A common criticism of ancient ethical theories is that they are not sufficiently action-guiding. My dissertation vindicates the Stoics from this charge. Despite the abstract and technical appearance of Stoic ethics, our evidence suggests that the Stoics aimed to provide concrete guidance on how to live virtuously and in conformity with nature. Scholars have failed to appreciate how Stoic ethical theory can provide deliberative guidance because they have overlooked the central role of the metaphysics of value in their thinking about action. By foregrounding issues in Stoic axiology I am able to provide a novel account of Stoic practical reasoning that links up with all aspects of their philosophy, including their providential and physicalist picture of the world. My view also has implications for our understanding of Stoicism’s place in the development of western moral philosophy. While the Stoics are thoroughgoing eudaimonists (contrary to some characterizations of them as ‘proto-modern’), I believe their novel conception of natural law paves the way for later developments away from eudaimonism in the history of ethics.
A more detailed summary of my dissertation is available upon request.
1. I was awarded the inaugural Provost’s Graduate Academic Engagement Fellowship to teach Penn’s first graduate taught Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) course, entitled Public Philosophy & Civic Engagement. You can read more about my course here and here. Through the fellowship I am also conducting collaborative research on the moral hazards of public engagement and the history of philosophical practice.
2. As a historian of philosophy I am interested in the genealogy of supposedly perennial notions like natural law and duty. In a paper in progress I trace the reception of the Stoic doctrine of right action (καθῆκον) in Roman philosophy as ‘officium’ and in modernity as ‘Pflicht’ and ‘duty’. One upshot is that Cicero’s anti-Epicurean polemics shape his transmission of this Stoic notion in such a way that the concept beings to take on overtly deontological connotations. Another upshot is that the essential core of the Stoic way of talking about the fitness of human action in purely extensional or behavioral terms persists throughout its transmission history.
3. I am collaborating with Scott Weinstein and Brian Reese on a paper centered around Zeno’s Paradox of Measure. In a paper entitled “How can a line segment with extension be composed of extensionless points? From Aristotle to Borel, and Beyond,” we provide a novel exposition of the modern mathematical resolution of Zeno’s paradox, and consider the extent to which this answer was accessible to the ancient mathematical understanding of the nature of the linear continuum. We also show that the modern resolution of the paradox has nothing to do with Cantor’s proof that the linear continuum is uncountably infinite, as is widely believed.