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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.

Work in progress


Rhetoricians as Pastry Chefs, Flatterers, and Catamites?

Revisiting Socrates’ Attack on Rhetoric in the Gorgias.

“Who are you, Gorgias?” (Ὅστις ἐστίν, Gorg. 447d1). In my book, I argue that this is the central question of Plato’s Gorgias and that Socrates’ answer has commonly been misunderstood. Socrates claims that the rhetorician is a kolax (κόλαξ, Gorg. 463b1), an opson-chef for the human soul (ὀψοποιός, Gorg. 465d7-e1), who lives and promotes the life of the kinaidos (κίναιδος, Gorg. 494e4). Interpreters have commonly assumed that the kolax is a “flatterer,” the opson-chef a “pastry chef,” and the kinaidos a “catamite.” I argue that these interpretations are wrong and that, once we see these characters for who they truly are, our interpretation of Socrates’ attack on rhetoric in the Gorgias changes.



Socrates on Cookery and Rhetoric

In: Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie (forthcoming)

Socrates believes that living well is primarily an intellectual undertaking: we live well if we think correctly. To intellectualists, one might think, the body and activities related to it are of little interest. Yet Socrates has much to say about food, eating, and cookery. This paper examines Socrates’ criticism of “feeding on opson” (opsophagia) in Xenophon’s Memorabilia and of opson-cookery (opsopoiia) in Plato’s Gorgias. I argue that if we consider the specific cultural meaning of eating opson, we can see that Socrates takes a nuanced stance on food and cookery: he recommends careful consumption and skillful production, not austerity or abstinence. This nuance in Socrates’ discussion of food changes our interpretation of Socrates’ criticism of rhetoric in the Gorgias: in comparing rhetoricians to opson-chefs – not to pastry chefs, as many have assumed – Socrates evokes the dangers of indulging in speeches while acknowledging their necessity for Athenian public life.

Division and Animal Sacrifice in Plato’s Statesman

with Justin Vlasits. In: Archai: The Origins of Western Thought (forthcoming)


In the Statesman (287c3-5), Plato proposes that the philosophical divider should divide analogously to how the butcher divides a sacrificial animal. According to the common interpretation, the example of animal sacrifice illustrates that we should “cut off limbs” (kata mele), that is, divide non-dichotomously into functional parts of a living whole. We argue that this interpretation is historically inaccurate and philosophically problematic: it relies on an inaccurate understanding of sacrificial butchery and leads to textual puzzles. Against the common interpretation, we argue that the example of animal sacrifice illustrates that correct division minimizes (it cuts into the smallest number possible) by first dividing dichotomously and then dividing non-dichotomously into “parts,” not “limbs.” We will show that both the philosophical divider and sacrificial butcher proceed exactly in this way. By taking Plato’s comparison to the historical practice of animal sacrifice seriously, our interpretation provides better solutions to the textual puzzles than the common interpretation.

Socratic Leadership

In: International Journal of Applied Philosophy 36.2 (2023).

This paper takes Socrates in Plato’s early dialogues as a starting point to develop a unique model of leadership that is still relevant for us today. This “Socratic leadership” is centered around three specific skills: thinking in questions, being on a mission, and thinking like a beginner. I argue that Socratic leadership differs from Platonic leadership, the leadership of the philosopher king. I will first extract the three Socratic leadership skills from Plato’s early dialogues, specifically the Laches, and then show how we, as philosophy instructors, can teach these skills. I will argue that Socratic leadership skills are valuable for students beyond the college classroom: companies want to hire young adults who exhibit these skills. Socratic leadership skills are thus highly applicable today and are in real demand in the business world.

Socratic Motivational Intellectualism.

In: The Bloomsbury Handbook of Socrates (2024). Jones, R.; Sharma, R.; Smith, N. (eds.).

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.

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.

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)


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.

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