PostDoc Project

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

The concept of goodness is at the heart of both moral philosophy and action theory. Yet at the same time it is highly controversial what exactly goodness in general and moral goodness in particular consists in. Classical positions in moral philosophy―for example, consequentialists and intentionalists, hedonists and Moorians, Kantians and Neo-Aristotelians―persistently differ from one another in how they conceive of the moral good. Given this intricate dialectical situation, I propose in this project to step back and enquire into the origin of our notions of good and evil: How do we recognize that something is good in the first place? And how does that enable us to determine what goodness is? To answer these questions, I draw on ideas developed in early phenomenological philosophy, namely, by Franz Brentano and Edmund Husserl, as well as on works in analytic moral epistemology. Elucidating the epistemological foundations of our notions of good and evil, we may be in a better position to settle questions in moral philosophy as well.

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 2020.)

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.


Aristotle, the Good, and Species-Relativity (under review)

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, not only among Aristotelian-minded philosophers. In this article, I argue that a proper Aristotelian understanding of goodness in terms of perfection must leave room for a predicative use of ‘good’, and that it must allow for forms of absolute goodness.

Brentano and Aquinas on Goodness as Perfection

The Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of goodness rests on an inductive speculation about the general nexus between striving and perfection in both non-human nature and human life. Yet, this fact renders it susceptible to sceptical objections which claim that this very nexus cannot be proven true. Resorting to Franz Brentano, I argue that there are particular instances in which the nexus between striving, goodness, and perfection is self-evident. If Brentano is right, the Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of goodness can be defended on epistemological grounds.

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 (φιλία) and the good life (εὐδαιμονία) plays a central role in Aristotle’s anthropology: it highlights one aspect of human social nature. In NE IX.9 Aristotle’s argues that even for those leading a good and thus self-sufficient life friendship is genuinely desirable. This article discusses different interpretations of Aristotle’s argument in IX.9 (Cooper 1977, Pakaluk 1998, Pangle 2003, Richardson Lear 2004, Kosman 2004, Hitz 2011) and develops a reconstruction that centres on the different senses in which a friend can be said to be “another self” (ἄλλος αὐτός).

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.