Joshua M. Wood

B.A., University of Missouri (St. Louis); Ph.D., Boston University

Joshua Wood
Visting Lecturer in Philosophy

My research concerns the history of early modern philosophy with an emphasis on theories of causation and the empiricist tradition.

At present, my work in early modern philosophy is concentrated around the concept of activity or causal efficacy. This concept serves many different roles. Philosophers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries either utilize this concept in developing a theory of causation or they argue that it should be expunged from such a theory. Other philosophers take the concept of activity to be important for understanding the nature of mind or of substance more generally. With the aim entering more fully into these complex issues, I have been interested in what early modern thinkers take themselves to mean by activity as well as what justification they take themselves to have for attributing activity to certain items in the world: God, ourselves, causes, and various ordinary and celestial objects.

I recently published “Hume and the Metaphysics of Agency” in the Journal of the History of Philosophy (2014). This paper analyses the relationship between David Hume’s theory of causation and his analysis of human agency. I argue that his view of human agency is less implausible and less unique to empiricism than many scholars have alleged. I am also developing two other related projects on Hume.  They both argue, in distinct ways, that Hume’s theory of causation, contrary to what is often assumed, does not commit him to an impoverished account of what it is like to act voluntarily. Furthermore, I am currently developing a closely related project on John Locke. It pertains to his derivation of the concept of activity from the experience of voluntary action in ourselves. Here Locke tries to deliver on the empiricist demand that all concepts stem from experience. I argue that Locke offers a rigorous derivation of this concept while relying on a minimal number of metaphysical presuppositions.

In Summer 2014, I will join the philosophy department at Wellesley College after having spent the previous year with Amherst College. In the past I have taught courses on early modern philosophy, nineteenth-century philosophy, and existentialism.

When I am neither teaching nor leafing through early modern texts, I enjoy bird watching, skipping rocks, and taking nature walks with my wife and two children.