Research

My research involves bringing the philosophy of medieval Aristotelians, especially that of Thomas Aquinas, into contemporary conversations.  In my writing I seek to combine textual study with philosophical analysis in a way that gets the  historical text right and also draws out the trans-historical philosophical import of the views that those texts enshrine.

My current work centers on Thomas Aquinas’s account of the human soul, and the way in which it is a part of the human substance. There are subtleties of Aquinas’s philosophy in this area that have not been adequately appreciated and that matter deeply for an evaluation of the import of his ideas.

In a paper that I am preparing for submission I argue that for Aquinas the human soul is capable of being (and actually is) an efficient cause of bodily movement and then respond to some of the objections that this view raises. That the human soul moves the body as an efficient cause has been denied by some contemporary commentators, often in the context of sharply distinguishing Aquinas’s account of human ontology from Descartes’s interactionist dualism. I argue that the differences between Aquinas and Descartes on the question of body-soul interaction have been greatly exaggerated. I conclude by defending the coherence of Aquinas’s account of the unity of the human substance, in spite of the soul’s efficient causal influence on the body.

Another paper I am currently working on attempts to give a clear account of what Aquinas means when he says that an entity is “subsistent” (subsistens). In this paper I argue against the dominant view that subsistence entails ontological independence and that this error on the nature of subsistence leads both to a false account of what the human soul’s subsistence amounts to, and to an incomplete understanding of Aquinas’s argument for the incorruptibility of the human soul.

I am also working on a paper on the relationship between a broadly Aristotelian hylomorphic ontology and the findings of empirical science. Some authors have argued that Aristotle’s hylomorphism is plausibly compatible with the findings of contemporary science. I argue that such a compatibility claim, though it is helpful to those sympathetic with hylomorphism, is insufficient to motivate that sympathy. Rather, in order to be justified in thinking that hylomorphism is likely to be true, it should be the case that hylomorphism is positively explanatory and even in some cases predictive of empirical results. This was, I take it, the reason that Aristotle himself believed it — he took it to be a good explanation of his observations of nature, not merely compatible with them.