My research focuses on the ethical thought of the ancient philosophers and, in particular, the role of the moral and intellectual virtues in Plato’s conception of the happy human life. In the ancient context, fully understanding the relationship between the virtues and happiness involves answering two distinct questions. The first is a foundational, metaphysical question: what is it to be a virtue? The second is more practical in orientation: how, exactly, do the virtues enrich our lives and make us happy?
My previous research has primarily addressed the second of these questions, and I have published a number of detailed articles on specific topics relating to it. My ‘Immorality or Immortality? An Argument for Virtue’ (Rhetorica 32.7 (2019): 97–119) states and evaluates a hitherto unrecognized argument from two sophistic authors about the prudential reasons intelligent, self-interested individuals have for being virtuous. ‘Thrasymachus’ Sophistic Account of Justice in Republic i’ (Ancient Philosophy 36.1 (2016): 151–72) offers a new reading of Thrasymachus’ critique of justice while emphasizing that a true appreciation of Plato’s magnum opus requires that one first understand the views of those opponents to which it responds. Following up on this paper, my ‘What Are the Wages of Justice? Rethinking the Republic’s Division of Goods’ (Phronesis 20.1 (2020): 1–26) provides a novel interpretation of the Republic’s attempt to distinguish between two types of value. When Plato distinguishes between the value something possesses ‘because of itself’ [δι᾽ αὑτό] and the value it possesses ‘because of the things that arise from it’ [διὰ τὰ γιγνόμενα ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ], he is not distinguishing between intrinsic and extrinsic value. He is, rather, carving out one type of value that depends on something’s intrinsic features as well as the inevitable effects that thing produces by its own nature. This is contrasted with another way of possessing value, which is realized only when the valuable feature is recognized and responded to by other agents. Finally, my ‘Legein to What End?’ (Australasian Philosophical Review 3.2 (2019): 176–82) considers Plato’s conception of the intellectual virtues and argues that their operation must be subordinated to the architectonic rule of the ethical virtues. In response to a paper by M.M. McCabe, I show that, according to Plato, the intellectual virtues are limited to equipping us with a science or art, such as warfare, as well as the ability to unfailingly produce (wherever possible) the work accomplished by that science or art. But this does not answer the question of whether we should accomplish that work: whether winning a war will actually be good for us or our society in its present circumstances is an open question. And only the ethical virtues can provide insight into such questions. Therefore, they should guide our action.
I also have a couple of papers that are under review at the moment. One is on courage in the Republic and the other is on Plato's engagement with the sophists. Those interested in reading those drafts should feel free to reach out and ask for them.