A political theorist with interests mainly in ancient thought and contemporary philosophy, I'm currently a Lecturer on Social Studies at Harvard University, where I recently received the Ph.D. degree from the Department of Government. After defending the dissertation in October, I took up an appointment as a postdoctoral College Fellow.
I have served as a Graduate Writing Fellow for Harvard's Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, from which I have also received seven Certificates of Distinction in Teaching for my work as a teaching assistant. Recently, I have also received a Certificate of Teaching Excellence for my work as a postdoctoral instructor. At Harvard, I have taught discussion sections for courses in the Social Studies concentration, the Government Department, the Core Curriculum, and the General Education program, for which latter I have worked as an Assistant Head Teaching Fellow. I have also served as a main instructor - in seminars or lectures - in Government and in Social Studies. In addition, I have been an Academic Adviser to over a dozen undergraduates, and I have led workshops for undergraduate researchers in social and political theory.
I was previously a predoctoral Visiting Lecturer at Amherst College (in the Department of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought), where I explored topics in Wittgensteinian legal theory. More recently, for Harvard's Committee on Social Studies, I have taught courses on the philosophy of social science and the history of modern social theory. In addition to introductory or intermediate courses on democratic theory, the history of modern political philosophy, and contemporary moral and political thought, I have also taught on topics in ancient eudaimonism for the Government Department at Harvard.
My research centers on Aristotle and forms of neo-Aristotelianism, with a focus on the ethical, social, and political implications of Aristotelian positions in the philosophy of action. These wider implications drive my interests in contemporary democratic theory and philosophical accounts of practical rationality - and in the philosophy of social explanation more generally. In a word, my research stands at the intersection of contemporary action theory, ancient philosophy, and democratic ideals of political authority and social cooperation.
At this intersection also stands the topic of self-knowledge, which forms a kind of red thread throughout much of what follows: a topic that is, as I think, lamentably vulnerable to what G.E.M. Anscombe called "an incorrigibly contemplative conception of knowledge." With respect to moral and political theory - and to its history - what follows from holding tight to an essentially practical (i.e., non-contemplative) conception of self-knowledge? Under various guises, my research traces out the answers to this question.
The dissertation, titled "Hunting for Happiness: Aristotle and the Good of Action," combined a defense of distinctive but sadly neglected theses in the philosophy of action - theses associated with the work of Anscombe - with exegetical treatments of core positions in Aristotle's metaphysical, ethical, and political thought. The project aimed to make good on at least three main goals: first, to clarify the sense in which, as Aristotle says, the goal of eudaimonistic ethics and politics is a certain special - prohairetic - sort of purposive action; second, to delineate the importance of positions in action theory to central questions of moral and political life; and, third, to bring out the Aristotelian resources with which a novel and attractive conception of "virtue politics" might come into view, a conception that hangs eudaimonia on the practical self-understanding of rulers and citizens. I am currently at work on turning the dissertation into a book manuscript, now with additional emphasis on contemporary accounts of collective political action and on the attractions of an Aristotelian form of such an account. Attendant article-length treatments are also in progress, as are more piecemeal and nascent reflections on related features of Platonic eudaimonism.
Outside this more or less plainly Aristotelian frame, I am also pursuing narrower topics in contemporary moral and political theory. On ethics, my research explores Anscombean views in action theory in order to make available a sympathetic re-evaluation of the famously controversial "Doctrine of Double Effect" (DDE), a re-evaluation that also aims to render attractive facially problematic positions in virtue ethics. On politics, my current work seeks to bring out the plausibility of a political - and distinctively democratic - form of the DDE, one whose plausibility is not undermined by the criticisms often correctly leveled against its non-political and non-collective construals. This democratic form of the DDE emphasizes the characterological dimension of political relationships, and thereby stresses the normative importance of facts about agents' intentions, as typical formulations of the DDE urge.
More broadly at the intersection of virtue ethics and contemporary democratic theory, one of my current major projects draws out the implications of so-called "moral particularism" on the shape of conceptions of political legitimacy. At the intersection of the philosophy of action and contemporary political theory, another major project aims to carve out space for a quasi-Anscombean theory of democratic authority, one that sets its face against grounding conceptions of democratic rule on familiar causal or mechanistic pictures of human action. Against such pictures, I argue that democratic rule must consist in exercises of self-knowledge or self-consciousness - in exercises of practical intentionality - which are activities poorly captured in the usual terminology of causal mechanisms.
As something of an action-theoretic "missionary" - to borrow a description from a dissertation adviser - I am also at work in applying two unfamiliar themes in the philosophy of action to more familiar topics in social explanation, and to the history of post-Kantian social theory: the specially Aristotelian notion of a power or capacity, and the even less familiar Thomistic conception of reality as sometimes thought-dependent. As I would have it, these themes emerge in the thesis that knowledge of social reality is itself a form of self-knowledge or self-consciousness. The fruits of this project hope to serve as contributions to the philosophy of social science and to work in meta-ethics, insofar as interpretative social analysis and questions of "normative naturalism" belong to such endeavors.
I hold a B.A. in both philosophy and political science from Yale University, where my undergraduate research explored the philosophical foundations of the theory of rational choice, with Michael Weber, on the one hand, and the history and implications of Descartes's anti-Aristotelian epistemology, with Steven B. Smith, on the other. This research has shaped my abiding concerns in ways I hope to revisit soon, if not very soon.
Before and after Yale, I was attached to the Jesuit High School of New Orleans, first as a student and then as an instructor in ethics and as a debate coach. After New Orleans, I worked as a program assistant at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany, where I had the good fortune of exploiting its excellent philosophy library, and its endless supply of sparkling water and coffee.