My research focuses on ancient Greek and Roman conceptions of life, soul, mind and personhood. I approach these conceptions not as isolated bits of philosophical theorizing, but products of holistic thinking: arising from a thinker’s metaphysical and cosmological outlook, and influencing their ethical and political thought. Centrally, I focus on Aristotle’s influential theory of soul in his De Anima and biological works, and how this emerges in his theories of perception, desire, and intellect.
These interests led to my dissertation, Aristotle’s Divided Soul. I provide a novel interpretation of Aristotle’s conception of ‘parts of soul’ (moria psuchēs) in his De Anima. Interpreters have failed to explain how Aristotle can maintain two philosophically attractive and textually grounded claims: that there are multiple discrete parts of soul, and that soul is the unified and unifying form (eidos) of the living organism. Contrary to most interpreters, I argue that both claims are genuinely endorsed by Aristotle and, when correctly understood, compatible and crucial to the project of De Anima as a whole. First, psychic parts are not spatial parts, but are instead the definitionally basic capacities or powers of an organism (nutrition, perception, intellect); these basic capacities, in turn, provide the explanatory foundation for understanding all other vital capacities. Second, Aristotle formulates a sophisticated account of psychic unity, according to which psychic parts are ‘present potentially’ within the soul: the soul is no mere aggregate of parts, but is actually and essentially a whole, even while having parts.
I also focus the influence of these ancient conceptions of mind and soul throughout the history of philosophy and their relevance for contemporary philosophy of mind and moral psychology, focusing on two central themes. First, I investigate the diverse ways in which philosophers and psychologists divide the soul, mind, or person, and the uses to which these divisions have been used—to distinguish rational from the irrational, the perceptual from the conceptual, the conscious from the unconscious, the divine from the mortal, or the human from the animal. On the other, I investigate how theoretical and scientific approaches to the soul, mind, or person (e.g., as in De Anima or contemporary cognitive science) relates to with ordinary approaches, or ‘folk psychology’, which are found more often in ethical or political contexts.
Papers (available by request)
“Aristotle’s Unified Soul: The Figure-Soul Analogy and It’s Context” (Forthcoming in Journal of the History of Philosophy)
I offer a novel reading of Aristotle’s account of psychic unity, according to which the soul is a non-aggregative unity that is prior to its parts. Aristotle’s anxieties about the soul’s unity arise because of an ‘actualist assumption’: psychic parts are actually distinct entities, which are brought together by an external unifying cause. To reject this assumption, Aristotle describes an alternative conception of parthood (‘potential parthood’) within an analogy between souls and geometric figures. As a triangle is present potentially within a square, so psychic parts are present potentially within the whole soul. This alternative picture undermines the actualist assumption, indicating that the soul is no mere aggregate of parts, but is actually and essentially a whole, which is prior to its parts
“Aristotle on Perceptual Discrimination: Perception as Substance and as Limit” (R&R at Apeiron)
I argue that Aristotle’s claim that perception is like a ‘point’ constitutes a rejection of Literalist or naturalist conceptions of perception. Having argued that perception must be unified, Aristotle initially entertains that the unity of perception resembles that of a normal material substance—“undivided in number, but divided in account.” Yet, because this substance model fails to explain the discrimination of opposites (e.g., sweet and bitter), Aristotle discards the substance model, instead claiming that the unity of perception resembles that of a point. Aristotle, I argue, thereby affirms an anti-Literalist account of perception, and rejects accounts that model perception on the structure of ordinary material objects
“Aristotle’s Critique of Timaean Soul Partition” (Under Review)
I formulate a novel interpretation of Aristotle’s rejection of the conception of psychic parthood in Plato’s Timaeus. This conception holds that psychic parts are spatially separable and operate within distinct bodily regions. A close reading of Aristotle’s arguments reveal both a subtle criticism of the Timaeus and a rich picture of the relationship between Aristotelian and Platonic psychologies. While both psychologies seek to explain the soul’s relationship to the body, Aristotelian psychology is committed to a deeper unity of soul than can be accommodated within Platonic psychology.
“Aristotle and Additive Theories of Rationality” (In Progress)
The additive theory of rationality (e.g., Velleman, 2000; Evans 1982) is a widespread conception of mind, according to which human perceptual and desiderative systems are shared with animals, and so are separate from any distinctively human rational systems. I argue that Aristotle rejects any such picture of mind or soul, formulating in De Anima I.5 a sophisticated precursor to the contemporary “Unity Problem” (Boyle, 2014): with additive theories of rationality, one faces difficulties in regarding the mind as a single subject of which desires, perceptions, and rational choices or thoughts are predicated. Aristotle contends that an additive theory of soul, which posits separate desiderative and intellectual parts of soul, similarly lacks the resources to account for the unity of the soul, and so must be rejected.
“Why Aristotle’s Soul Needs Parts” (In Progress)
Despite recent renewed interest in Aristotle’s conception of “parts of soul” in De Anima, some scholars contend that the Aristotelian soul lacks parts, and that his use of “part of soul” is merely metaphorical. I defend the existence of Aristotelian psychic parts, arguing that Aristotle must be committed to the existence of psychic parts, given his other metaphysical and psychological doctrines. This commitment emerges from his more fundamental commitment to the “homonymy of life”. According to this doctrine, ‘life’ lacks a single univocal definition and living is constituted by multiple heterogenous activities. Hence, animal and human souls are made up of multiple discrete capacities (nutrition, perception, and intellect). Because these capacities are irreducibly many, animal and human souls must themselves be internally complex and divisible into parts. Consequently, any interpretation of De Anima must recognize the central role that psychic parthood plays in Aristotle’s theory of soul.