Courses for Fall 2021: Reading and Composition Through Philosophy
At present, I work mainly on Aristotle’s practical philosophy, though with a particular interest in the ways in which it is shaped by his natural philosophy and metaphysics. In my dissertation, The Social Achievement of Self-Understanding: Aristotle on Loving Oneself and Others, I explored Aristotle’s picture of the relationship between our nature as rational beings and our nature as social or political beings. I argued 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 - and, in particular, by making possible the kind of self-awareness or self-understanding that we all desire insofar as we are rational.
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 in the early modern period (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 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 bracket some of our most basic commitments and to ask what (if anything) grounds them. Engaging with Kant and Wittgenstein is part of my way of asking what the prospects of such a project are, and (when those prospects turn out to be rather slim) to ask what drives us to engage in it.