Broadly speaking, my research investigates the value of knowledge and inquiry and the relationship between knowledge and the good life. Currently, my main focus is on the treatment of these issues in the dialogues of Plato. I also have a project on the value of education in the work of the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca. One long-term research goal is to draw out the implications of ancient philosophical accounts of the value of knowledge and inquiry for topics in contemporary philosophy of education.
“The Discipline of Virtue: Knowledge and the Unity of the Virtues in the Protagoras” [under review]
Abstract. Identifies a false assumption that underlies standard interpretations of the Unity Thesis and offers a new interpretation according to which the virtues are unified insofar as they are each constituted by the same kind of psychological power: knowledge. Shows that the Unity Thesis, so interpreted, has practical implications for deliberations about how to become virtuous.
“The Meno on Virtue and the Value of Knowledge” [near submission stage]
Abstract. Offers a new account of the value of knowledge in the Meno, according to which knowledge has final value because it satisfies a basic desire for truth. Discusses the implications of this view for the relative value of knowledge and true belief.
Select Works in Progress
“The Euthydemus on the Value of Philosophizing”
Abstract. Why does Socrates remain committed to philosophical inquiry despite the fact that it has not (so far) yielded knowledge? I argue that Plato’s Euthydemus offers a defense of the value of inquiry that explains Socrates’ optimism. The arguments of the Euthydemus show that engagement in philosophical inquiry is an expression of a kind of knowledge; they also show that engagement in skillful activity has final value for knowers; thus, engagement in philosophical inquiry is valuable for the philosopher even when the inquiry fails to achieve its aim. [*This paper is at an advanced stage: I am happy to provide a draft upon request.]
“Seneca on Education and Gratitude”
Abstract. A number of passages in Seneca’s De Beneficiis (DB) and Epistulae Morales (EM) suggest that Seneca considers education to be a benefit (beneficium) and thus that students owe their teachers gratitude. However, Seneca appears to be uncertain about what the object of the student’s gratitude is: is it the education the student has received or the manner in which it was bestowed? I argue that Seneca’s uncertainty is due to a tension between his view that in general the object of gratitude is not the thing given but rather the good intentions of the giver and his view that education (especially an education in philosophy) has immense value. I claim that, at least in the case of education, Seneca needs a different account of the object of gratitude: it is not just education and not just the manner in which the education is given that is the object of gratitude; it is rather “education’s being given in a certain manner.”
“A Mysterious Case of Mistaken Identity: Hume’s account of belief in body”
Abstract. This paper is on Hume’s account of the coherence and constancy of our impressions, and how they yield belief in the continued existence of body (in Treatise 1.4.2). I argue that while scholars are right to think that Hume has a unified explanation of belief in body at his disposal, they are wrong to think that this explanation should be made in terms of causal reasoning plus the galley mechanism. My central claim is that all cases of coherence and constancy that give rise to belief in body involve a mistaken opinion of identity. [*This paper is at an advanced stage: I am happy to provide a draft upon request.]
Learning Virtue: The Value of Knowledge and Philosophical Inquiry in Four Platonic Dialogues
Short Abstract. My dissertation offers an account of how the radical re-imagining of virtue and happiness in Plato’s dialogues is informed by assumptions about the nature and value of knowledge. I develop my argument through close readings of four Platonic dialogues: the Laches, the Protagoras, the Meno, and the Euthydemus. I argue that in these dialogues Socrates accords knowledge both instrumental and final value. I also argue that philosophy is a form of productive knowledge: it is the skill of asking and answering questions, aimed at the acquisition of more knowledge. As a result, philosophical inquiry and the knowledge it produces have a double role to play in the good life. Philosophical inquiry, especially inquiry into the nature of virtue, is a means to virtue and happiness insofar as it provides one with a conceptualization of the kind of person one aims to become and helps guide one’s actions toward that end. But, in addition, philosophical inquiry and knowledge are constitutive of the virtuous and happy life. Virtuous action consists in doing philosophy, and the genuinely happy person will be the one who has acquired the knowledge at which philosophy aims through her philosophizing. One implication of my view is that the truly virtuous person must know what knowledge is. This suggests that Plato’s epistemological investigations are in the service of the project of becoming good.
Long Abstract here.
[pictured: an art installation in the de Young Museum in San Francisco, CA]