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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


PhD student

College: Darwin
Supervisor: Jim Secord
Thesis topic: Radical Politics and Popular Science in Britain, 1815–48



My research explores the relationship between science and political radicalism in Britain during the early nineteenth century. My particular focus is on the network of working class atheists and republicans co-ordinated by the journalist and publisher Richard Carlile. In print and in person, Carlile and his followers developed their 'zetetic' philosophy, heterodox even by radical standards, in which all phenomena in the universe — the stars, planets, animate life, humans, even ideas themselves — consisted of nothing more than matter in motion. Fusing Enlightenment texts with recent scientific discoveries, these artisan autodidacts aimed towards a totalising materialism that would do more than just dispel spirit from nature. With ideas nothing but material 'mental capital', subject to laws of distribution and accummulation, zeteticism was a theory not just of the present, but also of human history and of future progress.

My dissertation looks to explore zetetecism in all its aspects as a fascinating (albeit fleeting) episode in the intellectual tradition of British radicalism. What exactly did the zetetics think science was now revealing to them? Why had this revelation passed the learned classes by — or could materialist enlightenment only be attained by artisan genius? How — in person, by post, in prison, in new printed spaces — did the zetetics go about constructing their new philosophy? What hope did they have for their own prospects, or for future secularisation? And lastly, why did it all come crashing down around Carlile, to be so swiftly forgotten and/or shunned by later generations of British radicals?


Grants and Awards

2017–2020 PhD Studentship, Arts and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Training Partnership

Oct 2018–Feb 2019 AHRC-Huntington Fellowship, Huntington Library, Pasadena, California, USA