Early Modern History and Philosophy of Science

The early modern period stretches roughly from the 15th through the mid-18th centuries. This period includes the scientific revolution and the birth of modern philosophy and also significant transformations in mathematics, mechanics, optics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, and medicine. It also sees the rise of probabilistic reasoning, the emergence of new views of objectivity, metaphysics and epistemology, and witnesses deep changes in the wider culture of Western civilization.

This program offers the possibility of examining the theory and practice of early modern forms of cognition, the aftermath and re-orientations brought by crises and reformations in religion, the creation of democratic governments and the rise of the nation state, the emergence of new genres in literature, painting and music, the institution of capitalism, the establishment of humanism, the introduction of new technologies, legal and educational reforms, and new causes and ways of warfare. In short, one may study contextually the nature and roles of philosophy and science as they played their part in the birth of the modern world.

The program in early modern science and philosophy is intended to allow students interested in this period to develop their talents through a wide variety of seminars, informal discussions, and the availability of research materials. Students must still fulfill all HPS requirements.

The department is able to offer a generous package of financial support to most successful applicants for admission and has an excellent record of placing its PhD graduates in academic positions.

Participating Faculty

Stephen Engstrom (Philosophy) Metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, with a focus on Kant and other modern philosophers, including Descartes, Leibniz, and Hume.

Marian J.R. Gilton (HPS) Early modern conceptions of space and time; du Châtelet and other early modern women of science; Newtonian physics; and the rise and fall of scholasticism. 

Paolo Palmieri (HPS)16th- and 17th-century Aristotelian natural philosophy, Renaissance and early modern mathematics, atomism, the mathematization of nature, Galileo and the Galilean school, Newton’s mechanics, and rational mechanics in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Nicholas Rescher (Philosophy) Leibniz and his intellectual and social context; early modern philosophy.

Adam Shear (Religious Studies) Jewish intellectual and cultural history, particularly in early modern Italy and Western and Central Europe; the history of Jewish-Christian relations, the history of reading and writing and the transmission of learning in early modern Europe; the status of canonical and classical works in particular communities and their role in the formation of intellectual, cultural, and religious identities.

John Twyning (English) Epistemological connections between English literature, landscape and architecture: English drama and Dutch painting; London underworlds; politics and poetics in England as Arcady; the Protestant princess in her place.

Emeritus Faculty

Bernard Goldstein (HPS and Religious Studies, Emeritus) History of astronomy and the other exact sciences, science and religion in the early modern period

Janelle Greenberg (History. Emeritus) Medieval and early modern political and legal institutions of England and the European continent, concentrating in particular on the growth of common law, canon law, and Roman law as well as representative government.

Ann Sutherland Harris (History of Art and Architecture, Emeritus) Italian 17th-century painting and sculpture (Annibale Carracci and his circle, G. L. Bernini’s drawings and their role in Bernini’s production; artists’ education and the role of academies; art theory and practice); gender issues (women artists; images of women in 16th-to-18th century art); French 17th-century painting (Simon Vouet, Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain and landscape painting). She completed a survey text on 17th Century European Art and Architecture (Britain, the Dutch republic, the Spanish Netherlands, France, Spain and Italy) for Lawrence King, London (8/2004).

James Lennox (HPS emeritus) Aristotle’s natural philosophy (especially biology) and philosophy of science; Galileo, Robert Boyle, William Harvey and Spinoza; the School of Medicine and Philosophy at Padua in the 16th Century and its Aristotelianism.

Kenneth Manders (Philosophy) Descartes and 17th-century mathematics.

J.E.McGuire (HPS, emeritus) Newton, Leibniz, Descartes, and other early modern figures; interactions between science, philosophy and society in the 17th and 18th centuries; the scientific revolution and its historical background; the rise of the individual and new forms of cognition in the early modern period

Recent Dissertation Projects

Kathryn Tabb, "Mad Errors: Associated Ideas, Enthusiasm, and Personal Identity in Locke”.

Marcus Adams, "Mechanical Epistemology and Mixed Mathematics: Descartes’s Problems and Hobbes’s Unity".

Peter Distelzweig, "Descartes' Teleomechanics in Medical Context: Approaches to Integrating Mechanism and Teleology in Hieronymus Fabricius ab Aquapendente, William Harvey and René Descartes".

Zvi Biener, “The Unity and Structure of Knowledge: Subalternation, Demonstration, and the Geometrical Manner in Scholastic-Aristotelianism and Descartes”.

Brian Hepburn, “Equilibrium and Explanation in 18th Century Mechanics”. 

Francesca DiPoppa, “'God acts through the laws of his nature alone': From the Nihil ex Nihilo axiom to causation as expression in Spinoza's metaphysics”. 

Abel Franco, “Descartes' Theory of Passions”. 

David Miller, “Representations of Space in Seventeenth Century Physics”.

Abel Franco, “Descartes' theory of passions”. 

David Miller, “Representations of Space in Seventeenth Century Physics”.