JD Fleming



  • BA (British Columbia)
  • MA (Toronto)
  • PhD (Columbia)


I work on history and philosophy of Western science and technology in the early-modern period (1500-1700). I try to show how modern intellectual norms--ways of thinking, background assumptions--emerged in this period, from surprising sources. Discovery and information are two of the main concepts I have addressed in this way. 

My most recent book is The Mirror of Information: John Wilkins and the Universal Character (Palgrave, 2017). This is about the leading early-modern attempt to construct a scientific and objective writing system (or "character"), with the hope of displacing ordinary human language. Wilkins's work, which profoundly influenced Leibniz, is by that token genealogical for modern information theory. More to the point, I argue, it critically reflects some aspects of today's informational systems. 

Wilkins started from shorthand: a system of notation for taking down speech verbatim. This was a craze of seventeenth-century England, which had about 100 different shorthand systems. The first of them all was laid out in a book called Characterie, published in 1588 by the London physician Timothy Bright (1551-1615). My next book will be on him.

Future projects include a theory a priori of literary-critical subject-matters; an accessible articulation of philosophical hermeneutics; and an attempt to trace the modern notion of scientific discovery to the Biblical trope of apocalypse.

Selected Publications

“‘At the end of the days’: Francis Bacon, Daniel 12:4, and the possibility of science.” Cahiers François Viète 3.7 (2019): 25-44.

“What lies beneath: Early-modern discovery and The Invention of Science.” Metascience 26.3 (2017): 409-416.

The Mirror of Information in Early Modern England: John Wilkins and the Universal Character (Palgrave, 2016).

(Ed.) Papers from Scientiae: Disciplines of Knowing in the Early-Modern World. Intellectual History Review 24.1 (2014).    

(Ed., intro., afterword.) The Invention of Discovery, 1500-1700 (Ashgate, 2011).

Milton’s Secrecy and Philosophical Hermeneutics (Ashgate, 2008).

“Making Sense of Science and the Literal: Modern Semantics, Early-Modern Hermeneutics.” In The Word and the World: Biblical Exegesis and Early Modern Science, eds Peter Forshaw and Kevin Killeen (Palgrave, 2007), 45-60.