of the British Academy (Oxford: Oxford University Press/British Academy, 2013), pp. 15-33
'Religion and Morality', in: James Harris (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 638-657.
'The Moral Education of Mankind: Character and Religious Moderatism in the Sermons of Hugh Blair', in: Thomas Ahnert and Susan Manning (eds.), Character, Self, and Sociability in the Scottish Enlightenment (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp. 67-84.
'Fortschrittsgeschichte und Religiöse Aufklärung. William Robertson und die Deutung aussereuropäischer Kulturen', in: Wolfgang Hardtwig, Die Aufklärung und Ihre Weltwirkung (=Geschichte und Gesellschaft special issue 23) (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010), pp. 101-122.
'Hutcheson and the Heathen Moralists', Journal of Scottish Philosophy, 8 (2010), pp. 51 – 62.
'Epicureanism and the Transformation of Natural Law in the Early German Enlightenment', in: Neven Leddy and Avi Lifschitz (eds.), Epicurus in the Enlightenment: Mode d'emploi. Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2009), pp. 53-68.
'Clergymen as Polite Philosophers. Douglas and the Conflict between Moderates and Orthodox in the Scottish Enlightenment', Intellectual History Review, 18 (2008), pp. 375-383.
'The "Science of Man" in the Moral and Political Philosophy of George Turnbull, 1698-1748', Acta Philosophica Fennica , 83 (2007), pp. 89-104.
'Enthusiasm and Enlightenment: the reform of faith and the reform of philosophy in the thought of Christian Thomasius', Modern Intellectual History, 2 (2005), pp. 153-177.
'Newtonianism in early Enlightenment Germany, c. 1720 to 1750: metaphysics and the critique of dogmatic philosophy', Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 35 (2004), pp. 471-91.
'The soul, moral philosophy and natural religion in the Scottish Enlightenment', Eighteenth Century Thought, 2 (2004), pp. 233-253.
'De Sympathia et Antipathia Rerum: Natural Law, Religion and the Rejection of Mechanistic Science in the Works of Christian Thomasius', in: Tim Hochstrasser and P. Schröder (eds.), Early Modern Natural Law Theories: Contexts and Strategies in the Early Enlightenment. International Archives of the History of Ideas 186 (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003), pp. 257-277.
'Nullius in verba: Autorität und Experiment in der Frühen Neuzeit. Das Beispiel Johann Christoph Sturms (1635-1703)', Zeitsprünge, 1/7 (2003), pp. 604-618.
'The relationship between the Prince and the Church in the Thought of Christian Thomasius', in: Ian Hunter and D. Saunders (eds.), Natural Law and Civil Sovereignty. Moral Right and State Authority in Early Modern Political Thought (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), pp. 91-106.
'The Varieties of Contexts in Early Stuart Intellectual History', Historical Journal, 44 (2001), pp. 565-577
'Roman Law in early Enlightenment Germany. The case of Christian Thomasius' De Aequitate Cerebrina Legis Secundae Codicis de Rescindenda Venditione (1706)', Ius Commune: Zeitschrift für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte, XXIV (1997), pp. 153-170.