Aristotelian Eudaimonism and the Dualism of Practical Reason — (in progress) for The Ethics of Sidgwick and Kant: Exploring the Cosmos of Duty Above and the Moral Law Within
Both Kant and Sidgwick interpret Aristotle’s ethical theory as fundamentally egocentric: an agent ought to do what promotes her own happiness. And, both Kant and Sidgwick worry, Aristotle’s attempt to derive other-regarding demands from an agent’s concern for her own eudaimonia is deeply misguided. I survey various interpretations of how Aristotle conceives of the relationship between an agent’s concern for her own well-being, and other-regarding demands, and suggest how we should locate Aristotle’s view relative to the kind of classification scheme Sidgwick offers.
Eudaimonism as a Theory of Value — (in progress)
There is overwhelming consensus that Aristotle ascribed to some form of eudaimonism, the view that an agent ought to live her life so as to realize eudaimonia or human flourishing. There is remarkably little consensus, however, on just what form Aristotle’s eudaimonism takes. I argue that the common interpretations of Aristotle’s eudaimonism are mistaken, and I propose an alternative. Aristotle is not committed to eudaimonism understood as a psychological description of how ordinary human beings act, nor to eudaimonism understood as a normative principle for how ordinary human beings ought to act. Rather, I argue, Aristotle is committed to eudaimonism as a kind of axiological principle: the value of other human goods is explained by the way in which these goods are related to the highest human good. If this is right, it has significant consequences for thinking about the kind of explanatory role eudaimonia is meant to play in the structure of Aristotle’s ethical theory.
Double Binds and the Limits of Autonomy — (in progress)
A double bind is a situation in which an agent is faced with a choice between competing demands, and in which, regardless of what she does, she is likely to face negative consequences. Double binds are a characteristic feature of oppressive circumstances, and it is natural to want an explanation of the sense in which they are bad for the people thereby oppressed. In this paper, I pose a challenge for the common assumption that oppressive circumstances like double binds are bad for the oppressed in part because they limit their autonomy. I suggest that existing accounts of autonomy are not well positioned to explain how circumstances like double binds threaten an agent’s autonomy, at least not without incurring significant theoretical costs. Further, I suggest an alternative route: situations like double binds, rather than being a threat to an agent’s autonomy, are threats to her agency. I sketch an account of the conditions under which agency is fully expressed, and I draw some consequences for thinking about the limits of traditional debates around autonomy, and for where we ought to locate the badness of oppression.
Aristotle on Complete and Incomplete Actions — (in progress)
Throughout his corpus, Aristotle distinguishes between actions like building, learning and walking that are “incomplete” or ateles, and actions like seeing and understanding that are “complete” or teleion. The former actions take time in order to be complete “in form”, have ends beyond the actions themselves, and can occur quickly or slowly. The latter are complete at any moment, are or have present within them their own ends, and cannot be qualified with the adverbs “quickly” or “slowly”. Despite its pervasiveness and the enormous amount of scholarly attention it has received, the distinction between these two kinds of actions is far from clear: what makes it the case that actions like walking and building are for the sake of ends beyond themselves, while seeing and understanding are themselves ends? In this paper, I argue that common strategies to interpret the distinction fail to capture its metaphysical significance. The distinction between incomplete and complete actions is, fundamentally, a distinction between the ontological status of two ways of being actual. Incomplete actions are incomplete or partial realizations of some end state; they are actualities of what has a potential only insofar as that potential remains potential. Complete actions, by contrast, are the exercises of potentials that are aspects of an organism’s essential nature: they are ways in which ensouled organisms fully realize their own being.