Courses for Summer 2019 2nd 6wks: Ancient Philosophy
At present, I work mainly on Aristotle’s practical philosophy, though with a keen interest in the ways in which it is informed or constrained by his natural philosophy and metaphysics. In my dissertation, Reason as a Social Achievement, I explore the ways in which, for Aristotle, our nature as rational beings is dependent on our nature as social beings. I argue, for instance, that Aristotle saw the value of friendship (philia) as deriving from the fact that it enables us to achieve a richer and more refined form of rationality – though this requires a more expansive conception of rationality than we normally find at work in contemporary philosophy. (A central argument of my dissertation is that this account of friendship’s value need not be seen as instrumentalizing friendship.) In a similar vein, though for distinct reasons, Aristotle believed that living as part of a political community was part of the human end (telos) because it was only through such a shared life that we can fully realize our nature as rational animals.
Throughout my dissertation, a central theme concerns the relationship between values or norms and nature (nomos and physis, in the canonical Greek contrast): In what ways do the things we value depend upon our human nature, or our place in the natural world more generally? This also informs a further research interest of mine, in the rejection of Aristotelian ‘naturalism’ in ethics and politics (especially by Thomas Hobbes), a rejection that is often seen as a watershed moment in the history of political philosophy. The rejection of the project of grounding norms in (human) nature is connected, in important ways, with the rise of contractualism; and that tradition, too, is an ongoing interest of mine (both its early modern roots and its more recent revival).
I also sustain serious interests in Kant’s theoretical philosophy, in Nietzsche, and in the later Wittgenstein. These interests might seem somewhat foreign to the foci of my academic research, but there is something that unites them: a hope to better understand the philosophical project of viewing ourselves ‘from the outside’ (to use the most common metaphor) – to bracket some of our most basic commitments and to ask what (if anything) grounds them. Engaging with Kant, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein is part of my way of asking what the prospects of such a project are, and (especially when those prospects turn out to be rather grim) to ask what drives us to engage in it.