"Where Socratic Akrasia Meets the Platonic Good," Journal of the History of Philosophy (forthcoming).
The Protagoras's case against akrasia comes in two stages. First, at 352bc, we get an extremely quick argument grounded on knowledge as an epistemic ideal. This argument does not persuade the many, and so the dialogue turns, starting at 355a, to a technical and carefully developed argument aimed that proceeds on an entirely different basis. This argument has considerable force, but only once we make certain idealizing assumptions about an agent's ability to grasp the unitary, homogeneous nature of value. Reading the dialogue in this way offers the further tantalizing possibility of showing us precisely where Socrates's thought leaves off and Plato's begins: that the dialogue takes off from the famous and historical Socratic rejection of akrasia and then attempts to ground that dictum in a novel argument, one that displays Plato's characteristic interest in the distance between surface appearances and ultimate reality.
"Teleology in the Later Middle Ages," in J. McDonough (ed.), Teleology: A History (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
Teleological explanation is one of the legacies of antiquity that received a surprisingly muted response in the Middle Ages. Aristotle's naturalized approach to teleology met with little enthusiasm, and grave doubts arose in the later Middle Ages over whether final causes are a legitimate kind of cause at all. This was a natural reaction to the distinctive features of medieval teleology, which is that teleological causes are universal, intelligent, particular, forward-looking, intentional, and (in non-rational cases) extrinsic. When teleology is so understood, its explanatory role becomes limited to certain special cases. Indeed, the one place where reflection on ends plays a truly robust role in later medieval philosophy is in ethics. Even here, however, the consensus of antiquity -- that human beings are and ought to be ultimately motivated by their own happiness -- meets with growing resistance and eventually outright rejection.
"Enthusiasm", in J. Gorden Roth and S. Weinberg (eds.), The Lockean Mind (Routledge, forthcoming), co-authored with Mark Boespflug.
To be an enthusiast, for Locke, is to believe oneself, on insufficient evidence, to be the recipient of immediate divine inspiration. We describe the theological context that led Locke to insert a chapter on this subject into the fourth edition of the Essay, and then examine why Locke held enthusiasm to be particularly objectionable. Far from being an obscure historical footnote, the chapter raises foundational questions for Locke's epistemology. We look more closely than have previous treatments of this topic at the religious practices that Locke targets, and find them to be less obviously irrational than his criticisms suggest. Reflection on those criticisms allows us a clearer understanding of where Locke locates the ultimate grounds of rational belief.
"Qualitative Change", in J. T. Paasch and R. Cross (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Medieval Philosophy (forthcoming).
At the boundaries of metaphysics and natural philosophy lies a fascinating medieval dispute over the way qualitative change takes place. Although modern philosophy has had little to say about this issue, anyone who needs properties or dispositions to do serious explanatory work should attend to how such qualitative features of reality intensify and diminish. For now, the most sophisticated such accounts are to be found in the later Middle Ages.
I am in the early stages of research into what I hope will be a book on voluntarism in the fourteenth century. The goal is to look very widely at the many aspects of voluntarism, as it concerns not just the scholastic debate over free will but also in ethics, politics, and literature.
I am also at work on various projects in recent epistemology, and I continue to study Arabic and the classical Islamicate philosophical tradition.
Does philosophy make progress? If so, why bother studying its history? The answer I offer here is that we should study it because it is beautiful. Written for the 2011 PhilProgress symposium at Harvard.