My research falls into two general areas, the history and philosophy of science, and the historiography of philosophy.
History and Philosophy and Science
My work concerns the interactions between traditional metaphysical ideas and the seventeenth-century mechanical philosophy. While the mechanical philosophy displaced many assumptions about the natural world, many traditional views about subjects including causation, creation, and substance, remained in place, albeit being transformed to fit the new intellectual circumstances.
I explore this philosophical transition through the works of G.W. Leibniz. I specifically focus on his formulation of the concept of the immaterial soul, which he refers to on a number of occasions throughout his mature period as a “spiritual” or “incorporeal” automaton. In my view, this formulation combines a traditional understanding of an immaterial, self-moving soul with that of a self-moving machine or automaton, itself an important conceptual tool for mechanical natural philosophers. In my dissertation, The Soul as Spiritual Automaton in Leibniz’s Synthetic Natural Philosophy, I situated Leibniz’s adoption of the idea of the “spiritual automaton” in the context of the seventeenth-century philosophy of nature and showed how helped Leibniz construct a vision of the natural world superior — in his view — to alternative conceptions including those found in Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Cudworth, and occasionalists such as Pierre Bayle.
My recent publications, “On Analogies in Leibniz’s Philosophy: Scientific Discovery and the Case of the Spiritual Automaton”, and “Self-Moving Machines and the Soul: Leibniz contra Spinoza on the Spiritual Automaton,” develop themes from the dissertation. I am also currently developing a book manuscript which further traces the way philosophers thought of the soul in terms of a self-moving machine or automaton in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In this book, I examine how the concept of the spiritual automaton also plays a role in recent French philosophy, notably within Gilles Deleuze’s machinic philosophy of nature.
The Historiography of Philosophy
In studying the historiography of philosophy, I am interested in how the views of historical figures regard the relationship between their ideas and how the history of philosophy shape their philosophical projects. Using Leibniz as an example, it is important to recognize that he did not view his philosophy as making a break with the prior history of philosophy. Instead, he explicitly sought to integrate ideas from the philosophical past into his philosophy. We therefore risk misunderstanding his thinking if we do not notice the way that he perceives his own views as expressing older concepts and commitments.
I am interested in developing a global perspective on philosophical history that both includes intellectual traditions from outside of Europe and recognizes the historical significance of the cross-cultural interaction of ideas. I am beginning to work on a book project entitled Leibniz’s Library: Leibniz as a Reader of the Global History of Philosophy. In the book, I argue that in approaching Leibniz’s philosophy, we need to take into account its specific mode of relation to the history of philosophy. Insofar as Leibniz seeks to “condemn nothing and profit from what is good everywhere,” we need to read his philosophical system as bringing together the best insights from philosophical sources across multiple times, places, and philosophical schools.