I am a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. In March 2017, I received a PhD in Philosophy with a certification from the Collaborative Program in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy from the University of Toronto.
I work on issues in Ancient Greek philosophy and the philosophy of perception. A major theme of my research is perceptual knowledge, the knowledge we acquire through such basic perceptual activities as seeing, hearing, and feeling. In particular, I am interested in the extent to which knowledge and other advanced cognitive states can explain the presence and character of perception in humans and other animals. Classical and contemporary theorists have held that the ability of a mental system to acquire advanced cognitive states affects the character of its perceptual functions, including the content presented to the subject in perceptual experience, and perhaps even accounts for the presence of those functions. In my view, whether and how advanced cognitive abilities account for a system’s perceptual functions depends importantly on background metaphysical assumptions about the nature of basic sensible qualities such as color, sound, and texture. A major aim of my research is to bring out this often subtle interplay between how we conceive of sensible qualities and how we understand perception’s role in cognitively advanced mental systems.
My dissertation, Aristotle’s Case for Perceptual Knowledge, explored this theme in the context of Aristotle’s perceptual psychology. I argued that Aristotle’s central cognitive notion of discrimination (krisis) describes the conditions under which the experience of a sensible quality amounts to knowledge (gnôsis) of that quality, and I showed how his argument for sensory discrimination depends on substantive metaphysical claims about the essential nature of sensible qualities. My current research expands on these results in two ways. First, I am examining how Aristotle’s conception of basic perceptual discrimination informs his understanding of more sophisticated forms of discrimination, both perceptual and intellectual, and how those accounts are reflected in the role he provides for perception in the epistemology of the Posterior Analytics. Second, I am examining the impact of Aristotle’s theory of perceptual discrimination on subsequent Greek epistemology, especially on Hellenistic debates over perception as a criterion (kritêrion) of truth.
A related theme of my research is how the teleology of Aristotle’s psychology informs his approach to biological explanation. Commentators have claimed to find a disconnect between theory and explanatory practice in Aristotle’s biology. In theory, Aristotle regards the soul of a living thing―its form and essence―as the basic principle of biological explanation, the “causally basic unifying feature” that accounts for all of its natural attributes. In practice, however, Aristotle’s explanations of animals’ natural attributes draw on more than their essential natures, giving a particularly significant explanatory role to material constraints in accounting for features of the animal’s body. In my view, the conclusion of some commentators that this explanatory practice violates Aristotle’s theoretical commitments results from an impoverished understanding of the relationship between soul and body. For Aristotle, the soul is a complex structured by relations of teleological priority, with each psychic part standing in teleological relations both to its dedicated bodily organ and to the single, teleologically primary activity that structures the entirety of the organism’s form of life. I am at work on a series of papers, one of which is forthcoming, devoted to spelling out this model of the Aristotelian soul as “a certain complex activity” and its implications for the explanatory practice of Aristotle’s biology.