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Research

My main research interests are in Aristotle’s natural philosophy and philosophy of science. I also have secondary interests in ancient medicine (especially in medical theories of causation, embryology, gynecology, and physiognomy) and in the history and philosophy of biology more generally.


In the past few years I have been working mostly on projects exploring the conceptual and methodological connections between Aristotle’s natural philosophy (and in particular his biology) with other areas of his philosophy, namely his philosophy of science and his political science. I believe that Aristotle’s full views about matters can rarely be inferred from single passages or even single treatises and that therefore this kind of ‘interdisciplinary’ approach to interpreting Aristotle is the most fruitful way to improve existing interpretations, but also to bring out new aspects of his philosophy. I also prefer working on larger, book-length projects that allow me to bring various parts of Aristotle’s philosophy together and thereby to show the complexity and systematicity of his views.  

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Projects

Aristotle's Scientific Theory and his Practice in the Natural Sciences

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My first larger project, completed pre-tenure, explored the relation between Aristotle’s theory of demonstration as set out in his Posterior Analytics and his actual explanations as provided in his natural treatises, with a strong emphasis on his theory and practice of teleological explanation. The core parts of this project were published in my book, entitled Explanation and Teleology in Aristotle’s Science of Nature (CUP 2010; nominated for the Journal of the History of Philosophy 2010 book prize). In this book, I advanced the following three theses: First, that Aristotle postulates not one, but two types of teleological causation as underlying the coming into being and presence of regular beneficial outcomes in nature. Second, that he uses teleological principles (not as premises of a demonstrative syllogism, but rather) as heuristic tools  to discover the causally relevant features that need to be picked out in the causal explanations, where the causes that are being discovered – including the final causes – are real causes and not mere epistemic reasons why. And, finally, that Aristotle never attributes causal primacy to final causes in his explanations (and consequently, never picks out final causes as middle terms in demonstrative syllogisms), but only explanatory primacy, even though he believes they are ‘prior in nature’. This means, among other things, that Aristotle’s teleology resists the (anachronistic) charge of backward causation and that his model of scientific demonstration is more flexible and comprehensive than is often assumed.


Although I am not currently working on Aristotle’s teleology, I remain interested in Aristotle’s scientific practices in the natural treatises and am regularly invited to write about issues in Aristotle’s physics, biology, and other natural treatises. Relevant work produced post tenure include an edited volume, entitled Aristotle’s Physics, A Critical Guide (CUP 2015) and several papers for edited volumes.

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The Relation between Aristotle's Natural Science and his Political Science

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The second large project, which formed the core of my research program in the past few years before being promoted to Full, explored the implications and impact Aristotle’s science of nature has on his ethical and political treatises, both in terms of content and of methods.


The results of this project were published as my second book, entitled From Natural Character to Moral Virtue in Aristotle (OUP 2017). In this book, I discuss Aristotle’s biological views about character and the importance of what he calls ‘natural character traits’ for the development of moral virtue as presented in his ethical treatises. The aim is to provide a new, comprehensive account of the physiological underpinnings of moral development and thereby to show, first, that Aristotle’s ethical theories do not exhaust his views about character as has traditionally been assumed, and, second, that his treatment of natural character in the biological treatises provides the conceptual and ideological foundation for his views about habituation as developed in his ethics. This manuscript thus takes seriously Aristotle’s – often ignored – claim that nature is one of the factors through which men become ‘good and capable of fine deeds’. Part I (‘The Physiology of Natural Character’) analyzes, in three chapters, Aristotle’s notion of natural character as it is developed in the biological treatises and its role in moral development, especially as it affects women and certain ‘barbarians’ – groups who are typically left out of accounts of Aristotle’s ethics. I also discuss its relevance for our understanding of physiognomical ideas in Aristotle. Part II (‘The Physiology of Moral Development) explores the psychophysical changes in body and soul one is required to undergo in the process of acquiring moral virtues. It includes a discussion of Aristotle’s eugenic views, of his identification of habituation as a form of human perfection, and of his claims about the moral deficiencies of women that link them to his beliefs about their biological imperfections.

In addition to the book, I have written a couple of papers for edited volumes on related topics, such as on ethnography and physiognomy. 

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                                    Aristotle's Study of Women and Motherhood

I am currently working on a third monograph, entitled Facts, Evidence, and Early Medicine in Aristotle's Gynecology (under contract with OUP).

In this book, I aim to provide an analysis of Aristotle’s use of women as sources of knowledge about the natural phenomena pertaining to their own bodies and experiences (such as menstruation, female pleasure during sex, conception, and their experiences of pregnancy and childbirth) within the context of a coherent and systematic account of the nature of Aristotle’s empiricism in his biology, the scientific methods involved in the fact-establishing phase of science, and of the role the concepts of evidence, credence, and probabilistic reasoning play in his natural-scientific research.


Despite the many treatises that have been written on Aristotle’s – overwhelmingly negative and notoriously sexist – theoretical views about women, we know surprisingly little about how he went about establishing the facts about women (and other female animals) that went on to form the foundations for his theories. We know that Aristotle would certainly not have had an easy access to women as either objects of study or as sources of knowledge: women’s bodies, their lives, and experiences were in many ways hidden from the male gaze in Ancient Greece, and shame – aidôs – would have prevented women from discussing certain topics with men. So, what kinds of evidence, then, was available to Aristotle and how did he evaluate it? Who were the experts that Aristotle consulted when it came to women’s bodies and experiences, and did these include women? And what strategies did Aristotle have to make ‘the invisible visible’ when it came to women’s bodies and private experiences, such as pertaining to their experience of pleasure during sex, of early pregnancy symptoms, of pain during childbirth, and of their intense feeling love while nursing their infants? In answering these questions, this book aims to contribute both to the current scholarship on Aristotle’s scientific method in the natural treatises and to our understanding of the lived experiences of women – and especially mothers – in Ancient Greece. Though Aristotle’s scientific perspective on women is no doubt sexist, I will argue that he nonetheless also offers a remarkably positive perspective on mothers and that his natural treatises provide a not yet fully explored source for us to reconstruct some of the lost voices of the women of antiquity.


My book provides an analysis of the methods and sources that Aristotle employs in his natural scientific study of women and motherhood, with the goals of (1) providing a better understanding of why Aristotle believed the things he did about women – and why he made the kinds of mistakes he made about them; (2) showing that, though Aristotle’s approach to the establishment of gynecological facts and experiences is certainly sexist, it also includes efforts to improve the lives and experiences of mothers for their own sake, and that he accepts their epistemic authority concerning pregnancy and motherly love; and (3) developing a reconstruction of Aristotle’s natural scientific methods for dealing with phenomena which are (partly) hidden from view.   


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