John Cottingham

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John Cottingham (born 1943) is an English philosopher. The focus of his research has been early-modern philosophy (especially Descartes), the philosophy of religion and moral philosophy. [1] [2] He is a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Reading, Professorial Research Fellow at Heythrop College, University of London, and Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. He is also a current Visiting Professor to the Philosophy Department at King's College, London.

René Descartes 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist

René Descartes ; 31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650) was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. A native of the Kingdom of France, he spent about 20 years (1629–1649) of his life in the Dutch Republic after serving for a while in the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. One of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age, Descartes is also widely regarded as one of the founders of modern philosophy.

Philosophy of religion is "the philosophical examination of the central themes and concepts involved in religious traditions". Philosophical discussions on such topics date from ancient times, and appear in the earliest known texts concerning philosophy. The field is related to many other branches of philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.

University of Reading a university in Reading, Berkshire, England

The University of Reading is a public university located in Reading, Berkshire, England. It was founded in 1892 as University College, Reading, a University of Oxford extension college. The institution received the power to grant its own degrees in 1926 by Royal Charter from King George V and was the only university to receive such a charter between the two world wars. The university is usually categorised as a red brick university, reflecting its original foundation in the 19th century.


Cottingham has served as editor of the journal Ratio, president of the Aristotelian Society, of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion, of the Mind Association and as Chairman of the British Society for the History of Philosophy. A Festschrift with responses by Cottingham, The Moral Life, was published by Palgrave in 2008. [2]

Ratio is a peer-reviewed academic journal of analytic philosophy, edited by David S. Oderberg and published by Wiley-Blackwell. Although emphasising work predominantly from analytic philosophy, it does not exclusively publish in one tradition and includes a variety of philosophical topics. Ratio is published quarterly and in December publishes a special issue that is focused specifically on one area, calling on specialists in that field of study to contribute.

The Aristotelian Society for the Systematic Study of Philosophy, more generally known as the Aristotelian Society, was founded at a meeting on 19 April 1880, at 17 Bloomsbury Square, London.

The Mind Association is a philosophical society whose purpose is to promote the study of philosophy. The association publishes the journal Mind quarterly.

Cottingham was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School near London, and St John’s College, Oxford.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital of and largest city in England and the United Kingdom, with the largest municipal population in the European Union. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.



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

Cottingham criticizes a putative 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

<i>Cartesian Reflections</i> book by John Cottingham

Cartesian Reflection is a 2008 book by the philosopher John Cottingham. The work consists of several essays that deal with diverse topics, such as René Descartes's views of animals, his position on the dualism of mind and body and the relation between his thoughts and those of Baruch Spinoza.

<i>The Rationalists</i> book by John Cottingham

The Rationalists is a 1988 book by the philosopher John Cottingham, in which the author offers an overview of the most important exponents of rationalism, namely René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Other thinkers, such as Nicolas Malebranche, are dealt with, too.

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  1. University of Reading: John Cottingham (Accessed 7 April 2011)
  2. 1 2 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, 1991).
  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)