Research Projects

 

My research explores ancient and medieval thought and brings it into dialogue with contemporary metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of religion. My dissertation, “The Human Intellect: Aristotle’s Conception of Nous in his De Anima,” advised by Hendrik Lorenz and John Cooper, examined Aristotle’s account of nous, the intellect or power of understanding, in the De Anima, and explored the implications of this account for Aristotle’s conception of the human being. My book manuscript, drawing on my dissertation and work I have published in Phronesis, is currently under review. In it, I develop a novel interpretation of Aristotle’s views on the intellect. I argue that, for Aristotle, intellectual activities belong to the human being as such, although they do not have any constituent bodily processes. For Aristotle, the active awareness of relevant images (a process that he thinks does involve the body) aids understanding but is not always required. Immaterial objects, such as Aristotle’s unmoved mover, can be understood without images. Thus, on my reading of Aristotle, the human intellect is separable, but in an importantly limited way: without the body, the intellect can only understand immaterial things. Human beings who understand can persist after death by continuing to exercise their powers of understanding, although they can no longer remember or experience emotions.

I also have strong research interests in medieval philosophy. I recently published a paper in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy on why Thomas Aquinas rejects infinite, essentially ordered causal series in favor of a first cause. I maintain that Aquinas’s conception of causality is based around an ontological dependence between effect and cause and thus is significantly different from typical contemporary conceptions of causation. My interpretation better explains his rejection of infinite causal series than existing views. I am currently working on a connected project that examines why John Duns Scotus maintains that accidentally ordered causal series terminate in essentially ordered causal series. This work ties in to my general interest in medieval theories of causation and cognition. I am particularly concerned with examining medieval appropriations of Aristotle and other ancient thinkers and looking at the role of these appropriations in medieval debates on the nature of the intellect, the immortality of the soul, and the nature of the person.

My 2014-15 project on the epistemology of intellectual humility offers a general account of the necessity and value of intellectual deference, maintaining that we often encounter cases when, according to our own standards, our beliefs will be better formed if we defer to someone else (e.g we should defer to medical experts on vaccines). We should, in such cases, autonomously accept authority. However, I argue that we are not always epistemically obligated to change our position to match that of the experts. Inspired by Socrates, I develop and defend a distinction between two different kinds of epistemic authority: technical expertise and wisdom. Technical expertise should only be respected when I can be reasonably confident that the expertise is being rightly applied within the relevant domain. Questions about the practical motivations or conscientiousness of technical experts can undermine their testimony, even when their credentials are not at issue (e.g. medical experts in civil suits). Communities who display evidence of wisdom are entitled to stronger deference but are much harder to find, since wisdom requires a unified complex of practical and theoretical excellences.

Here is the full introduction to my dissertation: Dissertation Introduction.

Further portions of my dissertation are available upon request.

Here is a word cloud of my dissertation, to give you a sense of its main topics:

Human Intellect Word Cloud