John Cottingham

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John Cottingham is an English philosopher, educated at Merchant Taylors’ School near London, and St John’s College, Oxford. He is a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Reading, Professorial Research Fellow, Heythrop College, University of London, Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford and editor of Ratio: the International Journal of Analytic Philosophy. The focus of his research has been early-modern philosophy (René Descartes was the subject of his DPhil at Oxford), the philosophy of religion and moral philosophy.[1][2] Cottingham has served as a president of the Aristotelian Society, the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion, the Mind Association and as Chairman of the British Society for the History of Philosophy. A Festschrift with responses by Cottingam, The Moral Life, was published by Palgrave in 2008.[2]


In his work on Descartes, Cottingham introduced trialism as an alternative interpretation of the mind-body dualism of Descartes. Although composed of two substances, mind and body, the human being possesses distinctive attributes in its own right (including sensations, passions, emotions), and these form a third category, that cannot be reduced to thought or extension.[3] Cottingham has also argued that Descartes’s view of animals as ‘machines’ does not have the reductionistic implications commonly supposed.[4] Finally, Cottingham has explored the importance of Descartes as a moral philosopher, with a comprehensive picture of the good life that draws both on his scientific work (in physiology and psychology) and also on the theistic outlook that informs all his philosophy.[5] Cottingham is co-editor and translator of the three-volume Cambridge edition of The Philosophical Writings of Descartes.[6]

Moral philosophy and philosophy of religion[edit]

In Philosophy and the Good Life and other works, Cottingham criticizes the psychological impoverishment of contemporary moral philosophy, and argues that any plausible theory of a good and integrated life for human beings needs to draw on the insights available from a broadly psychoanalytic perspective.[7] His work on partiality defends the importance of self-concern as a central ingredient in virtue. [8] In On the Meaning of Life, he addresses the relationship between moral, aesthetic and religious modes of awareness in constituting a meaningful life.[9] Cottingham’s more recent work in the philosophy of religion argues for the primacy of the moral and spiritual aspects of religious allegiance over theoretical and doctrinal components.[10]

Selected works[edit]

  • (2009) Why Believe? Continuum
  • (2008) Cartesian Reflections, Oxford University Press
  • (2007) Western Philosophy, Blackwell
  • (2005) The Spiritual Dimension, Cambridge University Press
  • (2003) On the Meaning of Life, Routledge
  • (1998) Philosophy and the good life: reason and the passions in Greek, Cartesian and psychoanalytic ethics, Cambridge University Press
  • (1997) Descartes’s Philosophy of Mind, Orion
  • (1988) The Rationalists, Oxford University Press
  • (1986) Descartes, Blackwell


  1. ^ University of Reading: John Cottingham (Accessed 7th April 2011)
  2. ^ a b Athanassoulis, Nafsika and Vice, Samantha eds. (2008) The Moral Life: Essays in Honour of John Cottingham, Palgrave Macmillan
  3. ^ Cottingham, John (1985) ‘Cartesian Trialism’, Mind, XCIV No. 374, April, pp. 218-30. Reprinted in René Descartes, Critical Assessments, ed. G. Moyal (London: Routledge, 1991). Vol. III, pp. 236-248, and Cottingham, Cartesian Reflections, ch. 9.
  4. ^ Cottingham, John, ‘A Brute to the Brutes? Descartes’ Treatment of Animals’, Philosophy Vol. 53 (1978), pp. 551-59; repr. in Cottingham, Cartesian Reflections, ch. 8.
  5. ^ Cottingham, John, Cartesian Reflections, chs 1, 12, 13.
  6. ^ J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff and D. Murdoch (eds), The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vols I and II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), and vol. III, The Correspondence, by the same translators plus A. Kenny (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, l991).
  7. ^ Cottingham, John, Philosophy and the Good Life, ch. 4.
  8. ^ See Cottingham ‘The ethics of self-concern’, Ethics 101 (July 1991), pp. 798-817, ‘Partiality and the Virtues’, in R. Crisp (ed.), How Should One Live? Essays on the Philosophy of Virtue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 57-76, and ‘Impartiality and Ethical Formation,’ in B. Feltham and J. Cottingham (eds), Partiality and Impartiality: Morality, Special Relationships and the Wider World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 65-83.
  9. ^ On the Meaning of Life (London: Routledge, 2003)
  10. ^ The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

External links[edit]