Research

History of Philosophy:

1. A common criticism of ancient ethical theories is that they are not sufficiently action-guiding. Henry Sidgwick felt this was particularly true of ancient Stoicism, whose ethical principles form “a complicated enchainment of circular reasonings, by which the inquirer is continually deluded with an apparent approach to practical conclusion.” 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.

2. The Stoics are often singled out as transitional figures in the history of ethics, marking a departure away from Greco-Roman virtue ethics towards a modern juridical conception of ethics. Scholars have tended to fall into two camps on this issue, either pressing the transitional narrative to the point that the Stoics become outliers in antiquity or reasserting the Stoics’ eudaimonist credentials at the expense of our mixed evidence. On my view, the Stoics are thoroughgoing eudaimonists, but their pessimism about our ability to reach perfection results in a novel conception of happiness and the dictates of natural law.

3. 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.

Contemporary Philosophy:

1. Through the Inaugural Provost’s Graduate Academic Engagement Fellowship I am conducting collaborative research on the moral hazards of public engagement and the history of philosophical practice. 

2. 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.

3. In a paper in progress I defend the existence of a moral duty to adopt, rooted in a  general duty of beneficence, against Williams-style integrity objections. I then consider the stringency of the duty by appealing to a wide range of ethical frameworks, including consequentialism, deontology, Rossian pluralism, and Christian ethics.