Research Summary: Doing History with Concepts

Many historians of philosophy work on people, often aiming to illuminate the significance of underappreciated thinkers. I do something similar with concepts. As a historian of philosophy, I am interested in how given occasions in which philosophers appeal to certain concepts force us to acknowledge new and different ways in which those concepts are and can be used.  Accordingly, I like to describe my approach to doing history of philosophy as ‘doing history with concepts’.


In my published work, I've enjoyed wrestling with concepts like causation and privation in Aquinas; perception in Leibniz; relation in Spinoza; and intelligibility in C.S. Peirce. Aquinas teaches us how absences can play a causal role without causing anything. Leibniz shows us how unconscious perception can be experienced. Spinoza reveals how relations can help us understand our environment even though they don't exist. And Peirce teaches us that for something to be intelligible, it does not have to be understood by us. These remarkable conclusions enrich our sense of how these philosophers think; how certain parts of their thought relate to others; and how, viewed in a certain setting, the meaning of a concept can grow and deepen in surprising ways.


My scholarship on Spinoza is driven by this versatile, concept-oriented approach as well as a systematic interest in early modern philosophy. My attempt to understand Spinoza's concept of expression embodies this twofold perspective. Expression is a central, though mysterious, concept for Spinoza and is the key to a fuller understanding of his relation to Leibniz. Yet most commentators have struggled to offer a cogent interpretation of this idea. My 2017 article in Philosophers’ Imprint, “Spinozistic Expression,” takes steps to remedy this. In it, I explore overlooked connections between expression and conceivability. For Spinoza, to explain any fact, we must understand how the fundamental characteristics of certain things are expressed in that fact—in other words, we must grasp how these characteristics are manifested in a way that completely and exclusively describes that fact. I hope to write a book—Spinoza: The Philosophy of Expression—that develops these ideas.

Publications (for a full list, see my CV):


  • "Spinoza on Relations," in A Companion to Spinoza, ed. Yitzhak Y. Melamed (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2021).  FinalPenultimate

  • "Brandom's Leibniz," Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 102 (2021): 73-102.  FinalPenultimate

  • "On the Causal Role of Privation in Thomas Aquinas's Metaphysics," European Journal of Philosophy 28 (2020): 306-322. Final / Penultimate

  • "Intelligibility and Subjectivity in Peirce: A Reading of His 'New List of Categories'," Journal of the History of Philosophy 50 (2012): 581-610. Final.


   Select Reviews

  • Review of Samuel Newlands, Reconceiving Spinoza (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), British Journal for the History of Philosophy, DOI: 10.1080/09608788.2019.1649246.

  • Review of Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics Proved in Geometrical Order, edited by Matthew J. Kisner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), British Journal for the History of Philosophy 27 (2019): 1243-1247.

  • Review of Michael LeBuffe, Spinoza on Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press), European Journal of Philosophy 26 (2018): 1453-1457.

  • Review of Alexander X. Douglas, Spinoza and Dutch Cartesianism: Philosophy and Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press), Leibniz Review 27 (2017): 157-67.

  • Review of Mateusz W. Oleksy, Realism and Individualism: Charles S. Peirce and the Threat of Modern Nominalism (Amsterdam: John Benjamins), British Journal for the History of Philosophy 25 (2017).

  • Review of Hazard Adams, The Offense of Poetry (Seattle: University of Washington Press), Modern Language Notes (Comparative Literature Issue) 124 (2009): 1211-15.

Work in progress (under review or in preparation):

  • "Spinoza's Definition of Faith"

  • “Notes on a Neglected Distinction: Ponere and Tollere in Spinoza”

  • "Spinoza's Problem of Universals and Particulars"

  • "Spinoza on Truth as Authenticity"

  • “Interpretation and Authority: The Argument of Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise

  • “Order’s Discord? The Multiple Resonance of ‘Order’ (Ordo) in Spinoza”

  • “Spinoza on Chimeras, Square Circles, and Beings That, by Virtue of Their Essence, Do Not Exist”