Platonic causes & Platonic mereology
At Phaedo 95e–107b, Socrates rejects several intuitive explanations as bogus and accepts several unconventional explanations as genuine. Standard interpretations claim that this is because Plato is introducing a new kind of cause, rejecting the material and mechanistic explanations of his predecessors in favor of more formal and metaphysical explanations. In contrast, I show that Plato is seeking the same kind of cause as his predecessors, and that his goal is to show that they have identified this cause incorrectly. I demonstrate that the passage is structured around a search for the "mereological cause" — that which has been added to an object, such that the object is now such-and-such. This interpretation lets us see Plato as actually refuting his predecessors, rather than changing the subject on them, and also reveals Plato's interest in causes to be, fundamentally, an interest in the constituents or elements which account for objects' manifest features. (email for draft)
The method of hypothesis in the Phaedo
This paper presents a new interpretation of Socrates' famous "method of hypothesis" from the Phaedo. Whereas existing analyses of this method have focused exclusively on its employment in the Phaedo's final argument, I demonstrate that the method is in fact employed throughout the Phaedo, in all of its major arguments. By attending to the ways in which the method of hypothesis is employed in these other arguments, a new picture of the method's nature and purpose emerges. As I argue, the method of hypothesis is primarily intended, not as a method of inquiry or proof, but as a method of dispelling irrational doubts: as a principled means of making us feel more certain about uncertain claims. (email for draft)
Socrates and Plato against the amoralist: Responding to Callicles' critique
How does Socrates respond to Callicles in the Gorgias, and what is Plato thereby telling us about how the moralist can respond to the amoralist? I propose that a proper answer to these questions must start by looking at Callicles' critique of Socrates' way of life. I argue that Callicles' critique rests on two theses: a "Psychological Thesis" that we all fundamentally desire to have more; and a "Motivational Thesis" that we ought to do only what we desire to do. Since Socrates' way of life inevitably involves being taken advantage of by others and thereby having less, Callicles contends that we have no reason to live it. I then show how Socrates responds to this critique: by presenting himself as someone who does not share the "fundamental" desire to have more, thereby disproving Callicles' Psychological Thesis and nullifying his critique. (email for draft)
What moralists in aesthetics must (and yet cannot) prove
This paper challenges the dominant "moralist" view in contemporary aesthetics. Moralism is the thesis that, in some cases, our moral evaluations of artworks should have a direct effect on our aesthetic evaluations of those works. In the paper I argue that moralism is false – or, at least, so implausible as not to be believed. As moralists themselves emphasize, if a case for moralism is to be made, it will be with regard to the perspective a work endorses. I distinguish two ways in which a perspective can be morally inflected: with respect to its content (being morally "abhorrent" or "admirable"), and with respect to its form (being morally "sensitive" or "obtuse"). In neither case is moralism defensible. With respect to the former, a morally abhorrent or admirable perspective simply has no aesthetic value on its own, either positive or negative; the perspective's aesthetic value is determined by other, aesthetic aspects of its work. With respect to the latter, a morally sensitive perspective does indeed have positive aesthetic value, and conversely for an obtuse perspective; however, this value holds in virtue of just its sensitivity, and not in virtue of its being a moral sensitivity. Thus, the aesthetic relevance of a morally inflected perspective is either nonexistent or incidental to the perspective's morality. Therefore, the case for moralism cannot be made. (email for draft)
What are Platonic Forms, metaphysically speaking? In this book I propose a new answer to this age-old question, novel in both its approach and its substance. With respect to my approach to this question, I proceed from the idea that we will arrive at a satisfactory account of the Forms' metaphysical status only by taking as central their role as causes. And, with respect to the substance of my answer, I argue that, once their role as causes is properly understood, it becomes apparent that Forms are, metaphysically speaking, best seen as a kind of elemental power – a metaphysical category which Plato would plausibly have inherited from various of his predecessors, such as the Presocratic philosophers and the Hippocratic medical writers. As a result, Platonic Forms are revealed on this interpretation to be just one step (indeed, the last step) in a long tradition of ancient causal and metaphysical theorizing, which sought to explain the natural world of change in terms of unchanging eternal elements.
(For the curious, this manuscript expands on ideas first developed in my...)
Plato's metaphysics is distinguished by its recognition of Forms. Plato also believed, notoriously, that Forms were causes — viz., the causes of ordinary objects' features. ("All beautiful things are beautiful by the Form of the Beautiful", as the slogan goes.) Philosophers since Aristotle have criticized this claim, arguing that Forms cannot be causes in any legitimate sense, and that their alleged causal role can be performed by other things. Correspondingly, philosophers interested in elucidating Plato's metaphysics have tended to downplay the Forms' causal status. Here I oppose this tendency. I show that there is a legitimate sense in which Forms are causes; that this sort of causality is fundamental to what Forms are; and that this understanding of the Forms' status as causes offers new insights into their other contentious features. ( Full Abstract (PDF) | Introduction (PDF) )
The self-predication of Platonic Forms & causes
This paper presents a novel interpretation of the infamous thesis that Platonic Forms are self-predicative (i.e., the thesis that the Form of F-ness "is F"). As I emphasize, this thesis is a direct consequence of Plato's more general ideas about causation, since, on Plato's view, the Form of F-ness is a cause of F-ness, and any cause of F-ness must itself be F. Yet Plato did not believe that a cause of F-ness "is F" in the same way that an ordinary F object "is F". As I show, the Phaedo sets forth a distinction between two ways in which a property can be truly predicated of a subject: a cause of F-ness "is F" in that the definition of F-ness is true of it, and an ordinary F object "is F" in that there is something added to it which is F in the first sense. This interpretation challenges the common view that Plato did not develop such a distinction until late in his career (viz., in the Parmenides and the Sophist), and offers a new account of what his later semantic innovations actually were.
Plato on what can and cannot be perceived
Plato, on a number of occasions, divides all beings into two basic types: perceptibles and imperceptibles. But what did Plato mean by the terms 'perceptible' and 'imperceptible'? Readers of Plato have generally just assumed that Plato's talk of perceptibles and imperceptibles is meant to signal his recognition of two radically distinct kinds of beings, wholly unlike and separate from one another, as if occupying two distinct metaphysical planes of existence. This interpretation is not implausible; nonetheless, it should not be attributed to Plato — or so I argue in this paper. As I demonstrate, through a careful study of Plato's use of perception language throughout the corpus, whether or not something is perceptible is not an ontological matter about the kind of object it is, but an epistemological matter about what our human perceptual faculties can accurately grasp. In this regard, I show, imperceptibles are imperceptible because perception never grasps them in isolation, but only ever in combination with other imperceptibles. And this, in turn, makes possible a new understanding of the nature of perceptible and imperceptible beings in Plato, wherein imperceptibles are understood as the constituent elements out of which perceptibles are composed.