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?’
Eikasia is commonly identified with the error of being taken in by appearances; specifically: failing to recognise the difference between an appearance and the original of which it is merely an appearance. I aim to show that this is on the right track, though requires refinement in two areas. First, against the prevailing ‘second-hand belief’ reading, according to which ethical eikasia is a kind of uncritical acceptance of others’ beliefs, I argue that the ‘images’ (eikones) that eikasia is set over are sensory even in ethical contexts—‘shadows of justice’ (517d8–9) are not beliefs about justice, but people or acts that appear just. Second, I argue that eikasia should be identified with a cognitive activity that, in line with its cognate verb eikazein, is a kind of empirical guessing or conjecture, one which is non-rational in both a weaker sense of being a form of cognition that requires no reasoning and in a stronger sense of being available to the non-rational parts of the soul.