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Karen Detlefsen

Professor of Philosophy and Education

Ph.D. Toronto

Research Interests

I am working on a project on the relation between the life sciences and metaphysics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Specifically, I am tracing the evolution of the concepts of mechanism, teleology, individuation, and laws in the metaphysics of Descartes, Malebranche, Leibniz, Albrecht von Haller, and Caspar Friedrich Wolff as each one tries to explain the generation of new organisms.

I have also published and am also working on a number of papers on early modern women philosophers, including Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, Mary Astell, and Émilie Du Châtelet. These will culminate in three larger projects. The first project is on Cavendish's theory of freedom, including metaphysical, ethical and social-political (especially as implied in her fiction). The second project – in collaboration with Andrew Janiak (Duke) – is on Du Châtelet's natural philosophy, its conceptual relation to the work of Descartes, Leibniz, Wolff and Newton, her historical role in the emergence of modern science, and the gendered context of the sciences in the early modern period. The third project uses the works of early modern women philosophers as a prism through which to examine questions in the historiography of philosophy.

I have teaching interests in the Philosophy of Education. I have started research (with papers forthcoming on women and education as found in the thought of Astell and of Cavendish and Hobbes) on early modern educational theories, including an investigation of theories of women's education in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Selected Publications

Find me on PhilPapers:

“Du Châtelet and Descartes on the Roles of Hypothesis and Metaphysics in Science”. In Feminism and the History of Philosophy. Edited by Eileen O’Neill. Kluwer Academic Press (forthcoming).

“Teleology and natures in Descartes' Sixth Meditation”. In Descartes' Meditations: A Critical Guide, edited by Karen Detlefsen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (2012, in press).

“Margaret Cavendish on the Relation Between God and World”. Philosophy Compass, vol. 4, 2009.

“Explanation and Demonstration in the Wolff-Haller Debate Surrounding Generation.” In The Problem of Generation in Early Modern Philosophy: From Descartes to Kant, edited by Justin Smith. Series: Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology (2006).

(215) 898-5560

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