Here you can learn more about my completed and ongoing research projects in ancient philosophy, philosophy of religion, medieval philosophy, and metaphysics.
Abstract: Essentialists claim that at least some individuals or kinds have essences. This raises an important but little-discussed question: how do we come to know what the essence of something is? This paper examines Aristotle’s answer to this question. One influential interpretation (viz., the Explanationist Interpretation) is carefully expounded, criticized, and then refined. Particular attention is given to what Aristotle says about this issue in DA I.1, APo II.2, and APo II.8. It is argued that the epistemological claim put forward in DA I.1 differs from that put forward in APo II.2 and II.8, contrary to what has been claimed by Explanationists, and that each of these distinct epistemological claims rests on a distinct non-epistemological thesis about essence. Consequently, an ‘enriched’ Explanationist Interpretation is developed which takes into account both of the aforementioned elements in Aristotle’s epistemology of essence. The paper concludes by highlighting an insight the preceding exegetical discussion offers to contemporary essentialists seeking to explain how we come to know what something’s essence is.
Abstract: According to the doctrine of the Incarnation, one person, Christ, has both the attributes proper to a human being and the attributes proper to God. This claim has given rise to the coherence objection, i.e., the objection that it is impossible for one individual to have both sets of attributes. Several authors have offered responses which rely on the idea that Christ has the relevant human properties in virtue of having a concrete human nature which has those properties. I show why such responses should be rejected and, in light of that, propose an alternative response to the coherence objection.
Abstract: How do we come to know what something’s essence is? In this essay, I examine Aristotle’s answer to this question. I offer a systematic discussion of the three main interpretations of the epistemology of essence proposed in Aristotle’s Analytics and related methodological passages outside the Analytics. I examine the merits of each of these three interpretations, arguing in the end for the exegetical and philosophical superiority of the Explanationist View. While others have dismissed the Intuitionist View as textually unsupported and philosophically unsatisfying, they have often done so without carefully identifying the central thesis of the view or addressing the arguments advanced on its behalf. My treatment of the Intuitionist View fills this gap and, in addition, clarifies why the view is philosophically unsatisfying given Aristotle’s conception of the explanatory role of essences. In a similar vein, when discussing the Explanationist View, I not only offer a sharper account of the view and the reason why certain texts support it but also illustrate why, unlike its competitors, the Explanationist view fits well with Aristotle’s conception of the explanatory role of essences. Finally, in regard to Bronstein’s recently developed and yet unchallenged Socratic View, I raise a novel objection which shows that the methods of division and induction recommended by the view cannot be used to come to know the essences of things given the explanatory role Aristotle assigns to those essences. I also examine the specific passages used to motivate the Socratic View and explain why these textual arguments are misguided. In the course of doing so, I clarify the role the method of division can play in Aristotle’s epistemology and contrast this role with that assigned to division by the Socratic View.
Abstract: Is it possible for an individual to be both God and a human being? According to the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, such a state of affairs is not only possible but in fact actual. But this claim faces a serious philosophical objection: at least some of the attributes proper to being human seem to be incompatible with those proper to being God, and hence it seems to be impossible that anything could be both God and a human being. This paper examines Thomas Aquinas’ answer to this challenge. I show that a prominent interpretation of Aquinas’ answer to this objection (viz., the mereological interpretation defended by Richard Cross, Eleonore Stump, and others) conflicts with Aquinas’ general principle that “actions belong to supposits” (actiones sunt suppositorum) and with an important implication of that principle, viz., the implication that only persons (i.e., supposits of a rational nature) can think, will, and, in general, perform the actions characteristic of a rational nature. In light of this decisive problem for the mereological interpretation, I develop a novel alternative interpretation of Aquinas’ response to the aforementioned objection to the coherence of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.
Abstract: Is an Aristotelian soul, like a Cartesian soul, a thing which literally perceives, thinks, etc.? Many commentators have thought that this interpretation is ruled out by a well-known passage in DA I.4. Others, however, have challenged this reading of DA I.4 and argued that there are other texts which support the view that Aristotelian souls perceive, think, etc. This paper shows why these latter arguments fail. In the course of doing so, I answer a more general question about Aristotle’s hylomorphism, viz., the question of in what way the forms of substances are underlying subjects (hupokeimena) of affections (pathē)
Abstract: Thomas Aquinas’ discussion of the separability of the human soul has occasioned much debate among scholars. It is clear that Aquinas maintains that a human soul can exist apart from a body and, in fact, does exist apart from a body during the interim state between a human person’s death and her bodily resurrection. But does Aquinas think that a human person can exist without a body during the interim state between their death and bodily resurrection? Survivalists defend the affirmative answer: these authors claim that Aquinas’ view is that human persons can exist without a body and in fact do exist without a body during the interim state between their death and resurrection. Cessationists deny this: these authors claim that Aquinas’ view is that only a human person’s soul can exist without a body and only a human person’s soul in fact does exist during the interim state; the person ceases to exist when she dies and comes to exist again only when the separated soul is reunited with a body at the end of time.
In this paper, I offer a novel argument on behalf of the Survivalist interpretation. The argument proceeds from three key premises: (i) Aquinas maintains that, when a human person dies, something continues to understand (intelligere) and hence to act/operate in the interim state; (ii) Aquinas maintains that, properly speaking, only supposits act/operate; and (iii) Aquinas denies that human souls, including separated human souls, are supposits. In the course of doing so, I clarify Aquinas’ position on the relationship between human persons and their souls and show how Aquinas makes room for the possibility that a human person exists without a body without ending up with what he regards as the Platonic position, according to which a human person is not a compound of body and soul but rather a ‘soul using a body’.
Abstract: Jonathan Schaffer has recently advanced several arguments for priority monism, the thesis that the cosmos taken as a whole is the one and only fundamental material object and substance upon which all other material objects (parts of the cosmos) ontologically depend. In this paper, I offer a priority pluralist response to one of Schaffer’s arguments, namely, the argument from nomic integrity. In particular, I object to Schaffer’s account of the integration required for substancehood and propose an alternative, more Aristotelian and Leibnizian account of this integration. On Schaffer’s view, the integration of a substance requires that it be incapable of being causally affected by anything else, but I argue that this thesis conflates ontological independence with causal independence. According to my alternative proposal, the integration of a substance requires only that it be capable of making a non-redundant causal contribution to what happens. This alternative account of the integration required for substancehood undermines Schaffer’s inference from nomic interconnectedness to priority monism, for it allows for there to be multiple substances which are distinct and yet nonetheless deeply interconnected by the laws which govern how they evolve over time. Finally, I turn the tables against the priority monist by illustrating how this alternative account of substantial integration can be used to mount an argument against priority monism.