Timothy John Stuart-Buttle

Timothy John Stuart-Buttle


Former affiliations

Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

European intellectual history; history of religion; history of political thought; contemporary critical and political theory

Personal profile


Tim joined the Department of Politics in September 2017, as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the Leverhulme Trust-funded project Rethinking Civil Society: History, Theory, Critique. His research and teaching focuses on early modern European intellectual history, and the history of political thought. Tim will take up the post of Lecturer in Political Theory in the Department in July 2020.

Tim completed his doctorate at the University of Oxford in 2013. His thesis, now published in revised form by Oxford University Press, explores the importance of the late Hellenistic philosophical traditions, and especially a variety of academic scepticism identified closely with Cicero, to the development of British moral, religious and political thought from Locke to Hume. From 2014-17 he was a postdoctoral Research Associate on the European Research Council-funded interdisciplinary project, Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern England: The Place of Literature, at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Clare Hall. 

Research interests

I am a historian of political thought - if the 'political' is understood broadly. Much of my research focuses on the interrelationships in early modern thinking between fields now considered to constitute independent disciplines: notably moral philosophy, theology, economics, sociology and political thought. I am particularly interested in the early modern debate over the origins and implications of human (un)sociability: a debate to which practically every contemporary philosopher of note contributed. My first monograph explores how British philosophers from Locke to Hume turned to the late Hellenistic world, and in particular to the writings of Cicero, as offering valuable insights into the origins and sustaining mechanisms of civil society. It shows how the relationship between classical moral philosophy (such as Cicero’s), and revealed Christian moral theology, remained a vexed issue throughout the eighteenth century (not least in Scotland). This work also explores how, and why, political economy replaced natural law as the primary framework for analysing the origins and development of society in the eighteenth century.

My new monograph project is provisionally entitled Recognition and Respect in Early Modern Philosophy: From Hobbes to Hegel, and (as the title suggests) adopts an ambitious chronological and geographical scope. It argues that early modern European philosophers were not concerned merely with how individuals ‘made’ civil societies, whether by contract or some other means. They were also deeply invested in the question of how civil societies ‘made’ rational and trustworthy individuals through processes of habituation and socialisation. From Hobbes onwards, one characteristic of human nature in particular received pronounced attention from European philosophers. This was the universal desire for esteem and recognition, which helped to explain why socialised individuals accommodate themselves to the norms – most importantly, the moral norms – which prevail in their societies as a means of securing others’ approval. This pervasive emphasis on the malleability of the individual self was recognised to have deeply troubling implications for moral autonomy and personhood. Among those who made original contributions to this debate, I focus particularly on Hobbes, Nicole, Locke, Mandeville, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Hume, Ferguson, Smith and Hegel. Increasingly, critical theorists interested in recognition - notably Charles Taylor and Axel Honneth - have located the origins of recognition theory in the works of eighteenth-century philosophers (usually Hegel, but increasingly Rousseau). I suggest that the bequest of the early modern period to contemporary theorists of recognition is decidedly more ambivalent than they tend to realise, because early modern philosophers' treatment of our desire for esteem was notably complex, nuanced and rich.

I have related interests in epistemology; contemporary political and critical theory; the history of scholarship; the reception and transmission of ancient philosophy, especially scepticism; the transnational movement of ideas; the history of print and the book; the comparative history of religion; early modern historiography; and the history of science.