Dissertation Abstract

"Radically Connected Individuals: Ockham's Metaphysics of Efficient Causation"

Abstract. The aim of my dissertation is to reconstruct and defend an interpretation of Ockham's powers metaphysic of efficient causation. Situated within his broader, ontologically reductionistic program, I offer an alternative interpretation that is not just Aristotelian—because it posits causal powers—but radically Aristotelian—because it posits intrinsic causal connections in a strongly necessitarian way: effects have, as part of their very own natures, primitive causal dependencies, which even God can't change. Moreover, I argue that my radically Aristotelian reading reorients the entire "Is Ockham a Humean or Aristotelian?" debate in the secondary literature: to reject my radically Aristotelian reading of Ockham's theory of efficient causation commits one to a radically Humean reading, which I call "Theological Lewisianism." According to this reading, all causal powers and secondary efficient causation are drained from the world and placed entirely in God, who uniquely arranges the patterns among every possible, powerless individual in every possible world. Some might be surprised by this radically Humean result. And others might gladly welcome it. But I argue that it fails to respect Ockham's repeated appeal to causal powers and secondary causation, his elaborate account of essential dependence, and ultimately, it results in the destruction of his hylomorphic picture of the natural world. Since I argue that there's no other reading besides my radically Aristotelian one or this radically Humean one—because causal connections are either intrinsically grounded in their causal relata or extrinsically grounded in God's will—it turns out that Ockham's so-called "radical individuals" are—in their very own natures—radically connected.

In chapters 1-2, I provide the conceptual background for understanding Ockham's account. In chapter 1, I briefly sketch the medieval debate over the ontological status of causal relations, which involves a metaphysically rich menagerie of issues surrounding truthmaking, ontological dependence, causal counterfactuals, event individuation, and others. I then turn to Ockham, whose writings are suffused with discussions of efficient causation and causal powers. Here I sketch the general commitments of his ontologically reductionistic program: the real and conceptual distinction, the denial of universals, the reduction of Aristotle's ten categories down to Substance and Quality, and the use of his philosophical principle of parsimony, or "Ockham's Razor," and his theological principle of divine omnipotence. In chapter 2, I reconstruct the status quaestionis of the secondary literature concerning Ockham's account of efficient causation. I show why considerations from Ockham’s ontologically reductionistic program have led many interpreters in the past to interpret his theory as proto-Humean. Although Marilyn McCord Adams offered a major course correction to these readings with her own Aristotelian reading, I raise two problems with it. Moreover, I show and explain why recent Aristotelian readings influenced by Adams reveal deep, Humean tendencies, whether their interpreters realize these tendencies or not.

In chapters 3-5, I develop my own radically Aristotelian reading, focusing in particular on Ockham's metaphysics of causal relations (what medievals call 'action' and 'passion'). In chapter 3, I provide a background to medieval theorizing about causal relations and the principal argument for their existence: truthmaking. In Chapter 4, I first examine two of Ockham's arguments attacking theories that posit entities of Action and Passion—what I call his 'Regress' and 'Priority' arguments. Then I examine Ockham's alternative logic and semantics of causal terms and propositions that avoid commitment to these entities. In chapter 5, I move to Ockham's positive account of action and passion concerning how causes and effects are related to one another without relations. I argue that Ockham (1) reduces causal relational entities to counterfactual causal dependencies, (2) which are essential to effects’ natures, (3) because effects are individuated by their determinate, natural agents and matters. I respond to a number of objections to my reading, and I show the ontological costs and consequences of rejecting my reading—consequences that Ockham would reject.

Published Articles

"Reframing Aquinas on Art and Morality." American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 92, no. 2 (April 2018): 295-311.

Abstract. Can a work of art be defective aesthetically as art because it is defective morally? Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain both develop Thomistic accounts of the arts based on Aquinas’s distinction between the virtues of art and prudence, but they answer this question differently. Although their answers diverge, I will argue that both accounts make a crucial assumption about the metaphysics of goodness that Aquinas denies, namely, that moral and aesthetic goodness are distinct species, not inseparable modes, of metaphysical goodness. I propose a new way to develop a Thomistic account of the arts that begins with Aquinas’s treatment of the three inseparable modes of metaphysical goodness: the virtuous, the useful, and the pleasant. This foundation seems metaphysically, methodologically, and explanatorily prior to the accounts of Gilson and Maritain, because art is a virtue, and virtue is related to goodness, and goodness is “divided” into three inseparable modes.

Under Review

A paper on Ockham's metaphysics of substantial powers

Works in Progress


Latina Scholastica Per Se Illustrata

Abstract. This is the first ever book to introduce students to medieval scholastic Latin and philosophy by using Hans Ørberg's "direct method" of teaching Latin in Latin. This intermediate Latin book applies Ørberg's method to a number of Scholastic works on natural philosophy, such as Thomas Aquinas's De principiis naturae, to introduce students to (1) Scholastic Latin syntax and grammar and (2) fundamental concepts in scholastic metaphysics.

A Lush, Desert Landscape: Ockham's Metaphysics of Efficient Causation & Causal Powers

Abstract. This manuscript expands upon my dissertation research by presenting a systemic account of Ockham's ontological vision of the world containing "powerful particulars." I show that although Ockham has a taste for desert landscapes in admitting only individual substances and qualities into his ontology, the individuals he admits are metaphysically lush.


Questions on Aristotle's Physics: A Translation of William of Ockham's Quaestiones in libros Physicorum Aristotelis

Abstract. This is a translation and commentary on Ockham's Quaestiones in libros Physicorum Aristotelis, in which Ockham raises 151 quodlibetal questions concerning motion, space, time, primary and secondary qualities, efficient causation, and many others.


"Henry More, Holenmeric Souls, and the Unity of Consciousness Argument"

Abstract. If a human being has an immaterial soul, then where is that human being's soul located? According to the medieval scholastic account of immaterial presence, which the Cambridge Platonist Henry More calls ‘holenmerism’ (or ‘whole-in-the-part-ism’), the soul is co-located with the body by being wholly located in the whole body and wholly located in each part. One of the reasons motivating holenmerism is a sort of "unity of consciousness" argument. But More thinks the holenmeric explanation of the unity of consciousness is contradictory and unsupported by the best scientific theories of his day. Although the secondary literature has examined many of More’s criticisms of holenmerism, these particular criticisms have not been examined, let alone mentioned, in the secondary literature. In this paper I examine More’s particular criticisms of this argument, and look at the prospects and perils that this argument might offer for contemporary discussions in human ontology and the philosophy of mind.

"Shared Liturgical Lament"

Abstract. I sketch an account of what I will call 'shared liturgical lament' that builds upon and advances Terence Cueno's recent work on the philosophy of Christian liturgy, while paying particular attention to the function of the Psalter within the liturgical script and performance. I begin by noting various strands in Cuneo's work on liturgical singing and reenactment, which are of particular interest for my account. I then tie these strands together and expand Cuneo's insights in order to develop an account of shared liturgical lament. On the account proposed here, shared liturgical lament is a collective action, whereby the participants attend to one another's experiences within the liturgical performance, respond to another's emotional states by sharing in the same emotional content, which is experienced as a 'We', and unite together in their address to God for help in the time of trouble.