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Durham University

Department of Philosophy

History of Philosophy

History of philosophy is a concern of most staff in the Durham Department, and their interests range from Ancient Greek philosophy to the philosophy of the 20th century, taking in medieval philosophy, rationalism, and empiricism. Figures whose work we research include Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein and Anscombe. Historians of philosophy affirm a close relation between philosophy and its history, holding that the study of the history of philosophy is itself part of philosophy – in contrast to the study of the history of science, which is not part of science. As philosopher Wilfrid Sellars commented, "The history of philosophy is the lingua franca which makes communication between philosophers, at least of different points of view, possible. Philosophy without the history of philosophy, if not empty or blind, is at least dumb". It facilitates communication in the same way that knowledge of standards is the lingua franca of jazz improvisation. In doing history of philosophy, one is doing philosophy itself, understanding it more deeply through investigating the historical origins of problems discussed today. To say this, is to endorse a humanistic as opposed to scientistic conception of philosophy. Only the former can properly acknowledge the philosophical classics, which are a continuing source of philosophical enrichment. Philosophy is here aligned with the humanities – theology, politics, the arts, history, literary studies. Concern with its own history is implicit in philosophical practice as far back as Plato and Aristotle, who tried to overcome – or at least come to terms with – the arguments of their predecessors. That is still the concern of Philosophy today.


Dr Jeremy Dunham - Metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of mind in early modern and nineteenth-century philosophy


Dr Matthew Eddy - Seventeenth- to nineteenth-century forms of scientific representation and argumentation, including historical conceptions of mind, memory, matter, time, language, visuality, informatics, human origins and religion

Prof Andy Hamilton - Aesthetics (esp. Kant and Adorno), aesthetics of music especially improvisation, Wittgenstein, political philosophy (esp. the relation of liberalism and conservatism, self-consciousness)

Dr Clare Mac Cumhaill - Aesthetics and perception, especially the nature of visual representation, aesthetic emotion and metacognitive feeling

Prof Holger Maehle - Ethical issues in the history of medicine, history of medicine and the life sciences, history of pharmacology, history of stem cell research, medical confidentiality and patient privacy

Prof Anna Marmodoro - Ancient, late antiquity and medieval philosophy, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion

Dr Joe Saunders - ethics and agency in Kant and the post-Kantian tradition, philosophy of love, media ethics

Dr Benedict Smith - Ethics, moral philosophy, philosophy of mind, epistemology, history of philosophy, philosophy of psychiatry

Dr Richard Stopford - Aesthetics, Adorno, critical theory, post-Kantian philosophy, contemporary metaphysics

Dr Emily Thomas - History of metaphysics

Dr Sara L. Uckelman - Mathematical Logic, Medieval logic, modal logic, onomastics, philosophical logic, philosophy of fiction, philosophy of language

Dr Peter Vickers - Inconsistency in science, scientific realism/anti-realism, eliminativism and pluralism, the methodology of philosophy of science (esp. prospects for integrated history and philosophy of science)

View our Post-Graduate Members here

Recent Research Projects


Principal Investigator: Dr Emily Thomas

Conference 11–12th Sept 2017, University of Durham

What is time? Is the past real? Does the present really move? These questions are debated by contemporary metaphysicians of time, and the debates are informed by work on time that occurred in the twentieth century, by philosophers such as J. M. E. McTaggart, Henri Bergson, C. D. Broad, Susan Stebbing, Martin Heidegger, Samuel Alexander, J. J. C. Smart, and Arthur Prior. Two groups of thinkers are working on these kinds of issues - contemporary metaphysics of time, and historians of time in twentieth century philosophy - and this conference will bring both groups together. The major part of the conference will allow cutting edge metaphysicians to share their work with cutting edge historians of philosophy. The minor part of the conference will explore ways that historians and philosophers of time can achieve impact beyond the academy.

This work is funded through a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award.

(IN PARENTHESIS) (2016–2018)

Principal Investigator: Clare MacCumhaill

The history of twentieth-century philosophy is still being written. This project will ensure that the work of a remarkable group of women philosophers -- Mary Midgley, Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, and Philippa Foot -- is at the centre of that history. Combining archival work, reading groups, interviews, and philosophical research, we are arguing that these women represent a distinctive philosophical school, whose methods and insights are of deep relevant today.

This project is funded by a 2 year 'Small Research Grant' from the British Academy. It will provide support for a research assistant.

Find out more ...


Principal Investigator: Dr Emily Thomas

What is time? During the early modern period, a new answer emerged: time is ‘absolute’, in the sense it exists independently of human minds and material bodies. This thesis had a huge impact, affecting natural philosophy and theology, as well as existing metaphysics of change, freewill, personal identity, and idealism. However, existing scholarship focuses on early modern accounts of space, and neglects time. This project addresses that problem, providing a sustained study of the development of time in early modern British metaphysics. Along the way, it recovers the work of women philosophers who have traditionally been neglected in the histories of our discipline.
This project is funded by a Netherlands Research Council (NWO) Veni grant.

Recent Books

Jeremy Dunham (ed. with Pauline Phemister) - Monadologies

According to the received view, Kant’s critical revolution put an end to the kind of metaphysics of which Leibniz’s ‘Monadology’ is the example par excellence. This volume challenges Kant’s claim by providing a far more nuanced version of philosophy’s ‘post-Kantian’ tradition that spans from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century and brings to light a rich tradition of new ‘monadologists’, many of whom have been unjustifiably forgotten by contemporary historians of philosophy. Through this complex dialogue, monadology is shown to be a remarkably fecund hypothesis, with many possible variations and developments. The volume’s focus on monadology exposes the depth and breadth of the post-Kantian period in an original and previously unexplored way and opens up numerous avenues for future research. Crucially, however, this volume not only shows that monadological metaphysics did continue after Kant but also asks the critical question of whether it should have done so. Consequently, the question of whether monadological metaphysics could also have a future is shown to be relevant in a way that was previously almost inconceivable.

Jeremy Dunham (with Iain Hamilton Grant and Sean Watson) - Idealism: The History of a Philosophy

Idealism is philosophy on a grand scale, combining micro and macroscopic problems into systematic accounts of everything from the nature of the universe to the particulars of human feeling. In consequence, it offers perspectives on everything from the natural to the social sciences, from ecology to critical theory. Heavily criticised by the dominant philosophies of the 20th Century, Idealism is now being reconsidered as a rich and untapped resource for contemporary philosophical arguments and concepts. This volume provides a comprehensive portrait of the major arguments and philosophers in the Idealist tradition. The book demonstrates how Idealist philosophy provides a fruitful way of understanding contemporary issues in metaphysics, the philosophy of science, political philosophy, scientific theory and critical social theory.

Andy Hamilton - Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Wittgenstein and On Certainty

Ludwig Wittgenstein is arguably the most important philosopher of the twentieth century. In On Certainty he discusses central issues in epistemology, including the nature of knowledge and scepticism. The Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Wittgenstein and On Certainty introduces and assesses:

  • Wittgenstein's career and the background to his later philosophy
  • the central ideas and text of On Certainty, including its responses to G.E. Moore and discussion of fundamental issues in the theory of knowledge
  • Wittgenstein's continuing importance in contemporary philosophy.

This GuideBook is essential reading for all students of Wittgenstein, and for those studying epistemology and philosophy of language. On Certainty, Wittgenstein's final work, addresses a category of "world-picture" propositions discovered by G.E. Moore. These challenge Wittgenstein's enduring commitment to a well-defined category of empirical propositions, and help to generate a critique of scepticism. Developing Wittgenstein's view that scepticism is self-undermining, the Guidebook offers a combative yet therapeutic interpretation that locates On Certainty between the standpoints of Kant and Hume.

Emily Thomas - Absolute Time: Rifts in Early Modern British Metaphysics

The first study of absolute time, covering British philosophy from 1640-1730. It advances new readings of many thinkers, including Henry More, Walter Charleton, Isaac Barrow, Isaac Newton, John Locke, Samuel Clarke, and John Jackson.

Emily Thomas (ed.) - Early Modern Women on Metaphysics

TThe first book on the metaphysics of neglected early modern women philosophers, including Anna Maria van Schurman, Elisabeth of Bohemia, Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, Damaris Masham, Mary Astell, Catharine Cockburn, and Émilie du Chatelet.

Rachael Wiseman - Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Anscombe's Intention

G. E. M. Anscombe’s Intention is a classic of twentieth-century philosophy. The work has been enormously influential despite being a dense and largely misunderstood text. It is a standard reference point for anyone engaging with philosophy of action and philosophy of psychology.

In this Routledge Philosophy GuideBook, Rachael Wiseman:

  • situates Intention in relation to Anscombe’s moral philosophy and philosophy of mind
  • considers the influence of Aquinas, Aristotle, Frege, and Wittgenstein on the method and content of Intentionadopts a structure for assessing the text that shows how Anscombe unifies the three aspects of the concept of intention
  • considers the influence and implications of the piece whilst distinguishing it from subsequent work in the philosophy of action

Ideal for anyone wanting to understand and gain a perspective on Elizabeth Anscombe’s seminal work, this guide is an essential introduction, useful in the study of the philosophy of action, ethics, philosophy of psychology and related areas.