David Cunning


Hi. I am a philosophy professor at the University of Iowa. My research and teaching interests include the history of the mind-body problem, the methods of rationalism, free will and determinism, agency, and the rhetoric of inquiry. I recently completed a scholarly book on Descartes on the limits of philosophical inquiry. Descartes defends just a small number of metaphysical theses, and the theses that he does defend are in the service of everyday embodied life. For example, he offers an austere and unconventional view of the nature of God, and he appeals that view to derive a view of the good life for human beings. I am also working on a number of issues in the philosophy of Margaret Cavendish–with a focus on freedom, agency, and authority. I am also thinking about related issues in Spinoza's monism and pan-psychism.

Recent and upcoming talks

  • “Cavendish on Action-at-a-Distance, and an implication for her view on Fame,” Conference of the International Margaret Cavendish Society, December 2024.
  • "Systematic Thinking in the History of Philosophy - and a point about confusion," Conference in Honor of Alan Nelon, UNC Chapel Hill, May 2024.
  • "What Descartes maybe should have said: panpsychism and Ethics II.1-8," Cornell University Panpsychism Conference, April 2024.
  • Facilitator, discussion group on diversity, equity, and inclusion – 2012 paper by Jennifer Saul, “Scepticism and Implicit Bias,” March 2024
  • "Descartes on the Benefits of Confused Thinking," U Iowa Philosophy Colloquium, November 2023.
  • "Interdisciplinarity and the Humanities," U Iowa Faculty Senate Retreat, August 2023.
  • comments on Kevin Lower, "Margaret Cavendish's Relational Metaphysics of Action and Passion," at the conference "Reappearing Ink: Celebrating the Legacy of Eileen O’Neill," U Mass Amherst, April 2023.
  • "Cavendish on Self-Motion: what it is and what it isn't," Pacific APA meeting, San Francisco, April 2023.


  • Descartes, in the series The Routledge Philosophers, Routledge (2023), 424 pp. / errata
  • Editor, Margaret Cavendish: Philosophical Writings, Oxford University Press (2019), 274 pp.
  • Cavendish, in the series The Arguments of the Philosophers, Routledge (2016), 318 pp.
  • Everyday Examples, Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, (2015), 312 pp.
  • Editor, The Cambridge Companion to Descartes' Meditations, Cambridge University Press (2014), 336 pp.
  • Argument and Persuasion in Descartes' Meditations, Oxford University Press (2010), 248 pp.


  • "Cavendish on Liberty and Freedom," commissioned for The Oxford Handbook of Cavendish, ed. Julie Crawford and Jacqueline Broad, Oxford UP.
  • Ethics Ip11 and the Necessary Existence of God," forthcoming in International Philosophical Quarterly
  • Review of M. Lascano, The Metaphysics of Margaret Cavendish and Anne Conway, in Mind, https://doi.org/10.1093/mind/fzad076.
  • "Simple Natures and Eternal Truths," forthcoming in The Cartesian Mind, ed. Cecilia Wee and Jorge Secada, Routledge Publishing.
  • "Margaret Cavendish," Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2023).
  • "Margaret Cavendish and Galen Strawson on Emergence, Mind, and Self," Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Mind 4 (2023), 369-398.
  • "Ways of Knowing," in The Routledge Handbook of Women and Early Modern European Philosophy, ed. Karen Detlefsen and Lisa Shapiro, Routledge Publishing (2023), 140-154.
  • "Cavendish, Philosophical Letters, and the Plenum," in Cavendish: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, ed. Lisa Walters and Brandie Siegfried, Cambridge UP (2022), 98-111.
  • "The Feminist Worlds of Margaret Cavendish," in World-Making Renaissance Women, ed. Pamela Hammons and Brandie Siegfried, Cambridge UP (2021), 184-198.
  • Review of J. Broad, Women Philosophers of Seventeenth-Century England: Selected Correspondence, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2020).
  • "Hyperbolic Doubt, Cognitive Garbage, and the Regulae," Revue Internationale De Philosophie 290 (2019), 449-467.
  • "Cavendish on Material Causation and Cognition," Causation and Cognition: Perspectives on Early Modern Philosophy, ed. Dominik Perler and Sebastian Bender, Routledge Publishing (2019), 145-170.
  • Review of The Well-Ordered Universe: The Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish by Deborah Boyle, Locke Studies 18 (2018), 1-9.
  • "Cavendish on the Metaphysics of Imagination and the Dramatic Force of the Imaginary World," Early Modern Women on Metaphysics, ed. Emily Thomas, Cambridge UP (2018), 188-210.
  • "Mind-Body Problems," The Routledge Companion to Seventeenth-Century Philosophy, ed. D. Kaufman, Routledge Publishing (2018), 253-286.
  • "Descartes and the Force of Skepticism," Skepticism: From Antiquity to the Present, ed. Baron Reed and Diego Machuca, Bloomsbury Academic (2017), 306-319.
  • Review of C.P. Ragland, The Will to Reason: Theodicy and Freedom in Descartes, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2016).
  • "True and Immutable Natures," The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon, ed. L. Nolan, Cambridge UP (2016), 727-730.
  • "Analysis vs. Synthesis," The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon, ed. L. Nolan, Cambridge UP (2016), 7-12.
  • "Introduction," The Cambridge Companion to Descartes' Meditations, ed. D. Cunning, Cambridge UP (2014), 1-22.
  • "The First Meditation: Divine Omnipotence, Necessary Truths, and the Possibility of Radical Deception," The Cambridge Companion to Descartes' Meditations, Cambridge UP (2014), 68-87.
  • "Descartes on God and the Products of His Will," Models of God and Other Ultimate Realities, ed. J. Diller and A. Kasher, Springer Publishing (2013), 175-193.
  • Review of K. Smith, Matter Matters, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 19 (2011), 997-1001.
  • “Margaret Lucas Cavendish,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. E. Zalta (2009), 43 pp.
  • Review (co-authored) of M. Moriarty, Fallen Nature, Fallen Selves: Early Modern French Thought II, Journal of the History of Philosophy 46 (2008), 644-5.
  • "Malebranche and Occasional Causes," Philosophy Compass 3 (2008), 1-20.
  • "Fifth Meditation TINs Revisited: A Reply to Criticisms of the Epistemic Interpretation,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 16 (2008), 215-227.
  • "Nicolas Malebranche," The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, ed. T. Hockey, Springer Academic Publishers (2007), 731-2.
  • "Semel in Vita: Descartes' Stoic View on the Place of Philosophy in Human Life," Faith and Philosophy 24 (2007), 164-183.
  • "Descartes on the Dubitability of the Existence of Self," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (2007), 111-131.
  • "Cavendish on the Intelligibility of the Prospect of Thinking Matter," History of Philosophy Quarterly 23 (2006), 117-136.
  • "Descartes on Sensations and Ideas of Sensations,"An Anthology of Philosophical Studies, Athens: Atiner Publishing (2006), 17-32.
  • Review of D. Skrbina, Panpsychism in the West, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2005).
  • "Rationalism and Education," A Companion to Rationalism, ed. A. Nelson, Blackwell Publishing (2005), 61-81.
  • Editor and translator, “Principii Cartesia” by Robert Percy Smith, The Philological Museum (2004), ed. D. Sutton.
  • "Systematic Divergences in Malebranche and Cudworth," Journal of the History of Philosophy 41 (2003), 343-363.
  • "True and Immutable Natures and Epistemic Progress in Descartes' Meditations," British Journal for the History of Philosophy 11 (2003), 235-248.
  • "Descartes on the Immutability of the Divine Will," Religious Studies 39 (2003), 79-92.
  • "Descartes' Modal Metaphysics," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2002), ed. E. Zalta, 37 pp.
  • "Agency and Consciousness," Synthese 120 (1999), 271-294.
  • "Modality and Cognition in Descartes" (co-authored), Acta Philosophica Fennica 64 (1999), 137-153.

Dissertations directed

  • Peter Bezanson, "Idealism : A Brief History, Taxonomy, and Nietzschean Evaluation" (2005) -- CEO of the BASIS Educational Group, a charter school system.
  • Pete Legrant, "Spinoza's Realist and Four-dimensionalist Theory of Physical Individuation" (2009) -- Associate Professor of Philosophy, Bakersfield College.
  • Seth Jones, "Modality, Compatibilism, and Leibniz: A Critical Defense" (2012) -- Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
  • Kristopher Phillips, "Cartesian Modality: God's Nature and the Creation of Eternal and Contingent Truth" (2014) -- Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Eastern Michigan University.
  • Hannibal Jackson, "Eternal and Expansive Super-Necessitarianism: a new interpretation of Spinoza's metaphysics (2016) -- Lecturer, Temple College.

Selected Committees and Service

  • 2023-2024 Interim Department Chair – UI Religious Studies 

  • 2014-2022 Department Chair – UI Philosophy

  • 2019-2022 Member of CLAS Executive Committee 

  • 2020-2021 Co-Chair of CLAS Strategic Plan Committee 

  • 2020-2021 Member of UI Presidential Search Committee 

  • 2018-2020 Member of CLAS Department Chair Advisory Board 

  • 2016-2017 Co-Chair of UI Strategic Plan Committee 

  • 2013-2014 UI Faculty Senate Officer: Secretary 

  • 2011-2014 UI Faculty Senator 

  • 2007-2013 Director of Graduate Studies – UI Philosophy


Research areas
  • Epistemology
  • Feminist philosophy
  • Early modern history of philosophy
  • Philosophy of mind
This is a picture of David Cunning
PhD, University of California, Irvine
Contact Information

University of Iowa
250 English-Philosophy Building (EPB)
251 W. Iowa Avenue
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States