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. In recent years he has been Professorial Research Fellow at the Centre for Philosophy of Religion, Heythrop College, University of London, Visiting Professor at King’s College London, Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Roehampton University, London, and Honorary Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham. He is also an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford University.

Research Grants

2019-20. The Quest for God: towards a philosophically and experimentally based theology of desire. Co-investigator with the project directors, Professor Fiona Ellis (University of Roehampton) and Professor Clare Carlisle (King’s College London). Templeton Religion Trust, £139,000.

Religious Experience and Desire. With Professor Fiona Ellis (Heythrop College University of London/Roehampton) and Dr Clare Carlisle (King’s College London). 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 (2019).

2014-15. New Models of Religious Understanding . With Prof. F. Ellis (PI) and Prof. K. Ward, at Heythrop College University of London. 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 a volume of collected essays published by Oxford University Press (2017).

2005-2008. Impartiality and Partiality in Ethics. Director of three-year research project at Reading University, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. £200,000. Outcome includes a volume of collected essays published by Oxford University Press (2010).

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. He was placed 25th in the ranking of top influential philosophers 2010-2020. The Cottingham Lectures, an annual lectures series in his honour, was inaugurated by the University of Reading in 2021.

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. 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.

Some principal publications

John Cottingham is the author of numerous articles on early-modern philosophy, and on moral philosophy 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), How to Believe (Bloomsbury, 2015), and In Search of the Soul (Princeton, 2020).
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 edn 2008; 3rd edn 2021), 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.

Abbreviated CV

Personal details
Born: 1943
Nationality: British
Marital status: Married (1969);  two children (born 1975, 1979)

Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood (1956-61):
Open Entrance Scholarship.
General Certificate of Education in ten subjects at Ordinary Level and three subjects at Advanced Level (Latin, Greek, Ancient History; all with distinction).

St John’s College, Oxford University (Undergraduate 1962-66):
Sir Thomas White Scholarship with status of Open Award.
Degree of B.A. 1966. Double First Class Honours.
Honour Moderations in Classical Languages & Literature: First Class.
Final Honour School of Literae Humaniores: First Class.

Postgraduate Studies (Oxford University):
St John’s College, Senior Scholarship (1966).
Major State Studentship.
Degree of M.A. (Oxford) 1969.
Degree of D.Phil. (Oxford) 1973.

Positions held
1967-1968: Lecturer and Tutor in Philosophy, University of Washington, Seattle.
1968-1971: Lecturer in Philosophy, Exeter College, Oxford University.
1971-1987: Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Reading.
1987-1989: Reader in Philosophy, University of Reading.
1990-2008: Professor of Philosophy, University of Reading.
(from 1992, holder of Established Chair in Philosophy).

2008- Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Reading.
2009-18: Professorial Research Fellow, Heythrop College, University of London.
2017-21: Professor of Philosophy of Religion, University of Roehampton; Professor Emeritus from 2021.

Offices, awards, visiting positions etc.
1985-88: Secretary, UK Association for Legal and Social Philosophy.
1987: US Fulbright Scholarship (Council for International Exchange of Scholars).
1988-89: Secretary, Organizing Committee for 1989 World Congress of International Association for Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy.
1989-93: Head of Department of Philosophy, The University of Reading.

1990-92: Reviews editor, Cogito.
1990-2015: Advisory Board, British Journal for the History of Philosophy.
1991-5: Chairman, British Society for the History of Philosophy.
1993-2012: Editor of Ratio.
1992- Advisory Panel, European Journal of Philosophy.
1992 : Erskine Fellow and Visiting Professor of Philosophy, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.
1992-3: President, Mind Association.
1993-4: Radcliffe Research Fellowship in Philosophy.
1994-2000: Commonwealth Scholarship Commission Advisory Panel.
1997-98: President, Aristotelian Society.
2002: Visiting Scholar in Residence, Rhodes University.
2002-5: Arts and Humanities Research Council Research Panel for Philosophy, Law and Religious Studies.
2002-4: Stanton Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion,
University of Cambridge.
2003- Elected Honorary Fellow, St John’s College, Oxford.
2005-8: Principal applicant and Director for Arts and Humanities Research Council three-year funded project on Impartiality and Partiality in Ethics.
2007-9: President, British Society for the Philosophy of Religion.
2010: Elected to Athenaeum.
2013: Distinguished Visiting Professorship, Rhodes University.
2013- Advisory Board,
Cuadernos salmantinos de filosofia.
2014: Mangoletsi Lecturer, University of Leeds.
2016–19: Visiting Professor, King’s College London.
2022- Honorary Professorial Research Fellow, University of Buckingham.
2022- Advisory Board,
Roczniki Filozoficzne.

External examinerships etc.
External Examiner for Bulmershe College of Higher Education,1987-89; Open University, 1989-92; University of Bristol, 1988-91; University of Kent, 1992-94; University of Birmingham, 1994-97; University of Southampton, 1998-2001; Trinity College, Dublin 2002-4; University of Oxford, BPhil Graduate programme in Philosophy, 2002-5.
Frequent service as PhD external examiner (including Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London, Durham, Nottingham, St Andrews etc.), and overseas including University of Umeå (Sweden), Rutgers University (USA), University of Sydney (Australia), University of Johannesburg (South Africa) etc.
External Assessor for Departmental Subject Review at Universities of Stirling, Birmingham, Kent, Trinity College Dublin, and Rhodes University.

Frequent academic consultancy and referee work for Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Wiley-Blackwell, Routledge, Princeton University Press, Harvard University Press, etc.
Referee for Journal of the History of Philosophy, International Journal of Philosophical Studies, History of European Ideas, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Faith and Philosophy, Religious Studies, etc.

University responsibilities (University of Reading)
Departmental timetabler, philosophy (1972-89); Faculty Library Committee (1973-89); Faculty Development Committee (1977-79); Faculty Board (1978-81); Faculty Syllabus Committee (1982-5); Randolph-Macon Advisory Board (1982-5); Coordinator of First Year Programme in Philosophy (1984-90); Religious Studies Colloquium Advisory Committee (1989-96); SCR Forum Organizing Committee (1989-91); University Ethics and Research Committee (1989-95; alternate chairman from 1994); University Safety Sub-Committee for Genetic Manipulation (1989-95); Faculty Policy and Resources Committee (1992-8); University Senate (1991-2008); Chairman, Board of Studies for Part-Time Degrees (1994-7); Board of Studies for Extramural and Continuing Education (1994-7); University Standing Committee on Personal Titles (1995-8); Joint Faculty Board for Research (2000-5); School of Humanities, Director of Research (2002-5); University Board for Research (2003-5); Departmental Director of Research in Philosophy and Chair of Philosophy Graduate Programme Committee and Graduate Admissions Committee (1994-2008).