Parmenides' Doxa and the Norms of Inquiry: A Case Study of the Fragments on Astronomy
in Inquiring Into Being: Essays on Parmenides (ed. Colin Smith).
Why Children, Parrots, and Actors Cannot Speak: The Stoics on Genuine and Superficial Speech
Apeiron 55(1):1-34. 2022.
What's Eleatic About The Eleatic Principle?
Archai 31(3):1-37. 2021.
Invited Contribution, Special Issue on Melissus (eds. Stefania Giombini and Massimo Pulpito)
What the Forms are Not: Plato on Conceptualism in Parmenides 132b-c
Philosophical Studies 177(2): 353-368. 2020.
Selected Drafts in Progress:
No Work for a Theory of Grounding in Ancient Philosophy
(with Rachel O'Keefe)
in Ground and Fundamentality in Plato and Aristotle (ed. Richard Neels)
Abstract: Parmenides’ Doxa (B8.51-B19) outlines a dualistic cosmology underlying the changing, multifarious world of sense experience. Characterized by the goddess as “untrustworthy” and “deceptive”, the account in this section of text lacks the features of what-is as described by the goddess in the Truth (B2-B8.20). For this reason and others, much of the scholarly sentiment on the Doxa has traditionally disparaged its philosophical value. There is, however, an emerging appreciation for the scientific ingenuity evidenced by the contents of the Doxa, motivating the possibility of an interpretation which treats this part of the poem as philosophically interesting in its own right. In this chapter, I offer one such interpretation by arguing that the poem as a whole offers a notion of inquiry as a goal-directed activity governed by domain-specific norms that are dictated by features of the objects proper to different kinds of inquiry. I contrast the purely “rationalist” norms that govern inquiry into what-is in the Truth with the contents of the Doxa (focusing in particular on the astronomy fragments in B10, B14, and B15) which appear to be the results of rigorous empirical investigation into the natural world. I suggest that error and deception are not inherent features of this kind of inquiry. Rather, they are the consequences of violating the zetetic principles implicit in the poem, for example, by mistaking inquiry in one domain for inquiry in a different domain. On my reading, far from serving as a mere dialectical exercise, a warning, or a ‘negative ideal model’ outlining the illusory world of appearances, the Doxa demonstrates that the sensible world is a legitimate domain of inquiry that can contribute positively to the inquirer’s body of knowledge. My reading challenges traditional interpretations of Parmenides' metaphysics, as well as of the relationship between the Truth and the Doxa, suggesting that Parmenides is both a proponent of natural philosophy and a critic of the Ionian method which confuses inquiry into the sensible world for inquiry into what-is.
Abstract: At Varro LL VI.56 and SE M 8.275-276, we find reports of the Stoic view that children and articulate non-rational animals such as parrots cannot genuinely speak. Absent from these testimonia is the peculiar case of the actor’s speech, which appears in one edition of the unstable text of PHerc 307.9. Commentators who include this edition in their discussions of the Stoic theory of speech do not offer a univocal account of superficial speech. In this paper, I offer a reconstruction of the Stoic account of genuine and superficial speech. I show that not only is there an account of superficial speech that univocally explains the superficiality of the speech of parrots, children, and actors, but that this account challenges traditional assumptions about the entities at the heart of the Stoic theory of language–lekta. It will turn out that genuine speech is the expression of a lekton by way of performing a speech act, and that this account of superficial speech explains other phenomena of interest in Stoic logic and philosophy of language, such as sentences in insoluble sophisms and sentences in which the subject term is a demonstrative that does not refer to anything. Importantly, my reconstruction shows, against the near consensus view of lekta, that lekta do not primarily explain what makes an utterance meaningful. Rather, lekta primarily explain what makes an utterance an instance of genuine speech.
Abstract: In contemporary metaphysics, the Eleatic Principle (EP) is a causal criterion for reality. Articulating the EP with precision is notoriously difficult. The criterion purportedly originates in Plato’s Sophist, when the Eleatic Visitor articulates the EP at 247d-e in the famous Battle of the Gods and the Giants. There, the Visitor proposes modifying the ontologies of both the Giants (who are materialists) and the Gods (who are friends of the many forms), using a version of the EP according to which only items which have the capacity to affect or to be affected are real. Recently, it has been argued that while there are some genetic connections between the EP and the views of some of the historical Eleatics (Parmenides and Zeno), the views of Melissus are generally incompatible with the EP. This raises the following question: What, exactly, is Eleatic about the Eleatic Principle? In this paper, I look to the dialectical context in which the Visitor’s appeal to the EP appears, and I propose that there are at once three relevant senses of affecting and being affected in the text: (1) tangible contact (as in the interactions between the bodies of the materialists), (2) Cambridge change (as in the form's being affected by a soul via the act of coming to know), and (3) the notion of a cause that does not itself change (as in a form’s affecting another form, a soul, or any sensible item). I argue that these have clear parallels to the metaphysics of all three main Eleatic philosophers, and that the views of Parmenides, Zeno, and Melissus are therefore compatible with the EP. This has interesting consequences for narratives about the reception of the Eleatics in Plato, the inclusion of an Eleatic Visitor as an interlocutor in the Sophist, and for the metaphysics of subsequent schools (such as the Stoics) who are widely thought to have been influenced by the EP.
Abstract: Conceptualism—the view that universals are mental entities without an external, independent, or substantial reality—has enjoyed popularity at various points throughout the history of philosophy. While Plato’s Theory of Forms is not a conceptualist theory of universals, we find at Parmenides 132b-c the startling conceptualist suggestion from a young Socrates that each Form might be a noēma, or a mental entity. This suggestion and Parmenides’ cryptic objections to it have been overshadowed by their placement directly after the notoriously difficult Third Man Argument (132a-b), and before the Likeness Regress (132c-133a). However, in the background of 132b-c, we find illuminating assumptions behind Parmenides’ arguments against the Theory of Forms in the first half of the dialogue. We also find in this text a set of implied criteria for Platonic concepthood. While in the Platonic corpus, Forms are explanantia for many of the phenomena explained by concepts in contemporary philosophy, concepts do seem to have an important epistemic role in Plato’s philosophy. An account of Platonic concepthood therefore opens the door for new ways of understanding the Platonic corpus as a whole. My focus in this paper is to uncover these assumptions and criteria through a close reading of Socrates’ conceptualist suggestion and Parmenides’ truncated objections to it at Parmenides 132b-c.
Abstract: In the years since it gained popularity in contemporary philosophy, grounding has become part of the interpretive toolkit for historical work in philosophy. For example, scholars have used grounding to reconstruct the Euthyphro Argument and elements of Aristotle’s metaphysics. The premise underlying this body of literature is that grounding is a theoretically useful tool for the study of ancient texts. In this paper, we challenge this claim. We begin with a discussion of the goals and methods of the history of philosophy, and we use these to shape a survey of some of our more general concerns about the use of grounding in historical work. We then consider some prominent grounding interpretations of Plato and Aristotle and argue that these attempts do not ultimately succeed at characterizing the views in question with greater precision or clarity. We conclude that the lack of consensus on basic features of grounding renders the notion too controversial for genuinely illuminating interpretive work, and that the use of grounding imports too much anachronism to our reading of ancient philosophy to be worth the purported benefits.
Melissus and Eleatic Monism by Benjamin Harriman. The Classical Review 69(2): 365-366. 2019. [Link]
Parmenides' Grand Deduction: A Logical Reconstruction of the Way of Truth by Michael Wedin. Journal of the History of Philosophy 53(4): 775-776. 2015. (co-authored with Matt Evans) [Link]