research interests

seventeenth century philosophyMy main area of research over the past 30 years or so has been seventeenth century philosophy, particularly that of Leibniz. I give a fresh overview of his thought intended for all interested readers in my Leibniz, (Polity Press, 2014).


I recently published a major study on Leibniz’s theory of substance, Monads, Composition and Force: Ariadnean Threads through Leibniz's Labyrinth (Oxford University Press). In it I offer new insights into Leibniz's theory of substance based on his solution to the labyrinth of the continuum, presenting it as a highly original account of the composition of bodies and motions that is neither phenomenalist nor materialist. I situate Leibniz's thought in the context of his early immersion in chymical atomism and the Scholastic tradition of the Plurality of Forms, and his equally profound commitment to mechanism, and show how his dynamics emerges as a solution to the problem of the composition of motion. Highlights include new readings of Leibniz's conception of organic body and its relation to teleology, of the status of corporeal substance and passive force, of the hypothesis of substantial bonds, and of the compatibility of the continuous existence of substance with the discreteness of monadic states   

In a projected companion volume, Infinite subtlety, I will treat Leibniz's theories of the infinite and infinitesimals, space, time, motion and continuity, with an eye to their implications for contemporary spacetime theory, mathematics and quantum cosmology.

Also I am co-authoring a book length study, Russell on Leibniz, together with my colleague Nick Griffin and (2012 Visiting Russell Professor) Jolen Galaugher. We are writing two or three chapters each; mine are “The Hegelian Roots of Russell's Critique of Leibniz”, “Lotze, Kant and Russell’s Rejection of the Relational Theory”, and "Russell, Leibniz and the at-at theory of motion and passage". We have also edited a transcription of Russell's notes on Leibniz from 1898, as well as his marginalia on his copies of the Gerhardt Leibniz, both contained in the Russell Archives in the library at McMaster University, together with G. E. Moore’s notes on Russell’s lectures, a discarded preface, and the preface to the French edition; this has appeared as one complete issue of the journal Russell (Summer 2017 ), thus gathering in one place all the materials that went into the making of Russell’s justly celebrated A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz —a work which not only transformed scholarship on Leibniz, but also had significant impact on the development of Russell’s own thought, as we have tried to demonstrate.

Another research area I have been investigating is the lively atomist tradition of the early seventeenth century and its connection with biology, theology, and the chymical tradition, particularly in the work of Daniel Sennert, and before him, Julius Caesar Scaliger. Here my contacts with Japanese scholars, particularly Hiro Hirai and Kuni Sakamoto, have been invaluable. Our joint workshop in Toyama, Japan, showcased our research  on Sennert, Scaliger and Leibniz respectively, which has thrown light on the importance of these late scholastic thinkers, and not just as precedents to Leibniz. 

I have done substantial work on Descartes, beginning with my 1988 publication, “Continuous Creation, Continuous TIme: A Refutation of the Alleged Discontinuity of Cartesian Time,” continuing with studies of Beeckman's inflence on his thought (on which I spoke recently at the Sorbonne), and also with my entries on “Atoms” and “Time” in the Cambridge Descartes Lexicon, ed. Lawrence Nolan. I have also treated the mathematical philosophy of Newton in several publications across my career.


philosophy of physics: I have finished a complete draft of a book defending the reality of local becoming in modern physics, The Reality of Time Flow, which was submitted to Springer Verlag at the end of November 2018. In 2015 I published a paper on virtual processes, showing the close relationship between them and the phenomenon of quantum tunnelling; I argue that neither can be interpreted in terms of particle transmission, since (among other objections) that would involve processes with imaginary mass travelling backwards in time. I have also published a paper on "Proper Time and the Clock Hypothesis", and 2 papers on time in special relativity. A longstanding interest of mine is the close relationship between time and inertia, on which I have written two papers , "Time, Inertia and the Relativity Principle" (archived paper) in Minnesota, and "Time and Inertia" in Montreal.  The Time and Universe (tau) Cluster, a collaborative venture with other physicists and philosophers in Canada and around the world, seems now to be defunct, having failed to secure the funding applied for from SSHRC, despite initial promise of success. This kind of endeavour cannot get funded in Canada.

history and philosophy of time: Descartes has a particular debt to Isaac Beeckman in his philosophy of time, issuing in both some of his most seminal advances, but also in some of the tensions in his philosophy, as I have argued in various papers. These studies, together with related studies on Descartes, Galileo, Gassendi, and various less celebrated thinkers like Arriaga  Le Tenneur, and Fabry, form part of a project treating the interconnection of views on time, force and activity in seventeenth century natural philosophy, under the title Matters of Moment: studies on the birth of modern science. My recently published paper "On the mathematization of free fall" comes out of this research. 

philosophy of the infinite: Fourth, arising out of my work on Leibniz, I have been defending an account of the actual infinite that is a rival to the Cantorian account, but which eschews infinite sets. On this topic I have written (and am about to publish) a dialogue between Leibniz and Cantor, and have published five related papers: one on the development of Leibniz's early thinking on infinitesimals; a second on Leibniz's Law of Continuity; a third in which I compare Leibniz's syncategorematic interpretation of infinitesimals with that of Smooth Infinitesimal Analysis, a fourth comparing Newton and Leibniz on infinitesimals, and a fifth (yet) to be published in the Netherlands, in which (inter alia) I offer a largely sympathetic critique of Deleuze's interpretation of Leibniz's calculus with regard to the rise of structuralism.

epistemology of science: Fifth, I am part of a cluster of scholars interested in thought experiments. I published an article on Galileo's thought experiment on falling bodies and Jim Brown's Platonist interpretation of it, incorporating a weird dream, a partial defence of Feyerabend's views, and my interest in Diderot's materialist philosophy. More recently I published a paper on one of the world's oldest TEs, Aristotle's Wheel, perhaps originating with Archytas of Tarentum, first read at a workshop in Halifax, and an entry in the Routledge Handbook on Thought Experiments I also co-hosted a workshop on the (contested) expanding role of applied mathematics from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, in Pisa in September 2010. Just published is a paper for The Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments, ed. James Robert Brown, Yiftach Fehige, and Michael T. Stuart,  "Thought Experiments in Newton and Leibniz".

© Richard TW Arthur 2016