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 focuses on 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 vital for understanding the nature of mind or of substance more generally.  And there is considerable disagreement, even among those philosophers who accept the intelligibility of this concept, about which entities possess causal power and about which entities are altogether bereft of the capacity to initiate change.  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 either attributing or denying activity to certain items in the world such as God, ourselves, material objects, and celestial bodies.

Two of my publications explore the relationship between Hume’s theory of causation and his view of human agency.  The first focuses on Hume’s understanding of the basic structure of human agency.  This is my paper, “Hume and the Metaphysics of Agency,” which was published in the Journal of the History of Philosophy (2014).  The second concerns Hume’s view of what it is like to act voluntarily.  This is my paper, “Hume and the Phenomenology of Agency,” which is forthcoming in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy (2015).  Lately, I have taken a great interest in Locke’s theory of causation and I am developing two projects on this topic.  In my paper, “On Grounding Superadded Properties in Locke,” I examine how his theory of causation bears on the metaphysically peculiar class of properties, such as thought and gravitation, that Locke takes to be strictly “superadded” to objects by God.  But I also want to look carefully at the motivations for and the consequences of Locke’s controversial empiricist thesis that the concept of causal power stems the experience of voluntary action.  Why think that this is the case?  What could possibly justify such a claim?  And how does this origin shape Locke’s understanding of what a cause does when it brings about an effect?  These are pressing questions, I believe, because Locke develops the most philosophically sophisticated version of what was, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the default empiricist account of causation. 

In the summer of 2014 I joined the philosophy department at Wellesley College after having spent the previous academic year with Amherst College.  I am currently teaching PHIL 103 Self and World: An Introduction to Metaphysics and Epistemology and PHIL 300 The Empiricist Tradition.  I will be teaching PHIL 221 Modern Philosophy and PHIL 230 Nineteenth-Century Philosophy in the spring semester of 2015.

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.