Skip to main content

Prof Susan James

  • Overview



    Susan James is a professor of Philosophy. She  has a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, and taught at the University of Connecticut and the University of Cambridge before she came to Birkbeck in 2000.

    She has held visiting positions at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, the Australian National University, Boston University, Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago.

    She is a founder of the London Spinoza Circle (based at Birkbeck) and a Fellow of the British Academy.


    • Some recent and forthcoming publications:


      Spinoza on Learning to Live Together (Oxford University Press, 2020)

      Life and Death in Early-Modern Philosophy, edited collection (Oxford University Press,2021)


      'Learning to Live more Equitably' forthcoming in the Southern Journal of Philosophy

      'Spinoza on the Poetic Imagination' forthcoming in Australian Philosophical Review

      ‘The Relationship between Philosophy and its History’ in Richard Bourke and Quentin Skinner eds., History, the Humanities and Social Sciences  (CUP, in press).

      ‘Spinoza on Religion’ in Don Garret ed., The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, revised edition (CUP, 2022).

      ‘Spinoza on the Constitution of Animal Species’ in A Companion to Spinoza ed. Yitzhak Melamed (Blackwell, 2021)

      ‘The Interdependence of Hope and Fear’ in Moira Gatens ed., ‘Spinoza: Thoughts on Hope in our Political Present’, Contemporary Political Theory, special issue, 2020.

      ‘Mixt natures which I call hermaphroditical: Margaret Cavendish on the Natures of Things’ in Emily Thomas ed., Early Modern Women on Metaphysics, Religion and Science, (Cambridge University Press, 2018)

      ‘A Virtuous Practice: Descartes on Scientific Activity’ in Descartes and Cartesianism ed. Stephen Gaukroger and Catherine Wilson (Oxford University Press, 2017).

      ‘Mary Wollstonecraft’s Conception of Rights’ in Sandrine Berges and Alan Coffee eds., The Social and Political Thought of Mary Wollstonecraft (Oxford University Press, 2016)





    • Ph.D., University of Cambridge

    Administrative responsibilities

    • Admissions Tutor for Research Students

    Visiting posts

  • Research


    Research overview

    Susan James' recent research has focused on 17th century philosophy, particularly the work of Margaret Cavendish and Spinoza, and ranges over seventeenth-century metaphysics, epistemology, psychology, ethics, gender and politics.  Her latest book, Spinoza on Learning to Live Together (2020) is about how these areas of knowledge contribute to the overall philosophical project of living well.  Historical research within philosophy, as she practices it, is both a way of recovering past points of view, and a way of examining contemporary philosophical problems. Her discussions of early modern texts aim to do justice to the contexts in which they were written, while also contributing  to current debates, particularly in political and social philosophy, the philosophy of gender and the philosophy of art.

    Her most recent papers have been about equity, and about the relation between philosophy and poetry in the early modern era.

    Current projects:

    1.  Cultivating Fortitude. Seventeenth-century philosophers have a lot to say about the virtues that enable us to philosophise really well.  How do we compensate for psychological and epistemological traits that prevent us from understanding things as fully as we can and living in the light of our knowledge?  This projected book will explore early-modern analyses of these topics and consider how they are relevant to us. 

    2.  The Power of Art. Current work on the philosophy of art is deeply indebted to ideas that emerged in the eighteenth century, but is less attuned to the way art was conceived by early modern writers. This project aims to extend our understanding of seventeenth-century philosophy of art by realting it to seventeenth-century philosophical and cultural debates, and also to contemporary ones.

    3. Early-modern slavery. The bulk of current literature about the history of opposition to slavery concentrates on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  I am writing a paper about seventeenth-century arguments against slavery.  It aims to open up our understanding of the diverse moral attitudes that are brought to bear on this topic.




    Research Centres and Institutes

  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    Susan James is happy to receive applications from research students  who want to work on early modern philosophy, feminist philosophy, or social and political philosophy.

    The most recent Ph.D. theses she has supervised have been on:

    Becoming Oneself:  A Heideggerian Analysis of Complicity.

    The Emotional Dimensions of Oppression.

    Substance and Modes in Spinoza’s Metaphysics.

     Spinoza’s Political Epistemology.

    Current doctoral researchers


    Doctoral alumni since 2013-14



    Teaching modules

    • Philosophy as the Art of Living: Modern Views (SSPL016H4)
    • Political Power (Level 7) (SSPL138H7)
    • Research in Practical Philosophy (SSPL158S7)
  • Publications




    Book Section

    Conference Item