My research is in ancient philosophy, and I have active interests in contemporary ethics, especially virtue ethics, and areas of political philosophy. In ancient philosophy, my research has focused on Plato's ethics, psychology, and epistemology, and in particular his views on the nature of belief and perception and how these relate to non-rational cognition and motivation.
In the past few years I've been looking closely at the images of the Sun, Line, and Cave in Plato's Republic. I am especially interested in the two kinds of belief that Plato introduces here, eikasia and pistis, but this has led me to explore some of the traditional puzzles these image raise, like the putative parallelism between the Line and Cave and the equality of the Line's middle sections.
‘Appearance, Perception, & Non-Rational Belief: Republic 602c–603a’, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 47 (2014) 81–118 PDF
In book 10 of the Republic we find a new argument for the division of the soul. The argument’s structure is similar to the arguments in book 4 but, unlike those arguments, it centres on a purely cognitive conflict: believing and disbelieving the same thing, at the same time. The argument presents two interpretive difficulties. First, it assumes that a conflict between a belief and an appearance—e.g. disbelieving that a stick partially immersed in water is, as it appears, bent—entails a conflict between beliefs. Prima facie, there is only one belief, the belief that contradicts the appearance. Second, it is unclear what parts of the soul Plato intends to divide between: some argue that it is, as in book 4, a partition between a rational and a non-rational part; others argue that it is a new partition between a higher and a lower subdivision of the rational part.
This paper offers solutions to both difficulties through an analysis of what Plato means by φαινόμενα, ‘appearances’, and δόξαι, ‘beliefs’. It is argued, first, that the relevant appearances are entirely sensory but nonetheless sufficiently belief-like to (a) warrant being called δόξαι and (b) oppose, by themselves, our beliefs; there is no need for a third mental state, a belief that assents to the appearance. A second claim concerns a central line in the argument, 602e4–6, that has served as the primary evidence that the partition is within the rational part of the soul. Those who wish to avoid this conclusion generally resort to alternative, and less natural, translations of 602e4–6. It is argued that this is unnecessary: once we have correctly understood sensory appearances, we see that the standard translation of 602e4–6 in fact entails a division between a rational and a non-rational part of the soul.
‘The Translation of Republic 606a3–b5 and Plato's Partite Psychology’, forthcoming Classical Philology PDF
In this paper I discuss the translation of a line in Plato's description of the ‘greatest accusation’ against imitative poetry, Republic 606a3–b5. This line is pivotal in Plato's account of how poetry corrupts its audience and is one of the Republic's most complex and interesting applications of his partite psychology, but it is misconstrued in most recent translations, including the most widely used. I argue that an examination of the text and reflections on Platonic psychology settle the translation decisively.
‘Sex, Wealth, and Courage: Kinds of Goods and the Power of Appearance in Plato's Protagoras’, forthcoming Ancient Philosophy PDF
I offer a reading of the two conceptions of the good found in Plato’s Protagoras: the popular conception—‘the many’s’ conception—and Socrates’ conception. I pay particular attention to the three kinds of goods Socrates introduces: (a) bodily pleasures like food, drink, and sex; (b) instrumental goods like wealth, health, or power; and (c) virtuous actions like courageously going to war. My reading revises existing views about these goods in two ways. First, I argue that the many are only ‘hedonists’ in a very attenuated sense. They do not value goods of kind (b) simply as means to pleasures of kind (a); rather, they have fundamentally different attitudes to (a) and (b). Second, the hedonism that Socrates’ defends includes a distinction between kinds of pleasures: (a) bodily pleasures and (c) the pleasures of virtuous actions. This distinction between kinds of pleasures—some that do and some that do not exert the ‘power of appearance’—allows Socrates to address one of the central beliefs in the popular conception of akrasia, namely that it involves a special kind of unruly desire: non-rational appetites for pleasures like food, drink, or sex. Socrates replaces the motivational push of non-rational appetites with the epistemic pull of the appearance of immediate pleasures like food, drink, and sex.
‘Pistis, Dianoia, and Plato's Divided Line’
This paper provides a detailed interpretation of the Republic's image of the Divided Line and considers how we should respond to its most contentious implication: that pistis and dianoia have the same degree of ‘clarity and obscurity’ (σαφήνεια καὶ ἀσάφεια). I argue that we cannot avoid or attenuate this conclusion; rather, we should turn our attention to the next question: how can Plato both believe this conclusion and maintain that dianoia is a superior cognitive state to pistis? I argue that this is not only a well-motivated question, but one with an answer that gives us a deeper understanding of what dianoia and pistis are.
‘What is Eikasia?’
In this paper I defend an account of ekasia that begins with the claim that ethical eikasia is the same in kind as eikasia with respect to sensible images like shadows and reflections; the only difference is that the relevant images include representations of value properties. My account can be summarised with three claims, each building on the last:
- Eikasia is set over sensory images, like shadows and reflections.
- It is not the bare awareness of images or simply a label for an error (mistaking image for original) but a broad kind of empirical, image-confined thought.
- It is (though it is not exclusively) a kind of cognition that is available to the non-rational parts of the soul.
‘The Soul-Turning Metaphor in Republic Book 7’
This paper presents a reading of the soul-turning metaphor in book 7 of Plato’s Republic. Commentators have found it difficult to square two sets of evidence: on the one hand, Socrates’ first statement of the soul-turning metaphor and, on the other, the way the metaphor is used in the rest of book 7. The confusion this causes affects our understanding of the Cave allegory, and in particular the significance of the prisoner's first turn from shadows to statues, which Plato likens to turning the ‘whole soul’. Debates concern whether the metaphor is evidence that the turn represents the effect of (a) an education in music and gymnastics or (b) a mathematical education. This paper defends (a).