Andrew Pitel

Andrew Pitel
Assistant Instructional Professor in the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities, the Department of Philosophy, and the College
Classics Building, Room 414
Office Hours: Autumn Quarter:
PhD, University of Chicago 2021; BA, the Evergreen State College, 2010
Teaching at UChicago since 2022-23
Research Interests: Kant, Early Modern Philosophy, Metaphysics

My research interests are broadly in the history of theoretical philosophy from the late medieval period to the history of analytic philosophy, including especially early modern philosophy and German idealism. My dissertation was on Kant's denial that we know things as they are in themselves, which I think of as part of a longer tradition of skepticism about the knowability of substance in medieval and early modern thought. I am currently working on projects on the nature and knowability of substance in Locke and Kant; on the relation between Kant’s conception of transcendental philosophy and the longer medieval tradition of transcendental thought; and on understanding Kant's claim that there are certain “pure concepts” we all possess simply by having the capacity for conceptual thought. 

As a philosopher with appointments in Philosophy and MAPH, part of my job involves helping MAPH students interested in philosophy find their way into the discipline and the Department here at Chicago. This involves helping students select courses, advising MA projects and helping students find suitable advisors, and helping MAPH students decide what they would like to do next with their philosophical education, which includes (but is not limited to!) advising students interested in pursuing a PhD. If you are a current or prospective MAPH student interested in philosophy please don't hesitate to get in touch!


Recent Courses

PHIL 24503/44503 Locke and Leibniz

This course will consist of a close study of Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding alongside Leibniz’s chapter-by-chapter response to Locke in his New Essays on Human Understanding. Locke’s Essay is the great manifesto and development of empiricism, and Leibniz’s New Essays is a detailed, sustained rebuttal of Locke’s book. As such, it is both a fascinating work by one of the giants of rationalism and a text that provides an opportunity to take seriously the idea that philosophy develops through dialogue. Topics to be discussed include innate ideas, necessary truths, reason, experience, substance, essence, personal identity, the nature of mind and body, and freedom, among others. We will also ask larger questions about the nature of the rationalist and empiricist traditions to which these philosophers belong – e.g., the extent to which empiricism is indebted to the experimental sciences, and whether rationalism is best understood as a doctrine concerning the sources of human knowledge or as a metaphysical claim about the intelligibility of being. (B)

Open to undergraduate and MA students, and all others with consent.

2024-2025 Spring

PHIL 25798/45798 Substance in Medieval, Modern, and Contemporary Metaphysics

(MAPH 45798)

The notion of substance has long been at the center of metaphysical theorizing. Substances are said to be fundamental and independent things, capable of existing on their own, which are the bearers of properties. An account of substance has also been thought central to metaphysics in that the primary sense of ‘being’ is the sense in which substances are beings. But there has been a great deal of controversy over how to give an account of the nature or being of substance, what sorts of things we should count as substances, what we can know of substance, and even whether the notion of substance is intelligible. In this course we will examine a number of influential accounts of substance in medieval, early modern, and contemporary metaphysics. Historical figures we will likely read include Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, Suárez, Descartes, Spinoza, and Locke. Contemporary readings may include texts by Justin Broackes, Kit Fine, Robert Pasnau, Kathrin Koslicki, Michael Della Rocca, and Shamik Dasgupta. (B)

Open to undergraduate and MA students, and all others with consent.

2024-2025 Winter

PHIL 26701/46701 Descartes

(MAPH 46701)

René Descartes is widely regarded as a (and perhaps the) foundational figure in modern philosophy, and he made seminal contributions to mathematics, natural science, and metaphysics. In this course we will work towards attaining a synoptic view of his thought. Our work together will be structured around a close, systematic reading of his Meditations on First Philosophy (i.e., on metaphysics), although we will read widely in the Cartesian corpus. Topics to be discussed include substance and mode; the nature of body; mind-body union; sensation; motion; causation; God and the infinite; and the will, among others. We will occasionally look to the medieval tradition to which Descartes was indebted, as well as to responses to his work by his contemporaries. Secondary sources will include writings by Lilli Alanen, Christia Mercer, Tad Schmaltz, Dan Garber, Anat Schechtman, Paul Hoffman, Marleen Rozemond, and John Carriero. (B)

Open to undergraduate and MA students, and all others with consent.

2023-2024 Spring

PHIL 27303/47303 The Principle of Sufficient Reason

(MAPH 47303)

The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) is the principle according to which every truth or fact can be explained. Appeals to explicability are pervasive in our everyday reasoning as well as in philosophy and the sciences – for example, the view that consciousness is grounded in physical features of the world is motivated by the thought that otherwise consciousness would be inexplicable. However, while the thought that phenomena admit of explanation motivates a great deal of philosophy, contemporary philosophers on the whole reject the PSR. Their reasons for doing so are partly because the PSR is thought to have the following surprising consequences: that God exists; that everything that could possibly be true is not only actually true, but necessarily true (also known as necessitarianism); and that only one thing exists (also known as monism). In this course we will read, write, and think about the philosophical tradition of metaphysical rationalism that is characterized by its embrace of the PSR. Our course will divide into three sections. First, we will study the ‘golden age’ of metaphysical rationalism in the 17th century through the writings of Spinoza and Leibniz. From there, we will turn to the recent resurgence of interest in metaphysical rationalism within analytic metaphysics, much of which has been influenced by scholars working in 17th century philosophy. In this second part of the course, we will discuss in a more systematic way the relation between the PSR and monism, necessitarianism, grounding, and metaphysical explanation. Finally, we will end by looking at Michael Della Rocca’s recent claims that the only consistent form of rationalism is a kind of radical monism, and that as such rationalism – and reason itself – may be self-undermining. Our aim in this course is to come to understand a historically important philosophical tradition that is undergoing a renaissance. It will serve as an introduction to work in the history of philosophy and contemporary metaphysics, and it will help students build the skills they need to continue engaging with both. (B)

Open to undergraduate and MA students, and all others with consent.

2023-2024 Autumn