I am interested in a wide range of topics in ancient Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle. Recently my research has focused on Plato's 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.
I am currently thinking about the images of the Sun, Line, and Cave in Plato's Republic. I'd especially like to understand the two kinds of belief that Plato introduces in these passages, eikasia and pistis, but I'm also exploring many traditional puzzles, 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 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’ PDF
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 must accept it and focus our attention on 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 also that answering it helps us come to a far better understanding of what dianoia and pistis are.
‘What is Eikasia?’ PDF
In this paper I raise objections to the most common account of eikasia in Plato's Republic, according to which ethical eikasia is an unreflective acceptance of popular or influential ethical opinions, and present an alternative account that begins with the claim that ethical eikasia is the same in kind as eikasia about shadows and reflections, except that the relevant images represent value properties. The account of eikasia I defend 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.