There is a long tradition in philosophy of thinking there is something intrinsically valuable about humans developing and exercising the capacities that are essential our nature. The main focus of my research concerns this type of value: how we can achieve it, how it contributes to the quality of our lives, and how it is related to other goods that we have reason to care about. My research explores these issues both in relation to Aristotle’s ethical theory, and in relation to first order ethical issues surrounding agency, achievement, and oppressive circumstances.
Much of my work on Aristotle is about the relationship between eudaimonia — the highest human good — and other ends in the ethical domain. My general approach is to treat the way in which Aristotle talks about “ends” in the ethical domain as largely continuous with his treatment of ends in his metaphysics and natural science. In “Acting Virtuously…” (BJHP) and “What’s Aristotelian…?” (PPR) I argue that “acting virtuously” is an end for human beings by being the full expression of our practically rational nature, and not by being a goal we always aim at in our actions and decisions. I explore the consequences of this view for thinking about the relationship between virtue and happiness, and for the familiar worry that Aristotle’s ethical theory is objectionably egoistic.
In “External Goods…” (Archiv), I argue that, for Aristotle, the full expression of our practically rational nature depends in part on the ends available to us in our actions. In “Not Always Worth the Effort…” (PPQ), I argue that this Aristotelian view can be extended to thinking about the value of achievement: whether we fully realize a creative or athletic capacity may depend in significant ways on the nature of the product we are able to achieve. In “The Badness of Double Binds” (draft), I appeal to similar considerations to suggest that the full expression of our agency might be constrained by situations like double binds that force us to choose between options that are necessarily self-undermining.
Right now, I’m thinking about the relationship between eudaimonia and other intrinsically valuable ends. In “Aristotelian Eudaimonism…” (invited) I raise skepticism about the common assumption that Aristotle was a “eudaimonist”, where this is understood as the view that an agent does, or ought to, perform all actions with a view to promoting her own eudaimonia. In “Eudaimonism and the Plurality of Value” (draft), I defend an alternative explanation for how eudaimonia is our ultimate end, for the sake of which all other ends are choice-worthy. In “Aristotle on Complete and Incomplete Actions” (draft), I propose a novel account of the distinction between actions that are ends and actions that are for the sake of ends beyond themselves.