John Cottingham, MA, DPhil. (Oxon.)


John Cottingham was born in London and educated at Merchant Taylors’ School Northwood and St John’s College, Oxford University, where he gained double First Class honours in ‘Mods’ (Latin and Greek Languages and Literature) and ‘Greats’ (Philosophy and Ancient History). He later took his doctorate at Oxford University, writing a thesis on the philosophy of Descartes (supervisor: Anthony Kenny; examiners: Bernard Williams and L. J. Beck).


In his early career, John Cottingham held philosophy positions at The University of Washington, Seattle, and at Exeter College, Oxford University. Subsequently, he was for many years Head of Department and then Director of Research and Graduate Studies at the Philosophy Department at the University of Reading, where he is now Professor Emeritus of Philosophy. He was Professorial Research Fellow at the Centre for Philosophy of Religion, Heythrop College, University of London, and is currently Professor of Philosophy of Religion at. Roehampton University, London, and Visiting Professor at King’s College London. He is also an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford.

Research Grants

2016-17. Religious Experience and Desire With Dr Fiona Ellis (Heythrop College University of London/Roehampton) and Dr Clare Carlisle (KCL). Under the auspices of the international Experience Project, coordinated from Notre Dame University, and supported by the Templeton Foundation. $84,500. Outcome includes publication of papers in special issue of Religious Studies.

2015-16. New Models of Religious Understanding . With Dr F. Ellis (PI) and Prof. K. Ward. One of two theology proposals selected out of fifty applicants to be part of the Varieties of Understanding initiative co-ordinated at Fordham University, New York, sponsored by the Templeton Foundation. $93,000. Outcome includes volume of collected essays published by OUP.

2005-2008. Impartiality and Partiality in Ethics. Director of research project at Reading University, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. £200,000. Outcome includes two volumes of collected essays (OUP).

Awards, offices and visiting positions

Professor Cottingham has served as Chairman of the British Society for the History of Philosophy, as President of the Mind Association, and as President of the Aristotelian Society. From 1993-2012 he was Editor of Ratio, the international journal of analytic philosophy. From 2007-9 he was President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion and is a life member of the Council of the Society.
John Cottingham has held visiting appointments in the United States (Fulbright Scholar) and New Zealand (Erskine Fellowship), and in the UK has held the Radcliffe Research Fellowship in Philosophy. In 2002-4 he was Stanton Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge University. From In 2013 he held a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Rhodes University. In 2014 he gave the Mangoletsi Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion at the University of Leeds, and in 2017 the Kaminski memorial lectures at John Paul II University, Lublin, Poland.
(for further details of education and appointments, click here)

Some principal publications

John Cottingham is the author of numerous articles on early-modern philosophy, and on ethics and the philosophy of religion. His many books include Descartes (Blackwell, 1986), The Rationalists (Oxford University Press, 1988), Descartes’s Philosophy of Mind (Orion, 1997), Philosophy and the good life: reason and the passions in Greek, Cartesian and psychoanalytic ethics (Cambridge University Press, 1998), On the Meaning of Life (Routledge, 2003), The Spiritual Dimension (CUP, 2005), Cartesian Reflections (OUP, 2008), Why Believe? (Continuum, 2009), Philosophy of Religion: Towards a More Humane Approach (CUP, 2014), and How to Believe (Bloomsbury, 2015). He is co-translator of the standard three-volume Cambridge edition of The Philosophical Writings of Descartes (CUP, 1985-91), and his edited collections include Reason, Will and Sensation (OUP, 1994), Western Philosophy: an anthology (Blackwell, 1996, 2nd edition 2008), The Cambridge Companion to Descartes (CUP, 1992) and the Oxford Readings volume on Descartes (OUP, 1998). He is also general editor of the Oxford Philosophical Texts series.
The Moral Life, a multi-authored collection of papers honouring his work in moral psychology, ethics and the philosophy of religion, together with his replies, appeared in 2008.

For further CV details see Appointments page