[The following was promoted by reflection on word that L.A. Paul and Marilyn Adams will be co-teaching a cool sounding course on medieval and contemporary metaphysics Fall 2012.--ES] Despite Gilbert Harman, who infamously claimed, that “history of philosophy tends not to be useful to students of philosophy," cutting edge philosophy often re-discovers or promotes different historical figures and episodes as conversation partners (or emblematic forms of legitimation). Deleuze's use and approach to Spinoza is a favorite among many NewAppsers. Even in analytic philosophy, we are familiar with this process: Russell's and Ayer's revival of Hume at the start of the 20th century; the Rawlsians' rediscovery of Rousseau and Kant; more recently Hegel at Pittsburgh, and a host of other examples, including Harman's unappreciated study of Adam Smith. (In all cases the full story is complex.)
With the current unraveling of the hegemony of the Kantian-"framework" picture (roughly from Kant through Davidson/Rorty), the secure place of "Early Modern," which has always been a kind of set-up to Kantianism, may come to an end in the English speaking philosophical world. (In my view we see some of this already with the lowered status of Locke and Berkeley.) In particular, given that analytic metaphysics embraces many of the neo-Scholastic virtues (especially the high premium on careful distinctions) and is often driven by questions that the Scholastics worried intensely about, we should expect that the study of Medieval philosophy has a chance to escape from the religious stronghold that still stifles it. (Of course, we should not ignore the fact that analytic metaphysics and analytic theology have become very comfortable bed-fellows.) I am not claiming that it is over-determined that Medieval will be the main beneficiary: we also see renewed interest in the British Idealists (Della Rocca, Sam Newlands, Kris McDaniel) and Brentano (Ariana Betti and her students among others). Either way, there is an exciting process of rediscovery under way. (When we were colleagues McDaniel got me interested in and made me appreciate Suarez.)
Now, some of the best early modern scholars (our very own Dennis Des Chene, but also Roger Ariew, Helen Hattab, Jeff McDonough) already cross over to the study of late Scholasticism. Unfortunately, I am not very good at careful distinctions, so this move would spell bad news for me, but I have been cultivating an interest in funky causation (and luckily the Scholastics adore funky*; [*Funky causes are defined negatively as those notions of causation that are neither final nor (Humean) efficient causation].) There has also been cross-over in the other direction: Dominik Perler and his students have been bringing fresh perspectives.
The situation is not dire for Early Modern. First, epistemology is flourishing and Descartes and his successors fit neatly in the whig history required for it. Second, early modern is perfect set up for philosophy of science/science studies. (It's no surprise that Newton's metaphysics have been rediscovered.) Third, with the revival of the political fortunes of religion, early modern political philosophy has not lost any relevance. Fourth, early modern moral philosophy still has unexamined eclectic systems that offer low hanging fruit to contemporary moral philosophers. Fifth, with the life-sciences taking over the Academy (as Descartes and Bacon predicted), eighteenth century philosophy may come in from the cold. Finally, if all else fails, we have a trump card: Leibniz--the very best metaphysician in all possible worlds.