My current research focuses on the moral psychology of hope in ancient Greek philosophy as a vehicle for addressing questions about hope today. How might hope pose ethical risks for us, when is hope rational, and what should we hope for if we want to flourish as human beings? My project answers these questions through an exegesis of ancient Greek philosophical views of the nature of hope and its role in the good life, focusing on the writings of Plato and Aristotle, in particular. I argue that Plato and Aristotle distinguish a form of good hope from mere optimism and then defend good hope by tying it to virtuous forms of agency and happiness.
By focusing on ancient philosophy, I contend, we can gain better purchase on current questions about the value of hope. Philosophers in the ancient world typically assume a ‘eudaimonistic ethics’—that is, an approach to ethics that focuses on human flourishing, which centers on questions about emotional well-being and personal development. So while contemporary philosophers and psychologists often consider hope to be instrumentally valuable, insofar as it motivates agents to achieve practical ends, ancient philosophers show us how good hope is intrinsically valuable, insofar as it plays a role in the flourishing human life.
Below is a list of my works in progress, including abstracts, as well as recent conference presentations related to my current research. Feel free to email me for drafts of these papers.
Book Project: Good Hope and Happiness in Plato and Aristotle
The core of my research project is to prepare my dissertation, Good Hope and Happiness in Plato and Aristotle, into a monograph for publication. My book positions Plato and Aristotle within their historical context, arguing that both philosophers work against a tradition of early Greek literature that typically disparages hope. For writers like Solon or Thucydides, hope makes us more vulnerable to misfortune and thus more likely to be disappointed. While Plato and Aristotle are aware of the dangers of hope, instead of rejecting all hope as damaging, they distinguish a kind of good hope that is not only beneficial but also necessary for living well. I argue that for Plato and Aristotle, good hope is crucial for having the right relationship to death, to courage, and to wisdom. Moreover, hope—in the form of what I call “aspirational hope”—is an essential motivating force in their accounts of moral and intellectual development, which have continuing resonance today.
Articles in Preparation for Publication
“Aristotle on the Role of Hope in the Virtue of Courage”
Although Aristotle seems to disparage hope is several passages, Aristotle also claims that courageous people are of good hope (EN 1116a2-4). I argue that hope is necessary for Aristotelian courage because hope makes courageous agents properly inclined to act at the expense of harm and disadvantage. Thus, hope allows courageous agents to suffer intense fears while remaining virtuous (as opposed to merely continent). In sum, I offer an account of the positive role of hope in proper confidence, and I argue that this account allows us to explain how, in Aristotle’s theory, someone can simultaneously be courageous (as opposed to merely continent) and experience the fear of pain or death.
“Socratic Hope in Plato’s Apology”
At the end of Plato’s Apology, Socrates recommends that his sympathetic listeners should have good hope about the fate of the soul after death (Ap. 40c3-4, 41c8-9). His reasons for hope have been the subject of scholarly disagreement, in part because Socrates’ recommendation appears to conflict with his avowed commitment to epistemic modesty regarding the value of death—i.e. that no one knows whether death is good or bad (29a5-b6). I offer an interpretation of Socrates’ closing arguments that both resolves the apparent conflict between his claims about death and explains the ethical significance of his recommendation for hope. On my view, Socrates’ hope that death is beneficial not only remains within his preferred epistemic limits, but it also serves an important ethical function: it reinforces one’s resolve to act virtuously even when one’s life is in danger. Plato’s Apology, then, presents an attractive argument for why, when faced with the greatest dangers, we ought to trust in our hope: hope helps sustain our commitment to virtue in the face of death, thereby supporting our ability to live with courage and integrity.
“Aristotle on Transformation as Cultivation and Completion” (co-authored with Marta Jimenez, Emory)
We focus on Aristotle’s treatment of how we acquire a disposition (hexis) and argue that it significantly differs from contemporary models of personal and epistemic transformation. Concretely, we argue that the Aristotelian account of personal and epistemic transformation is one of Cultivation and Completion, whereas contemporary Revelation and Replacement models, such as L.A. Paul’s, hold that transformative experiences produce a radical break in the agent’s epistemic and psychological trajectories. In contrast to these contemporary accounts, Aristotle provides a complex model where experience is part of a broader, continuous process—akin to growth or learning—and where the agents’ development depends on the confluence of a number of factors such as their nature, their cultivated capacities, their practices, and the influence of their environment and of others. One central feature of Aristotle’s account is that, while there are still important differences between the pre- and post-transformation selves, there is no discontinuity, since the seeds for the future self are already in the present one, and thus the process is less one of becoming someone radically new, and more a process of becoming oneself.
“A Neo-Aristotelian Response to Tessman’s ‘Burdened Virtues’ ”
Beyond my work in ancient philosophy, I also have an interest in contemporary virtue ethics. I am developing a paper that brings my research on Aristotle’s concept of courageous hope into conversation with the work of a contemporary, feminist virtue ethicist, Lisa Tessman. Tessman argues that the very virtues that one cultivates in order to engage in political struggles against oppression, which Tessman calls “burdened virtues”, are an obstacle to one’s overall flourishing. I argue instead that the virtues that are specific to liberation struggles, Tessman’s so-called “burdened virtues”, are not an obstacle to the person’s well-being, but rather a necessary resource that enables flourishing even in adverse circumstances. To this end, I appeal to the special status of the virtue of courage in Aristotle’s ethics and show that it has similar features to Tessman’s neo-Aristotelian account of the burdened virtues.
Selected Conference Presentations, Related to Current Research
2020 “Aristotle on the Role of Hope in the Virtue of Courage,” Colloquium Paper, 2020 Central Division Meeting of American Philosophical Association. Chicago, IL. Feb. 26-29.
2020 “‘Hope, Danger’s Comforter’? Thucydides, Euripides, and Aristotle on the Perils and Promise of Hope,” Ancient Mediterranean Studies Colloquium at Emory University, Atlanta, GA. January 28.
2018 “Aristotle’s Puzzling Description of Courage and Hopefulness in Nicomachean Ethics 3.6-9,” Collegium Phaenomenologicum Participants’ Conference. Città di Castello, Italy. July 7-9.
2018 “Hope and the Burdened Virtues: A Neo-Aristotelian Account of Hopeful Courage in the Face of Adversity,” Virtue Ethics Group at 2018 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association. San Diego, CA. March 28-April 1.
2018 “Hope, Intention, and Courageous Agency: Aristotle’s Puzzling Description of Courage and Deliberation in NE 3.6-9,” 69th Meeting of the Metaphysical Society of America. Atlanta, GA. March 22-25.