My research focuses on ancient Greek psychology of action, i.e., on the mental states that explain our actions. I am primarily working on our so-called non-rational mental states – our emotions, appetites, pleasures, and pains. The questions I explore are: What exactly are emotions, appetites, pleasures, and pains, and how do they influence our actions – especially bad ones? Why do we sometimes fail to do what is right and how can we prevent future wrongdoing? My research focuses on Socrates’ answers to these questions.
Socratic Motivational Intellectualism.
In: The Bloomsbury Handbook of Socrates (forthcoming). Smith, N.; Jones, R.; Sharma, R. (eds.).
Abstract: Socrates’ view about human motivation in Plato’s early dialogues has often been called ‘intellectualist’ because, in his account, the motivation for any given intentional action is tied to the intellect, specifically to beliefs. Socratic motivational intellectualism is the view that we always do what we believe is the best (most beneficial) thing we can do for ourselves, given all available options. Motivational intellectualism is often considered to be at the centre of Socrates’ intellectualist account of actions, according to which: (1) we never act against our present judgment about what is best to do; (2) all wrongdoing is due to ignorance; (3) non-rational desires cannot motivate actions; (3) we all desire the good; and (5) no one does wrong willingly. Despite their centrality for Socratic philosophy, interpreters disagree on the exact interpretation of these five claims and of Socrates’ account of motivation. This chapter surveys the interpretative landscape so that the reader may more easily navigate the primary and secondary literature and decide for themselves whether Socrates is a motivational intellectualist and, if so, in what sense.
Work in progress
Socrates on Food and Eating.
Can Flogging make us less ignorant? Socrates on Bodily Punishment.
In: Ancient Philosophy 43 (2023).
Abstract: In the Gorgias, Socrates claims that painful bodily punishment like flogging can improve certain wrongdoers. I argue that we can take Socrates’ endorsement seriously, even on the standard interpretation of Socratic motivational intellectualism, according to which there are no non-rational desires. I propose that flogging can epistemically improve certain wrongdoers by communicating that wrongdoing is bad for oneself. In certain cases, this belief cannot be communicated effectively through philosophical dialogue.
Why Do Itches Itch? Bodily Pain in the Socratic Theory of Motivation.
In: Emotions in Plato (2020). Candiotta, L.; Renaut, O. (eds.).
Abstract: Imagine that Socrates gets a cavity treatment. The drilling is painful, but he also knows that it is best to get it done and so he stays. Callicles is not so smart. Once the dentist starts drilling, Callicles takes off. I argue that this scenario presents a puzzle that interpreters have missed, namely: why does Socrates have an aversion to pain? To us, this might not be puzzling at all. Socrates, however, believes that we have an aversion to bad things only and that pain is not in fact bad. If Socrates knows that pain is not bad, why does he still feel aversive pain from drilling? I argue that the Protagoras and Hippias Major suggest that pain immediately appears to be bad to us and that is why even Socrates has an aversion to pain. Pain is a felt evaluation. My interpretation contributes to the debate in the secondary literature in two ways. First, it fills an explanatory gap. Interpreters have acknowledged that a Socratic theory of motivation has room for pain aversions as “itches”, but they leave unexplained why we have an aversion to pain, i.e., why those itches itch. Second, in proposing that pain aversions can motivate some of our actions, I offer an alternative account of Socratic motivation.
Book review: Socrates on Self-Improvement. Knowledge, Virtue, and Happiness. By Nicholas D. Smith.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021. Pp. 216. $99.99 (hardback). ISBN 9781316515532.
In: Ancient Philosophy 43 (2023)
Abstract: In this review, I discuss Smith’s new interpretation of Socrates' epistemology of virtue, according to which (a) Socratic virtue knowledge is craft knowledge (knowing how to live well), and such knowledge comes in degrees; and (b) Socrates has a certain degree of virtue knowledge, and one does not have to be an inerrant expert to have any virtue knowledge at all. I argue that Smith succeeds in presenting Socratic philosophy in a new light, while also pointing to remaining questions about his account of virtue—specifically, about what exactly the craft of virtue is and how we can practice it and thereby improve ourselves.