My Research: The Elevator Pitch


My interest in early modern philosophy began with trying to understand how Descartes came to be thought of as the arch-rationalist, despite his intense interest and engagement with experiment and observation. I wrote my dissertation in this vein, exploring how experimentalism and empiricism were used in the Cartesian school of thought. Ultimately, I argue that Descartes and his followers developed a two-fold interrelated methodology which embraced rationalism only in certain well-defined categories and a robust dependence on experiment everywhere else.


Recently, I have been exploring how the ever-expanding knowledge of anatomy in the 17th century influenced metaphysical and ethical theories. Specifically, I am interested in how dedicated dualists accounted for variation among human abilities as more and more abilities were located in the brain or other organs. Some of the most prominent Cartesians, for example, embraced the rapidly expanding role for the brain, which led to a diminished role for the soul. I aim to show that a deeper understanding of this tension will reveal how these thinkers approached concepts of equality among peoples and sexes, as well as their broader metaphysical and epistemological theories.


As a long-term project, I am working on a monograph detailing the various attempts to expand the Cartesian system. Famously, Descartes did not write a complete ethics, treatise on animals, or political theory, but early Cartesian textbook writers did not let that stop them. Detailing the innovations and inevitable problems in expanding Cartesian philosophy is a treasure trove of novel philosophical concepts and interpretive dilemmas (especially in the ethical theories). A study of this Cartesian expansion also gives us better perspective to understand the philosophical currents of the day as well as more interpretive tools to understand the philosophy of Descartes himself.