My main research is on character transformation in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. In this context, the term can mean two things: replacing an old character trait with a new one (e.g., cowardice with courage) or reorienting a person’s evaluative perspective (such that, e.g., she no longer values honor the most but rather wisdom). My first research project is on transformation in this second sense. In particular, I consider it in Plato’s dialogues, with a focus on Socrates’ project, as described in the Apology, of using argument to convert his interlocutors to valuing wisdom the most. It is not at all clear how this project is meant to go, nor what Plato thinks of it. In fact, on a widely held view, Plato is pessimistic that reason and argument can be effective at changing a person’s evaluative perspective, and thus he considers Socrates’ project of philosophical conversion to be a failure. I think this view results from a profound misreading of Plato’s corpus, and I aim to correct it by showing that Socrates’ project is not only consistent with but deeply informed by Plato’s moral psychology.
My second research project is on Plato’s conception of eros—on what distinguishes it as a mental attitude and how it influences one’s reasoning. This is the first stage of a larger research project on hot cognition in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy.
My current papers are below.
* Ancient Greek & Roman Philosophy *
[Name Withheld to Preserve Blind Review] [R&R] In this paper, I defend the viability of Socrates' project of philosophical conversion against widespread scholarly skepticism. I argue that, for Plato, philosophical argument can be effective at causing a person to come to value wisdom the most, but not primarily in the way that one might expect—that is, not primarily by prompting someone to draw the conclusion that she must change her way of life, but rather by its causing her to have an experience, the experience of intellectual pleasure, which can be effective at reshaping her beliefs about how best to live.
[Name Withheld to Preserve Blind Review] In this paper, I consider the significance of Socrates’ remark in the Gorgias that it is Callicles’ eros that is the cause of his being unpersuaded to change his way of life. I argue that, far from a mere literary embellishment, Socrates’ remark points us to an often overlooked but highly important part of Plato’s moral psychology, in particular Plato’s conception of hot cognition. I distinguish two kinds of eros for Plato—roughly, eros for pleasure, and eros for the good—and I show that each kind causes a different type of hot cognition: the first a process of wishful thinking (i.e., holding a belief regardless of the evidence), the second a process of motivated reasoning (i.e., holding a belief based on evidence, but evidence that, due to one’s desire to hold the belief, one evaluates in self-serving ways). I argue that only motivated reasoning is a serious problem for Socrates’ project of using reason and argument to change his interlocutors belies about how best to live.
[Name Withheld to Preserve Blind Review] In this paper, I argue for a Socratic method that is distinct in kind from refutation, unified by formal features, and far more effective at converting Socrates' interlocutors to the life of philosophy than refutation is ever shown to be. I call it “Socratic exhortation.” I show that it is foremost an exercise in practical reason, one that consists of three stages: Socrates identifies the object of his interlocutor’s strongest desire (in particular, the object of his interlocutor’s eros); he then convinces the interlocutor that his current way of trying to satisfy that desire is ineffective; and, finally, he persuades the interlocutor that, to satisfy it, he must gain wisdom, and thus must do philosophy.
[Name Withheld to Preserve Blind Review] Is there a uniquely Platonic form of protreptic? Most scholars doubt it. In this paper, I argue that, on the contrary, there is a form of protreptic in Plato that is distinctive, and, further, that it is put into practice by Socrates’ exercise of his “erotic art.”
The Importance for Plato of What People Care About. In this paper, I analyze the notion of caring about or valuing (epimeleisthai) in Plato. One might think that, to count as valuing something, one needs only to believe that it is important. However, using texts from playwrights, rhetoricians, and philosophers of Classical Greece, I show that epimeleisthai was understood as requiring more: not only believing something is important, but also acting on behalf of it and paying attention to it. I then argue that Plato revises the notion so that it requires also having knowledge about what one purports to epimeleisthai, a requirement to which Socrates consistently appeals in refuting his interlocutors' claims to care about things rightly.
Socratic Refutation and Epistemic Duties. In this paper, I consider why Socrates (or anyone else) would believe that refutation would be conducive to changing a person's fundamental values in the first place. I argue that existing accounts fail to give a plausible explanation, and I provide an account that fares better. On my account, what Socrates refutes is an interlocutor's claim to have fulfilled his role-based epistemic duty, i.e., a duty to know imparted by his social role, to know in particular what is required to perform that social role well. In doing so, he motivates them to do philosophy as a way of repairing their social status and self-esteem.
* Outside of Ancient Greek & Roman Philosophy *
Loving Animals and Eating Meat. One of the most promising alternatives to utilitarian-based and deontology-based thinking about animal welfare is found in Cora Diamond’s paper, “Eating Meat and Eating People,” where she argues that our tendency to view animals as fellow creatures is, in some significant sense, inconsistent with our tendency to use them as objects, e.g., to exploit their labor or raise them on factory farms. It is not obvious, however, why we should care about this inconsistency. In this paper, I supplement Diamond’s view with an argument for why this inconsistency should bother us—not because it is a mere inconsistency, I argue, but rather because in many cases it is a sign of willful moral blindness, and thus shows us to be self-deceivers.
Beauty and Aesthetic Merit: Two Currencies of Aesthetic Judgment. In this paper, I offer a solution to the longstanding tension in aesthetics between the theses that there are no principles of aesthetic judgment (popularly phrased as ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’) and that aesthetic judgments are genuine in the sense of being about objects in the external world. If that were true, then, contrary to the first thesis, we would expect there to be some principles that determine whether an aesthetic judgment is true or false; but that would conflict with the first thesis. I argue that both theses are equally plausible, and that the tension arises only if we cash out aesthetic value in one currency. In fact, I argue, there is ample reason to think that aesthetic value comes in two forms—aesthetic merit and beauty—and that, if we allow for this, the tension is resolved.