Matthew Stuart

Professor of Philosophy

Teaching this semester

PHIL 1040. Personal Identity

What is it that makes you a person, and what is it that makes you the same person as the little kid in your parents’ photo album? Philosophers have defended a number of different answers to these questions. According to some, it is persistence of the same soul that makes for personal identity. Others argue that it is persistence of the same body that matters, or the continuity of certain biological processes. Still others contend that it is psychological relations that matter. Canvases all of these answers and considers thought experiments about soul swapping, brain transplants, and Star Trek transporters. Readings from both historical and contemporary sources.

PHIL 3455. Ideas and Common Sense

Traces the rise and fall of one of the great epistemological innovations of modern philosophy, the so-called "theory of ideas." According to this theory, thinking involves the manipulation of mental items and sense perception is mediated by awareness of them. The theory is put forward by Descartes, but receives its fullest treatment in Locke's “Essay,” where it is used to explain perceptual relativity, secondary qualities, the constraints on scientific explanation, and even our inability to perceive fast and slow motions. Later, Hume uses the theory to justify a far-reaching skepticism about causation and about enduring things. The theory's sharpest and most insightful critic is Reid, the Scottish philosopher of common sense whose methodological views prefigure the "ordinary language" movement of the twentieth century.

My research is in early modern philosophy. For many years, I focused on metaphysical and epistemological topics in the work of the 17th century English philosopher John Locke. Recently I’ve begun to turn my attention to the 18th century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid. Reid admired some things about Locke, but was critical of others. I am interested in what he has to say about agency and free will, about sense perception, and about Locke’s theory of ideas. I teach classes about these early modern philosophers and others (e.g., Descartes, Hume, Kant). I also teach non-historical classes on a variety of topics, including death, personal identity, 20th century analytic philosophy, metaphysics, and the ethics of our treatment of animals.


  • Ph.D. , Cornell University; Ithaca, New York
  • M.A. , Cornell University; Ithaca, New York
  • B.A. , University of Vermont; Burlington, VT

PDF Curriculum Vitae

Publications - Books

A Companion to Locke

A Companion to Locke.

Matthew Stuart (Ed.), Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

This collection of 28 original essays examines the diverse scope of John Locke’s contributions as a celebrated philosopher, empiricist, and father of modern political theory.

Locke's Metaphysics

Locke's Metaphysics

Matthew Stuart, Oxford University Press, 2013

Though undertaken as a work of epistemology, Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) is well stocked with metaphysical arguments about the fundamental features of bodies, the notions of essence and kind, the individuation of material things, personal identity, freedom, and the nature of mind. Locke’s Metaphysics explores all of these, and shows Locke to be a more consistent, systematic and interesting metaphysician than is generally appreciated. 

Publications - Articles

“Locke’s Succeeding Ideas,” Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy VIII, D. Garber and D. Rutherford, eds., forthcoming.

“Locke on Attention,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy, special issue: “Mental Powers in Early Modern Philosophy,” forthcoming.

“John Locke and the Problem of Consciousness,” in Consciousness and the Great Philosophers, S. Leach and J. Tartaglia, eds., London: Routledge, 2017, 73-81.

"The Correspondence with Stillingfleet," in A Companion to Locke, London: Wily-Blackwell, 2015.

“Revisiting People and Substances,” in The Key Debates of Modern Philosophy, Duncan and LoLordo, eds., Routledge, 2013, 186-196. 

“Locke,” in A Companion to the Philosophy of Action, T. O’Connor & C. Sandis, Eds.  Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Co., 2010, 490-495.

“Having Locke’s Ideas,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 48, 2010, 35-59.

“Lockean Operations,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 18, 2008, 511-533.

“Locke’s Colors,” Philosophical Review 112, 2003, 57-96.

“Locke on Natural Kinds,” History of Philosophy Quarterly 16, 1999, 277-296.

“Descartes’s Extended Substances,” in New Essays on the Rationalists, Gennaro and Huenemann eds., Oxford University Press, 1999, 82-104.

“Locke on Superaddition and Mechanism,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 6, 1998, 351-379.

“Locke’s Geometrical Analogy,” History of Philosophy Quarterly 13, 1996, 451-467.

Recommended Reading

Looking for a good book to read? Here is a list I give to my students.

10 Books I Don’t Want to Imagine Life Without

In the Order I First Read Them (and the number of times I’ve read them so far)

  • Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh (11)
  • Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger (9)
  • Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon (2)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (2)
  • Happy Days, H. L. Mencken (3)
  • Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1)
  • Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis (4)
  • Nobody’s Fool, Richard Russo (2)
  • High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (3)
  • A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh (1)

Coming-of-Age Books I Love

  • Skippy Dies, Paul Murray
  • Black Swan Green, David Mitchell
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, Chris Fuhrman
  • This Boy’s Life, Tobias Wolff

Amazing True Stories to Be Read Safe in Bed in the Dead of Winter

  • Endurance, Alfred Lansing
  • The Worst Journey in the World, Apsley Cherry-Garrard
  • Alone, Richard E. Byrd

Books Your Mother Wouldn’t Want You to Read If She Knew What Was In Them

  • Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
  • The Collector, John Fowles
  • Rabbit is Rich, John Updike
  • Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth
  • The Fermata, Nicholson Baker

Great Books You Never Heard Of

  • Room Temperature, Nicholson Baker
  • The Folks That Live on the Hill, Kingsley Amis
  • The Risk Pool, Richard Russo
  • The Information, Martin Amis
  • My Life and Hard Times, James Thurber
  • One Man’s Meat, E. B. White
  • Ex Libris, Anne Fadiman
  • Morte D’Urban, J. F. Powers

My Friend Rebecca’s Favorite Books By Women

  • The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch
  • Darkmans, Nicola Barker
  • White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  • Unless, Carol Shields
  • Veronica, Mary Gaitskill
  • The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
  • To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

You Will Laugh

  • Uncle Fred in the Springtime, P.G. Wodehouse
  • Men at Arms, Evelyn Waugh
  • The Thought Gang, Tibor Fischer
  • Naked, David Sedaris

The Movie Was Good but the Book is Even Better

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
  • Billy Bathgate, E.L. Doctorow
  • Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  • A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
  • A Room With a View, E. M. Forster
  • The Witches of Eastwick, John Updike
  • Sophie’s Choice, William Styron
  • Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon

Terrific Contemporary Fiction

  • Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris
  • How to Breathe Underwater, Julie Orringer
  • The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
  • The Road, Cormac McCarthy