Life and Lifeforms in Early Greek Atomism (forthcoming in Apeiron)
This paper is a collaboration with Caterina Pellò. Our paper asks: What is Leucippus and Democritus’ theory of the beginning of life? How, if at all, did Leucippus and Democritus distinguish different kinds of living things? These questions are challenging in part because these Atomists claim that all living beings – including plants – have a share of reason and understanding. We answer these questions by examining the extant evidence concerning their views on embryology, the soul and respiration, and sense perception, thereby giving an overview of life and lifeforms in early Greek atomism. We show, first, that the generation of all living beings happens through the combining of miniature copies of their parents’ atomic structures. Second, we argue that the Atomists take respiration to mark the beginning of life. Yet they do not consider respiration nor being ensouled to distinguish humans, animals, and plants from each other. Finally, because Leucippus and Democritus make little distinction between sense perception and thought, these too cannot sharply distinguish between different kinds of living beings. We conclude that Leucippus and Democritus advocated a less anthropocentric and more holistic view of the cosmos.
Self-Participation and Self-Instantiation (forthcoming in the Plato Journal)
While each Form is what it is to be F, some Forms also instantiate F (or “self-instantiate”). This paper argues that the explanation for a Form’s instantiating F should be that the Form participates in itself. First, I motivate the need for an explanation of self-instantiation by reviewing a problem for the theory of Forms from the Parmenides, as well as the section on the Great Kinds from the Sophist. Second, I consider the advantages and disadvantages of self-participation alongside an alternative explanation—that the Form’s being what it is to be F is sufficient to explain its instantiation of F. I argue that because the theory of Forms does not require multiple explanations for instantiation, self-participation is the preferable explanation for why a Form instantiates F. On my view, the explanation for instantiation is always participation, whether or not the participant or the object participated in are different.
“Epicureanism and the Health of the Soul,” in Ancient Thought, edited by N. J. Barnes, et al.
Epicurus maintains that attaining eudaimonia—freedom from bodily pain (aponia) and freedom from mental distress (ataraxia)—depends on the study of nature (phusiologia). Studying nature teaches us, most importantly, that the universe is nothing more than atoms and void, a lesson has powerful consequences for our understanding of nature, in particular human nature. Here I focus on the obstacles to freedom from mental distress. After a review of the principal diseases of the soul, I discuss the fear of death at length and outline the two main arguments marshaled by the Epicureans to treat it. Finally, I address the concern that the therapeutic dimension to Epicureanism results in philosophy’s being of merely instrumental value.
“Weight in Greek Atomism,” Φιλοσοφία 45 (2015): 76-99
The testimonia concerning weight in early Greek atomism appear to contradict one another. Some reports assert that the atoms do have weight, while others outright deny weight as a property of the atoms. A common solution to this apparent contradiction divides the testimonia into two groups. The first group describes the atoms within a kosmos, where they have weight; the second group describes the atoms outside of a kosmos, where they are weightless. A key testimonium for proponents of this solution is Aëtius 1.3.18. It apparently denies weight as a property of the atoms, and supposedly describes the atoms when they are outside of a kosmos. I argue against this interpretive solution by showing, first, that Aëtius 1.3.18 does not deny that weight is a property of the atoms. Second, I argue that the report does not describe the atoms when they are outside of a kosmos. Although these are largely negative conclusions, I contend that we are not left without a solution to the present interpretive difficulty. Once our testimonia concerning weight in early Greek atomism are examined thoroughly, it is clear that there is no conflict among them.