Photos from Conferences
Dissertation: The Essence of Plato and Aristotle
My dissertation, The Essence of Plato and Aristotle, studies the notions of essence and real definition at its source in Plato’s dialogues and their development by Aristotle.
My work on Plato focuses on two dialogues, Sophist and Statesman, which are widely known to be about real definitions and yet have not been taken seriously as sources for understanding Plato’s thoughts on real definition. I argue that these dialogues teach two important lessons, one historical and one philosophical. The historical lesson is that we should trace the origin of systematic and sophisticated metaphysical thinking concerning essence and real definition to Plato rather than to Aristotle. But we need to be careful: Plato does not offer just one theory of real definition, but several. Sophist and Statesman, I argue, contain a systematic theory of essence and real definition that is strikingly different from the one found in the early dialogues and from the one found in middle dialogues. The philosophical lesson is that real definition cannot be studied in isolation but must be understood in terms of the role it plays in a broader metaphysical theory and its connection to other theoretical notions.
I next turn to Aristotle's Categories. In the second part of my dissertation I argue that Aristotle thinks that Plato's contrast between essential facts and accidental facts is too simple: there are several kinds of essential connections between things. I identify a class of truths (e.g. Socrates is an individual and animal is a genus) that Aristotle would not characterize as essential nor as accidental. This raises the question: how does Aristotle understand truths of this sort and why does he not class them as essential or accidental truths? The core of my answer can be summarized by three claims: (1) a thing and its essential features always share a category. (2) A thing and its accidental features are always members of different categories. (3) Aristotle thinks that properties like individuality and genus-hood are not members of any categories.
You can find a working draft of one of my chapters on Aristotle here. For other chapters, please feel free to email me.
How to be an X-Firster
In this paper I argue that the X-First program in metaethics, which holds that the reason-relation (or value, or fittingness, etc.) is fundamental relative to the normative domain, is attractive in large part because it promises to produce a real definition of the property of being normative. Reason Firsters, for instance, often claim that to be normative is to depend on the reason relation. If this sort of definition pans out, then the X-First views have a key theoretical advantage over their pluralist competitors in that X-First views can explain the unity of the normative domain in a philosophically attractive manner. But to discharge this promise, I argue, the X-Firster must explicate the relevant sense of dependence invoked in their real definition of the property of being normative. I further argue that the proposals for spelling out the relevant notion of dependence offered by X-Firsters thus far, along with the obvious and some less-obvious alternatives in terms of essence and grounding, are all unsuccessful. It is not all bad news, however: I offer a viable candidate, but caution that accepting it comes with serious theoretical costs.