Resilient Transcendence: Modern
Philosophical Disputes on Human Nature


Dr Callan Ledsham
Not offered in 2020

Religious thought depends on a transcendent account of human nature, which has been challenged repeatedly by materialists and naturalists, in the context of successive theories of physics. This unit examines key debates between transcendent and reductionist accounts of the human person in the 17th–19th centuries, highlighting the resilience of transcendent accounts. It includes Descartes’ arguments for an immaterial soul, Locke and ‘thinking matter’, Ralph Cudworth's coinage of ‘consciousness’ (1678), the Newtonian theologian Samuel Clarke's correspondence with the materialist Anthony Collins (1706–17), the anti-materialist philosophies of mind of the Jesuit physicist Roger Boscovich (1757) and the Evangelical Christians Maxwell and Faraday, the dispute between philosophical idealist T. H. Green and the positivist and naturalist G. H. Lewes (1878–85), and the philosophy of mind in C. D. Broad's The Mind and Its Place in Nature (1925). Students will also be introduced to the primary working tools of contemporary research in early modern and 19th century philosophy. 


one unit of philosophy e.g.: AP8000C or AP8002C


face-to-face 3-hour weekly classes in semester


  • one 6,000-word essay 90%
  • one 1,000-word skeleton argument 10%
  • one 4,000-word essay 50%
  • one 1,000-word skeleton argument 10%
  • one 2,000-word essay 40% 


  • Harman, Peter M. The Natural Philosophy of James Clerk Maxwell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Harris, James A. Of Liberty and Necessity: The Free Will Debate in Eighteenth-Century British Philosophy. Oxford Philosophical Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Holden, Thomas. The Architecture of Matter: Galileo to Kant. Oxford: Clarendon, 2006.
  • Kargon, Robert. “William Rowan Hamilton, Michael Faraday, and the Revival of Boscovichean Atomism.” American Journal of Physics 32, no. 10 (1964): 792-95.
  • Mander, William, and M. Dimova-Cookson, eds. T. H. Green: Ethics, Metaphysics and Political Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Mijuskovic, Ben L. The Achilles of Rationalist Arguments: The Simplicity, Unity, and Identity of Thought and Soul from Cambridge Platonists to Kant: A Study in the History of an Argument. International Archives of the History of Ideas: Series Minor 13. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974.
  • Whyte, Lancelot L. Roger Joseph Boscovich, S. J., F. R. S., 1711-1787: Studies of His Life and Work on the 250th Anniversary of His Birth. London: Allen & Unwin, 1961.
  • Yolton, John. Thinking Matter: Materialism in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.