Published & Forthcoming
(forth) “What’s Aristotelian about Neo-Aristotelian Virtue Ethics?” [early online view] — Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
I argue that Aristotle was not a virtue ethicist: he does not explain the goodness of actions in terms of the concept of a virtuous character. This might seem disappointing. We do not find in Aristotle a distinct normative theory alongside deontology and consequentialism. But I argue that we find instead is a sophisticated and compelling view of how being virtuous — performing good actions with the right reasons and desires — puts us in the position to live a good human life.
(2018) “Acting Virtuously as an End in Aristotle’s Ethics” [published version] — British Journal of the History of Philosophy
I tackle the familiar problem of whether, for Aristotle, virtuous actions are ends, or whether they are for the sake of ends beyond themselves. I argue that we can make sense of Aristotle’s seemingly inconsistent claims about the way virtuous actions are related to their ends by distinguishing between virtuous actions and “acting virtuously” — performing virtuous actions with a full rational grasp of what makes the actions good, and with the appropriate emotional responses. I argue that this distinction sheds light on how to think about the relationship between virtue and happiness in the Nicomachean Ethics
(forth) “Not Always Worth the Effort: Difficulty and the Value of Achievement” [published version] — Pacific Philosophical Quarterly
Recent literature has argued that what makes certain activities ranging from curing cancer to running a marathon count as achievements, and what makes achievements intrinsically valuable is, centrally, that they involve great effort. Gwen Bradford, in her recent book Achievement develops and defends the most worked out version of a difficulty-based account of achievement. She argues that the value of the product of an achievement makes no contribution to its essential value. Rather, we should understand the value of achievements in perfectionist terms: achievements allow us to exercise characteristic human capacities, chief amongst which is “the will”. Although there is much the difficulty-based view gets right, I argue that it generates the wrong results about some central cases of achievement, and this is because it is too narrowly focused on only one perfectionist capacity, “the will”. I propose a revised perfectionist account on which an achievement is an activity that fully exercises or expresses any number of a range of perfectionist capacities.
(forth) “External Goods and the Complete Exercise of Virtue in Aristotle’s NE” [penultimate draft] — Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie
Aristotle seems to think that certain “external” goods like wealth, political power, good children and a good birth are required for happiness because, in the first place, they are required for virtuous activity. This is puzzling. Intuitively, it seems possible for a virtuous agent to exercise her virtuous character even under conditions of extreme hardship or deprivation. Why then isn’t Aristotle drawn to the Stoic conclusion that even someone suffering from great misfortune can be happy so long as she is able to exercise her virtuous character? I argue there is good sense to be made of Aristotle’s initially puzzling stance of external goods. Specifically, I explain how a range of external goods is required for the full exercise of virtue, and I show that it is only this full exercise of virtue that is constitutive of eudaimonia.
(forth) “Aristotelian Eudaimonism and the Dualism of Practical Reason” — The Ethics of Sidgwick and Kant: Exploring the Cosmos of Duty Above and the Moral Law Within
Plato and Aristotle were eudaimonists. They believed that an agent ought to do all things with the ultimate goal of promoting her own happiness or eudaimonia. As such, Plato and Aristotle sought to derive or justify the content of the ethical virtues by showing how these virtues contribute to an agent’s eudaimonia. This, at any rate, is the way that Kant and Sidgwick read Plato and Aristotle and, indeed, how the majority of scholars have understood ancient ethical theories. Both Kant and Sidgwick criticize eudaimonist theories for reducing moral reasons to mere prudential reasons; both argue that ancient ethical theories fail to recognize that we have reasons independent of our own happiness for performing just, generous or courageous actions. In this paper, I call into question the pervasive assumption that Aristotle’s ethical theory really was eudaimonist in the sense described. I review some of the textual and philosophical challenges in interpreting Aristotle’s apparent commitment to eudaimonism, and consider some of the strategies employed by commentators to resolve these challenges. I conclude by suggesting how one strategy of interpreting Aristotle’s apparent eudaimonism can avoid some of the most serious challenges pressed by Kant and Sidgwick.
Eudaimonism and the Pluralism 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 — (under review)
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.