Research

PostDoc Project

Knowing the good: The epistemological foundations of the metaphysics of good and evil

In contemporary action theory and moral philosophy, Aristotelian and Thomistic accounts are mostly characterized by a theoretical understanding of goodness that is based on metaphysical assumptions such as the general teleology of life or a particular conception of human nature. There are only few philosophers today, however, who share these assumptions, which is why, in this project, I develop a genuinely practical understanding of goodness. Precursors of such an understanding can be found in Aristotle himself and in Thomas Aquinas’s analysis of the practical intellect. According to both philosophers, we first apprehend the good from the first-person perspective, namely, in acts of willing and intending. Aquinas’s analysis of the practical intellect, however, leaves open central questions for which answers can be found in early phenomenology. In particular, I draw here on Franz Brentano’s idea that some acts of love can be “experienced as correct” and on Edmund Husserl’s concept of “axiological evidence”. Both suggest that there are at least some practical acts in which we immediately recognize the corresponding object as objectively good.


Book Project

Community: The Fundamental Structures of Human Sociality (book manuscript, in preparation)

This book presents a systematic account of human community by reintroducing ideas from Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy into the field of Analytic Social Ontology. The book builds on Aristotle’s concept of friendship to develop a general account of different kinds of community and their specific norms. Moreover, it shows that this Aristotelian account of community is indispensable for understanding the specific form of human social life.


Articles in Preparation

Cooperation, Community, and Institution (In J. Pelletier and Chr. Rode, eds. The Reality of the Social World. Medieval, Early Modern, and Contemporary Perspectives on Social Ontology. Cham: Springer, forthcoming 2021)

There are two approaches to the phenomenon of community in contemporary social ontology. The first is an attempt to account for community in terms of joint action or cooperation. Margaret Gilbert thus believes that by elucidating the nature of joint action we can come to understand more complex forms of collectivity such as communities. The second approach, put forth by John Searle, is to conceive of community as an institutional entity, that is, a status collectively assigned to a set of people that unites them as a social group. In this paper, I show why both these approaches fail to provide a convincing account of community. A more promising approach can be found in medieval philosophy, namely, in Thomas Aquinas. His account of community builds on the Aristotelian notion of friendship and, so I argue, yields a better understanding of the relation between community, cooperation, and institutions.

***

Freundschaft und Glückseligkeit bei Aristoteles (In S. Al-Taher, V. Jansche, L. Martena, eds. Was Liebe vermag: Philosophische Liebesdiskurse in der Antike. Stuttgart: Metzler, forthcoming 2021)

The relation between friendship and happiness highlights one aspect of human social nature in Aristotle’s anthropology. In NE 9.9 Aristotle argues that friendship is desirable even for those leading a good and self-sufficient life. In this article, I discuss various interpretations of this argument (Cooper 1977, Pakaluk 1998, Pangle 2003, Richardson Lear 2004, Kosman 2004, Hitz 2011), according to which friendship either provides a form of self-knowledge or enables some kind of shared activity. All these interpretations, I argue, rest on a misunderstanding of Aristotle’s idea that a friend is “another self”.

***

Der soziale Horizont des menschlichen Lebens bei Aristoteles und Thomas von Aquin (In D. Kiesel and Chr. Kietzmann, eds. Politische Anthropologie in der Antike, forthcoming 2022)

According to Aristotle, happiness is essentially social in that it can be realized only in set of communities, first an foremost in a state or polis as the most encompassing kind of community. The motive behind the formation of these communities is friendship or love. In this article, I show that Aquinas adopts this idea that happiness, community, and friendship are interrelated concepts. Due to his distinction between happiness and beatitude, however, he extends the idea beyond the polis to a community based on caritas, which in principle includes all humanity. In Aquinas, I argue, we thus encounter a new conception of human social nature.

***

Aristotle, the Good, and Species-Relativity

According to Peter Geach (1956), the term ‘good’ is essentially an attributive adjective that requires to be complemented by a noun providing the respective standard of evaluation. For him, consequently, there can be nothing that is good in an absolute sense but only relative to a particular standard. Geach’s view is influential among Aristotelian-minded philosophers today. In this article, I argue that Aristotle’s own understanding of goodness in terms of perfection leaves room for a predicative use of the term ‘good’, which allows for forms of absolute goodness.

***

Brentano and Aquinas on Goodness as Perfection

The Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of goodness entails the idea of a general nexus between striving and perfection in nature, which is gained inductively. One might therefore object that this general nexus cannot be proven to be true. Following Franz Brentano, I argue that, despite the importance of inductive method, there are paradigm cases of goodness where the nexus between striving, goodness, and perfection is self-evident. These cases can serve as the basis on which the Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of goodness can be defended against epistemological objections.

***

Being and Activity: Aristotle’s notion of ἐνέργιεα

Aryeh Kosman (2013) and Jonathan Beere (2009) have put forth an understanding of Aristotle’s concept of ἐνέργεια in terms of activity rather than actuality. I argue, on the contrary, that activity can be neither the general nor the primary meaning of ἐνέργεια. A closer examination of the systematic role the concept plays in Aristotle’s metaphysics, especially its relation to the categories, reveals that the traditional understanding as actuality has to be maintained.