Joel Isaac

Pro Futura Scientia Fellow, SCAS.
Senior Lecturer in the History of Modern Political Thought, University of Cambridge

Joel Isaac trained as a historian at Royal Holloway, University of London, and at Trinity College,
Cambridge. From 2007 to 2011, he held a lectureship at Queen Mary, University of London. He
is currently Senior Lecturer in the History of Modern Political Thought at the University of Cambridge.

Isaac’s research focuses on the history of social and political thought in the United States and Great
Britain. His earliest research examined how theories of knowledge drove important changes in the
human sciences during the twentieth century. Much of his work in this area is presented in his first
book, Working Knowledge: Making the Human Sciences from Parsons to Kuhn (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2012), which was awarded the Gladstone Prize by the Royal Historical

During his time at SCAS, Isaac will be writing a book on the revival of eighteenth-century categories
of political and moral thought in the twentieth century. Its principal thesis is that in the writings of a
cohort of influential philosophers, economists, and political theorists who published in the interwar
and post–Second World War decades, we can see an attempt to rethink Enlightenment notions of
sociability, practical reasoning, property, and the state. Crucially, this process of reappraisal was
refracted through more modern idioms: neoclassical economics, analytical philosophy, decision theory,
and empirical political science. The ideas that resulted from this encounter of Enlightenment concepts
and modern idioms provided the foundations of modern liberal and neoliberal thought. The working
title for this research project is ‘the Cold War Enlightenment’.

Joel Isaac is in residence at the Collegium in the academic year 2016-17.
This information is accurate as of the academic year 2016-17.