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The Department for Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Utrecht is looking for an Assistant professor in the history of modern philosophy (0.75 fte).

The Role

The Department for Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Utrecht is looking for an assistant professor (0.75 fte) in the field of the history of modern philosophy, with a focus on the history of philosophy starting with, and after, the Enlightenment. This assistant professor will also teach within the BA-programme “Liberal Arts and Sciences” at the University of Utrecht. The position is part of the group for the “History of philosophy” within the department. Together with the group for “Theoretical philosophy” and the “Ethics Institute”, this group is responsible for the department’s research and teaching in philosophy. Within the programme “Liberal Arts and Sciences”, the assistant professor will work within a broad and interdisciplinary BA-programme that lets motivated students develop their talents and interests in various disciplinary fields. This programme is taught in Dutch.

The group for the “History of philosophy” has research foci in ancient philosophy, in early modern philosophy, and in modern philosophy (German Idealism, 19th century). The group stands in close interaction with the History and philosophy of science-group at Utrecht.

We are looking for a colleague who can give shape to research and teaching in the field of the history of philosophy after, and – given the candidate’s expertise – possibly also including, the Enlightenment. In research, the specific research accentuation will depend on the candidate’s expertise. Close cooperation with the “strategic themes” and/or “focus areas” of Utrecht University is desired, as well as cooperation with the other groups within the department.

As regards teaching, the assistant professor will teach on both BA- and MA-level, contribute to interdisciplinary teaching activities, supervise theses, and is available for administrative tasks concerning teaching, such as the development of teaching curricula or participation in the relevant committees.

The candidate is also expected to be available, in an amount that is adequate for this position, for other administrative tasks in the department and/or faculty.


The candidate

  • has finished her/his Ph.D.
  • has an international track record in research in the field of the history of modern philosophy, as documented by publications in international journals and/or with the important publishers in the field
  • has proven her/his ability to perform innovative research, and is willing and able to compete for national and international research grants
  • is an inspiring teacher who can develop and teach courses on both BA- and MA-level, as documented by a track record in teaching (and preferably a certificate in academic teaching)
  • has proven her/his interest in interdisciplinary teaching at BA-level
  • is able to coach students in their personal and academic development
  • has the ability to play an appropriate role in departmental management and to contribute fully to the academic life of the department
  • is able to teach in Dutch at the earliest possible moment


We offer a position for 0.75 fte (of which 70% will be devoted to teaching, and 30% to research), starting August 1st 2017. The initial appointment will be on a temporary basis for a period of two years. Subject to satisfactory performance, this will be followed by a permanent appointment. Salary depends on qualifications and experience and will range from € 3427,- to € 5330,- for a full time position, consistent with the CAO (Collective Employment Agreement) scale 11/12 for Dutch Universities.

Under the current CAO Utrecht University offers a pension scheme, a holiday allowance of 8% per year, an end-of-year bonus of 8.3% and flexible employment conditions.

Additional information

For more information, please contact prof. P. Ziche, p.g.ziche@uu.nl; for information over “Liberal Arts and Sciences”, please contact dr. I. van der Tuin, i.vandertuin@uu.nl.


Written applications should address the criteria mentioned under “Profile”, and include the following documents:

  • Motivation letter
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Description of the candidate’s teaching experience
  • Statement of research (in the form of a sketch for a – potential – research proposal, max. 2 pages)

Candidates who make the shortlist will be interviewed in person in Utrecht. The interviews will be held on April 5th, 2017.

Deadline for submitting your application is March 12th, 2017; submit your applications via the website of Utrecht University (https://www.uu.nl/organisatie/werken-bij-de-universiteit-utrecht/vacatures).

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Modern authors regularly published anonymously. Why did they do so, and to what effect? How to handle anonymous texts in scholarship? We discussed these topics in a recent panel on Anonymous Modern Philosophy with Julia Joráti, Alex Douglas, and Sandra Lapointe at the APA Pacific. Here you can listen to recordings of the talks:


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Ptolemy map

Sebastian Munster, Typus Orbis A Ptol. Descriptus (Basel, 1540)

A column by Jay Garfield and Bryan Van Norden about the persistently eurocentric, homogeneous curricula in philosophy departments has been making the rounds recently. The authors diagnose that:

The vast majority of philosophy departments in the United States offer courses only on philosophy derived from Europe and the English-speaking world. (…)

Given the importance of non-European traditions in both the history of world philosophy and in the contemporary world, and given the increasing numbers of students in our colleges and universities from non-European backgrounds, this is astonishing. No other humanities discipline demonstrates this systematic neglect of most of the civilizations in its domain. The present situation is hard to justify morally, politically, epistemically or as good educational and research training practice.

Garfield and Van Norden go on to suggest that, to be transparent about the situation, Departments would do well to rebrand themselves as ‘Department of European and American Philosophy’ or suchlike.

Here I won’t go into the branding question. It’s a provocative tool to get a conversation going. I also take Garfield and Van Norden’s underlying point to be valid: Yes, there has been a systematic neglect or exclusion of authors working in non-European traditions. My focus is on what their point means for some of the discussions about canon formation we’ve been having at The Mod Squad over the past years.

Efforts have been ongoing about what to do with the set of texts and authors that is perceived as ‘canonical’ for the history of early modern philosophy. That list has indeed for a long time included simply a list of works by white, male authors from Europe. Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Spinoza, Berkeley, Hume and Kant are standard candidates.

Last year we had a panel on the status of the modern canon (posted on this blog here). More recently we discussed how to teach Early Modern texts and which ones (here and here), and last month we ran a session on how to think about anonymous texts in philosophical scholarship. In a wider domain, projects such as the New Narratives in the History of Philosophy (lead by Lisa Shapiro, Marguerite Deslauriers, and Karen Detlefsen) and Project Vox at Duke are doing heavy duty work to incorporate new names and texts into the discussion.

These efforts are urgent, they are important, and must be pursued. I strongly support them and nothing said in what follows should be taken to detract from this work. But at the same time it becomes clear that in a certain respect, even these efforts have been systematically restricted. What we have sought to include, knowingly or unknowingly, are still predominantly works by well-off, white, European female authors. (Not exclusively, of course, and not under that description. But predominantly, and that’s already significant.)

Why have there not been like efforts to include authors from roughly the period between the 16th and 19th century working in, say, geographies of China, India, Ethiopia or Mexico? Why not teach works by, for example, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651–1695), Zera Yacob (1599–1692), or Yamaga Sokō (1622–1685)? There have been crucial efforts to be inclusive in our selection of texts, to diversify the curriculum. How come this work has still ended up being so systematically restricted?

For me, these are currently open questions. But I do want to flag two considerations that may come up specifically for the modern period.

First of all the naming—’Modern Philosophy’. Europe cherishes its scientific revolution. It’s one of the tools used to demarcate the ‘modern’ from the ‘not modern’. Did such revolutions occur simultaneously elsewhere in the world? Did they spur people to rethink the basic categories of nature? And if not, how could authors not so influenced fit in a survey of ‘modern’ philosophy?

However, I don’t see this as a big worry. The concern is artificial. Scholarship regularly uncovers is how seemingly modern ideas turn out to have non-modern roots and precursors. But learning that Descartes absorbed quite some Stoicism, making him perhaps less modern than we may have thought initially, does not require dropping him from the canon. If anything, what this concern about privileging modernity here brings out is how many course titles have a mild, evaluative resonance to them, where a more descriptive label such as ‘European Philosophy 1600-1900’ would do just as well.

Another concern may arise about coherence and scope. Texts produced outside the European or Euro-American cluster may not be produced within a single, unified tradition or sphere of influence. This can make it difficult to integrate such work into a coherent narrative when teaching students.

But this thought is unstable. Previous discussions on this blog have already brought out how, also within mainstream canonical texts, there just isn’t a single narrative or homogeneous philosophical development. Further, when did belonging to a uniform narrative of philosophical development become a requirement for being good research or teaching material? Philosophy’s history is messy. We have always needed to select. Precisely this need for selection offers opportunities. (A point noted by Peter Adamson in this recent post on the APA Blog.) What seems objectionable is to have our prime selection criterion be region of production.

Say that we recognize Garfield and Van Norden’s point as valid, and take it seriously. What would such a truly inclusive field of Modern Philosophy look like? How could it be taught effectively in a single course? It may look quite different from modern philosophy as many of us have been researching and teaching it so far.

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Interested in self-consciousness and personal identity? This week the Descartes Research Group at Western University, lead by Benjamin Hill, is holding a virtual masters seminar on Udo Thiel’s The Early Modern Subject (2011). Event details:

Friday April 29
9:00-11:00 am EDT
Western University
Arts & Humanities Building, Room 2R07

For virtual attendance, join here. The portal will open 30 minutes before the session begins.

Benjamin Hill writes:

“The session will involve Prof. Thiel answering questions and responding to critical reflections that the research group as well as a number of external experts have formulated. Philosophers interested in personal identity, consciousness, and their relationship will be especially interested in Prof Thiel’s thoughts.”

A great opportunity to dive into early modern identity questions (if you weren’t sucked into those already).

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Anonymous Modern Philosophy
Panel of the Society for Modern Philosophy
APA Pacific Division Meeting 2016
Thursday Evening, March 31: 8:00-10:00 P.M.


  • Juli Joráti (Ohio State): Early Modern vs. Medieval Anonymity
  • Alexander X. Douglas (Heythrop College/St Andrews): The Spinozist Model of Anonymity and the Tractatus-Theologico Politicus
  • Sandra Lapointe (McMaster): Rooting for the Underdogs

Authorship is central to our grasp of philosophical contributions. People tend to associate an idea with its originator—think of: ‘Platonist’, ‘Humean’—and especially for the modern period, scholarship on seven big names dominates the field. However, not all philosophical moves have been made by identified figures. Sometimes authors made deliberate efforts to remain hidden from view, be it to allow for a more neutral assessment of their work, or to distance themselves from controversial opinions. As yet, only fragmented attention has been paid to the anonymous and pseudonymous face of modern philosophy.

This panel will begin to address this gap. Its findings will have implications not only for efforts to reshape the philosophical canon, but also for thinking about named authorship in research practices more generally.

Event hashtag: #AnonModPhil
Web: http://anonphil.github.io


Early Modern vs. Medieval Anonymity

It was not at all rare for early modern philosophers to publish or circulate their work anonymously. In fact, nearly all commonly studied early modern figures did so at least once: Descartes, Spinoza, Conway, Locke, Masham, du Chatelet, and Hume, to name just a few. Nevertheless, the early modern period is also a period in which named authorship becomes more and more important. It is in this period that ideas come to be viewed increasingly as the property of those who first expressed them, and in which authors come to expect to be given credit when others make use of their ideas. This is evident, for instance, in the heated dispute between Leibniz and Newton over the invention of the calculus. Some early modern philosophers even argue for intellectual property rights explicitly. My paper aims to show that as a result of this new attitude toward named authorship, anonymity also takes on a different meaning for both authors and readers.

More specifically, the paper explores the shift in attitudes toward named authorship—and, relatedly, toward anonymity—that appears to coincide roughly with the transition from the medieval to the early modern period. A widely accepted narrative has it that it was quite common in the medieval period to circulate one’s work anonymously but that this changed radically shortly after the advent of the printed book. While medieval authors were not all that interested in putting their name on their work, renaissance and early modern authors were usually eager to do so, except in special cases. The shift is often attributed partly to print conventionsand partly to changing views about the centrality of the identity of the author. To put it starkly, the common narrative claims that early modern authors generally have bigger egos than their medieval counterparts, and hence stronger desires that their ideas be associated with their names.

This narrative, like most broad narratives that draw a sharp contrast between medieval and early modern attitudes, is of course over-simplified. Yet, there is some truth in it as well: the notions of intellectual property, copyright, and plagiarism seem to have developed after the invention of the printing press. The identity of the author becomes increasingly important in early modern Europe and certain authors even attain the status of celebrities. As a result, publishing under one’s name starts to become the default, which in turn means that when an author withholds her name, it is quite likely that she thinks there are special reasons in favor of anonymity. While it is entirely possible for a medieval author to write anonymously without giving much thought to the matter, it is quite unlikely in the case of early modern authors. This in turn, my paper contends, also changes the ways in which readers perceive anonymity.

The Spinozist Model of Anonymity and the Tractatus-Theologico Politicus

Why did Spinoza choose to publish his philosophy anonymously? He might have done so in order to protect himself from persecution. But there are reasons to doubt that this was his main motive.

Perhaps Spinoza aimed to show himself to be above ambition, which was in those days recognised as a vice. Descartes and his followers in the Dutch Republic were accused of harbouring this vice: while claiming to pursue truth, it was alleged, what they actually sought was to be admired for their cleverness.

Spinoza, in the Tractatus, turned the accusation against the accusers: those who condemn the writings of others do in order to win “the applause of the crowd”; they are the ones corrupted by ambition. But he then risked having the accusation turned back upon himself. Anonymous publication made any such counter accusation appear much less plausible.

It was, however, very important for Spinoza not simply to appear unmotivated by ambition in writing his philosophy, but also to be so unmotivated. His psychological theory rules it impossible to convey one’s philosophical thoughts to somebody without also transferring to her the motivations that prompted those thoughts. If ambition is among those motivations, the philosophy will have a corrupting effect. And the contagion of ambition is, for Spinoza, among the most dangerous of all the social pathologies.

Rooting for the Underdogs

There are many things wrong about our conception of what counts as canonical in philosophy in the nineteenth century, and with the idea of a canon in general. Considering the case of Bernard Bolzano is quite enlightening. It shows that the value of philosophical ideas has little to do with authorship and popularity. Our focus on “founding giants” and “great minds” is tainted by perspective, prejudice and all sorts of complicated assumptions, most of which are fed by bias. At the same time, part of the interest of doing the history of philosophy—as opposed to rational reconstruction—is to tell a story, explain how theories arise and develop in context, and anonymity is not a very good engine for narratives. This raises a number of questions about historical methodology and surprisingly little has been written on the topic. In this talk I will make a few suggestions.

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Image from: Giovanni Aldini, Essai théorique et expérimental sur le galvanisme (Paris, 1804)

The conference program for Life and Death in Early Modern Philosophy, to be held in London on April 14–16 this year, has been announced. And it’s looking good.


Thursday 14th April 2016

The Great Hall, King’s College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS

2.30–4.00 Tea and Registration in the Foyer of the Great Hall
4.00–4.30 Susan James, Welcome and Introduction
4.30–6.00 Michael Moriarty, The thought of death changes all our ideas and condemns our plans


Friday 15th April 2016

Birkbeck College, Clore Management Centre, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7JL

9.30–11.00 Ursula Renz, Our Consciousness of Being Alive as a Source of Knowledge
 11.15–12.45 Session 1 Session 2 Session 3
Meghan Robison

But a Movement of Limbs: On the Movement of life in Hobbes’ Leviathan

Steph Marston

Affects and Effects: Spinoza on Life

John Callanan

The Historical Context of Kant’s Opposition to Suicide

Barnaby Hutchins

Descartes’s ‘Vitalism’

Julie Klein

Life and Death in Spinoza: Power and Reconfiguration

Jonas Jervell Indregard

Kant on Beauty and the Promotion of Life

12.45–2.00 Lunch, coinciding with meeting of agreed and likely contributors to research network
2.00–3.30 Martine Pécharman, The Moral Import of Afterlife Arguments in Pascal and Locke
3.45–5.15 Session 1 Session 2 Session 3
Hannah Laurens

An Eternal Part of the Body? Spinoza on Human Existence Beyond Life and Death

Andreas Scheib

Johannes Clauberg and the Development of Anthropology after Descartes

Sarah Tropper

When the Manner of Death Disagrees with the Status of Life. The Intricate Question of Suicide in Early Modern Philosophy

Filip Buyse

Spinoza on conatus, inertia and the impossibility of self-destruction

Andrea Strazzoni

Particles, Medicaments and Method. The Medical Cartesianism of Henricius Regius

Teresa Tato Lima

Suicide and Hume’s Perspective about Human Life

5.30–7.00 Mariafranca Spallanzani, ‘Tota philosophorum vita commentatio mortis est’. Death of philosophers


Saturday 16th April 2016

Birkbeck College, Clore Management Centre, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7JL

9.30–11.00 Session 1 Session 2 Session 3
Kate Abramson

Living well, well-being and ethical normativity in Hume’s ethics

Dolores Iorizzo

Francis Bacon’s Natural and Experimental History of Life and Death (1623): A Lacuna in Accounts of the Scientific Revolution

Oliver Istvan Toth

Do we really need to die? Spinoza on the Necessity of Death in the Ethics

Giuliana di Biase

Human’s life as a “state of mediocrity” in John Locke’s Essay and in his other works

Gianni Paganini

Life, Mind and Body. Campanella and Descartes’ Connections

Piet Steenbakkers

Living Well, Dying Well: Life and Death in Spinoza’s Philosophy and Biography

11.15–12.45 Charles Wolfe, How I learned to love Vitalism
12.45–2.00 Lunch
2.00–3.30 Session 1 Session 2 Session 3
Sean Winkler

The Persistence of Identity in Spinoza’s Account of Individuals

Piero Schiavo

Controlling Death. Democritus and the myth of a death en philosophe

Matteo Favaretti

Camposampiero, The Ban of Death: Leibniz’s Scandalous Immortalism

  Mogens Laerke

The Living God. On Spinoza’s Hebrew Grammar and Cogitata Metaphysica II,6

Michael Jaworzyn

Clauberg, Geulincx, and philosophy as meditatio mortis after Descartes

Audrey Borowski,

Leibniz’s natural Mechanism. Life and Death Revisited

3.45–4.15 Meetings of learned societies
4.15–5.45 Lisa Shapiro, Learning to Live a Fully Human Life
5.45–6.00 Conclusion and Farewell

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Jan Swammerdam, Bybel der Natuure . . . of, Historie de insecten, 1737-38, tadpole; frog


The division between authors into rationalist and empiricist is often deemed artificial. A frame imposed on early modern philosophers, not of their own making. That between speculative and experimental philosophy, by contrast, is one that also authors in the seventeenth century would have been able to identify with.

Such resonance makes it extra exciting that NYU is holding a conference on experimental philosophy with a historical bend, Experimental Philosophy Through History, on February 20th. Areas discussed range from intuition in Confucian ethics to neo-Kantian anti-empiricism, via Hume, Locke, and decapitation.

Here is the program:

“What Was the Neo-Kantian Backlash against Empirical Philosophy About?”
Scott Edgar (Saint Mary’s University)
discussion by John Richardson (New York University)


“The Curious Case of the Decapitated Frog: An Experimental Test of Epiphenomenalism?”
Alex Klein (California State University)
discussion by Henry Cowles (Yale University)




“Experimental Philosophy and Mad – Folk Psychology: Methodological Considerations from Locke”
Kathryn Tabb (Columbia University)
discussion by Don Garrett (New York University)


“Intuition and Experimentation in Confucian Ethics”
Hagop Sarkissian (Baruch College, CUNY)
discussion by Stephen Angle (Wesleyan University)




“The Impact of Experimental Natural Philosophy on Moral Philosophy in the Early Modern Period”
Peter Anstey (The University of Sydney)
discussion by Stephen Darwall (Yale University)


“Experimental Philosophy and Eighteenth-Century Sentimentalism: Hume, Turnbull, and Fordyce”
Alberto Vanzo (University of Warwick)
discussion by Alison McIntyre (Wellesley College)
Full conference details on the dedicated site.

Image: Jan Swammerdam, Bybel der Natuure … of, Historie der insecten, 1737-38, tadpole; frog

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