Our everyday use of language entails a class of peculiar entities—entities like abstract subjects, universal predicates, and word meanings. This situation becomes even more peculiar with scientific uses of language, where we speak as if there existed classes, traits, types, natures, and essences. Many philosophers think that these entities do not exist in the “real world,” so they have long tried to understand their existence in an “ideal world.” My research tries to make sense of this ideality in Ancient Greek philosophy. Specifically, I work on the metaphysics of universals (or forms) and its linguistic counterpart, meaning.
My dissertation investigated the linguistic aspect of ideality in Plato’s Cratylus. It argued that Plato’s understanding of meaning cannot be adequately modelled in terms of semantics (the nearly universal interpretation). Instead, meaning encompasses aspects of language that are pragmatic, phonetic, ‘psychagogic,’ aesthetic, deictic, etc.—I call this broader relation “resonance.”
I have started another project on the metaphysical aspect of ideality: I am developing an account of Plato’s forms in relation to a previously unassociated area of Plato’s philosophy: his interpretation of Heraclitus. In short, I am demonstrating how Plato appropriates key aspects of his theory of forms not as a reaction to, but from Heraclitus.
These are some of my current endeavors:
ONTOLOGY: This argues that Plato’s Hippias Major is not ontologically neutral, but committed to an interesting sort of immanent form.
IMMANENCE: This argues that Plato’s appropriation of Heraclitus in the Phaedo precludes the standard interpretation of the dialogue as advancing an ontology of transcendence.
TOOLS: This argues that Plato employs his “tool analogy” argument in the Cratylus in a robustly analogical way. That is, through the structural relations conveyed by the analogy, Plato argues that names are part of a Heraclitean dialectic between creation and destruction.
SILENCE: This argues that Plato stages Cratylus as silent in imitation of a dramatic technique used in a specific play by Aeschylus; this recognition undercuts the common interpretation of Cratylus as dogmatic or vapid and shows how his silence advances profound (even Platonic) ideas about language’s correctness.
PROVERB: This argues that Plato’s apparently passing reference to an ancient proverb is actually sustained throughout the Cratylus and that it provides a critical interpretive clue to the overall interpretation of the dialogue. By setting up a parallel between the iconic political situation that gave rise to the proverb and the dialogue’s discussion of the correctness of names, Plato conveys to his readers that linguistic correctness consists in renouncing our claim over linguistic mastery.
MONOGRAPH: As my Cratylus papers come to fruition, I am developing a monograph on meaning in Plato’s Cratylus.
Besides my main research, I always have my fingers in a few philosophical pies… I have a number of “back burner” projects on medieval philosophy, philosophy of education, continental philosophy, historiography, and environmental ethics.