Dept of Philosophy | Our staff | Academic staff | Dr Sarah Patterson
Document Actions

Sarah Patterson


Sarah Patterson is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Director of the University of London International Programme in Philosophy. She was educated at Oxford and at MIT, and taught at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), at Harvard University and at Tufts University before coming to Birkbeck. She is an editor of the journal Mind & Language.

Research Activity

  • Sarah’s research interests centre on the intersection between early modern philosophy, philosophy of mind and philosophy of psychology. She is particularly interested in the ways in which early modern theories of mind and cognition were shaped by the rise of the mechanical philosophy.
  • One of her projects focuses on the way in which Descartes distinguishes between nature and habit in making space for a mechanistic conception of the physical world. Descartes holds that we are innately endowed with the ideas we need to understand God and the created world, yet we are subject to frequent error. His distinction between nature and habit enables him to trace the true ideas to God and the errors to us. However, he also recognizes cases of genuinely natural deception, and must explain why habits we all develop in childhood are not part of our nature. Teasing out an account of error which responds to these pressures illuminates Descartes’ innatism and the role he assigns to God’s veracity. Sarah plans to trace the distinction between nature and habit in thinkers after Descartes, particularly Malebranche and Hume.
  • Sarah also has an interest is early modern accounts of sense perception, and in the way in which earlier models of mental representation were affected by the impact of the new science.


  • Selected publications:
  • ‘Descartes on Nature, Habit and the Corporeal World’. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 87 (2013), 235-258.
  • ‘Doubt and Human Nature in Descartes's Meditations’, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 70 (2012), 189-217.
  • ‘Philosophy of Mind’. In D. Moran (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Twentieth Century Philosophy (Routledge, 2008), 525-582.
  • ‘Clear and Distinct Perception’. In J. Broughton and J. Carriero (eds.), A Companion to Descartes (Blackwell, 2007), 216-234.
  • ‘Epiphenomenalism and Occasionalism: Problems of Mental Causation, Old and New’. History of Philosophy Quarterly 22 (2005), 239-257.
  • ‘How Cartesian was Descartes?’. In T. Crane and S. Patterson (eds.), History of the Mind-Body Problem (Routledge, 2000), 70-110.

Research Supervision

  • Sarah welcomes research students in early modern philosophy (especially Descartes) and in philosophy of mind and psychology (especially historical topics). Recent topics of PhD supervision include introspection and emergentism.