See www.protrepticus.info for draft materials relating to work in progress with D. S. Hutchinson on a reconstruction, critical Greek text, translation, and commentary on Aristotle's lost dialogue the Protrepticus (Exhortation to Philosophy).
(2018) Aristotle on the Meaning of Life. The Meaning of Life and the Great Philosophers, ed. S. Leach and J. Tartagalia, 56-64. London and New York: Routledge. PDF
- Aristotle is the first philosopher on record to subject the meaning of life to systematic philosophical examination: he approaches the issue from logical, psychological, biological, and anthropological perspectives in some of the central passages in the Corpus Aristotelicum and, it turns out, in some fragments from his (lost) early popular work the Protrepticus (Exhortation to Philosophy). From an Aristotelian perspective, in asking about life’s “meaning”, we may be asking either a theoretical question about the definition of the term life (and this either generically or with specific reference to human life), or a practical question about the final end or purpose of life (or human life). Aristotle carefully considered both questions, and in his view answering the theoretical question is the key to answering the practical question. In brief, his theoretical view is that humans are distinguished from all other living things, and thus defined by their ability to use reason; thus his practical view is that the end or purpose of human existence is intellectual activity, especially doing philosophy.
(2017) Aristotelian Mechanistic Explanation. Teleology in the Ancient World: philosophical and medical approaches, ed. J. Rocca, 125-150. Cambridge University Press. PDF
- In some influential histories of ancient philosophy, teleological explanation and mechanistic explanation are assumed to be directly opposed and mutually exclusive alternatives. I contend that this assumption is deeply flawed, and distorts our understanding both of teleological and mechanistic explanation, and of the history of mechanistic philosophy. To prove this point, I shall provide an overview of the first systematic treatise on mechanics, the short and neglected work Mechanical Problems, written either by Aristotle or by a very early member of his school. I will argue that the work is thoroughly Aristotelian in methodology, and that taking it seriously can deepen our understanding of Aristotle’s discussion of animal and human self-motion in the Physics and On the Movement of Animals.
(2015a) Luck in Aristotle's Physics and Ethics. Bridging the Gap between Aristotle's Science and Ethics, ed. D. Henry & K. M. Nielsen, 254-275. Cambridge University Press. PDF
- I discuss how Aristotle’s formulation of the problem of moral luck relates to his natural philosophy. I review well-known passages from Nicomachean Ethics I/X and Eudemian Ethics I/VII and Physics II, but in the main focus on EE VII 14 (= VIII 2). I argue that Aristotle’s position there (rejecting the elimination of luck, but reducing luck so far as possible to incidental natural and intelligent causes) is not only consistent with his treatment of luck in Physics II, but is to be expected, given that the dialectical path of EE VII 14 runs exactly parallel to that of Physics II 4-6. Although Aristotle resolves some issues that he raises, he cannot avoid the problem of constitutive moral luck that, as Thomas Nagel puts it, pertains to ‘the kind of person you are, where this is not just a question of what you deliberately do, but of your inclinations, capacities, and temperament’. The problem for Aristotle follows not only from his ethical positions, but also directly from his more general physical and political principles and assumptions. Furthermore, the problem touches the very essence of Aristotle’s moral theory.
(2015b) Aristotle's Architectonic Sciences. Theory and Practice in Aristotle's Natural Science, ed. D. Ebrey, 163-186. Cambridge University Press. PDF
- Aristotle rejected the idea of a single, overarching super-science or “theory of everything”, and he presented a powerful and influential critique of scientific unity. In theory, each science observes the facts unique to its domain, and explains these by means of its own proper principles. But even as he elaborates his prohibition on kind-crossing explanations (Posterior Analytics 1.6-13), Aristotle points out that there are important exceptions—that some sciences are “under” others in that they depend for their explanations on the principles of a superior (more architectonic) science. In this paper, I explore how subordination relations and architectonic structures apply to Aristotle’s scientific practice—including not only the works of theoretical philosophy, which have already been discussed in this connection, but also in and between these and the practical and productive sciences.
(2015c) Review of: Jean De Groot, Aristotle's Empiricism: experience and mechanics in the 4th century BC (Las Vegas: Parmenides Publishing, 2014). Ancient Philosophy 35, 220-230. PDF
(2014a) Protreptic Aspects of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, ed. R. Polansky, 383-409. Cambridge University Press. (With D. S. Hutchinson). PDF
- We hope to show that the overall protreptic plan of Aristotle's ethical writings is based on the plan he used in his published work Protrepticus (Exhortation to Philosophy), by highlighting those passages that primarily offer hortatory or protreptic motivation rather than dialectical argumentation and analysis, and by illustrating several ways that Aristotle adapts certain arguments and examples from his Protrepticus. In this essay we confine our attention to the books definitely attributable to the Nicomachean Ethics (thus excluding the common books).
(2014b) Changing our Minds: Democritus on What is up to Us. Up to Us: Studies on Causality and Responsibility in Ancient Philosophy, ed. P. Destrée, R. Salles, M. Zingano, 1-18. Series: International Studies in Ancient Practical Philosophy. Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag. PDF
- In this essay, I develop a positive interpretation of Democritus' theory of agency and responsibility, building on previous studies that have already gone far in demonstrating his innovativeness and importance to the history and philosophy of these concepts. The interpretation will be defended by a synthesis of several familiar ethical fragments and maxims presented in the framework of an ancient problem that, unlike the problem of free will and determinism, Democritus almost certainly did confront: the problem of the causes of human goodness and success. I will argue that Democritus' account of the virtues and success is naturally interpreted as an intellectualist one. His focus on our intellectual powers as the source of our own agency and cause of our success led him to remarkable breakthroughs in moral psychology, including the development of a kind of cognitive-behavioral therapy for stress and anxiety, and the proposal of an autonomous source of moral sanction.
(2014c) Review of Tarik Wareh, The Theory and Practice of Life: Isocrates and the Philosophers (Harvard University Press 2012). Journal of Hellenic Studies 134. PDF
(2013) Spontaneity, Nature, and Voluntary Action in Lucretius. Lucretius: Poetry, Philosophy, and Science, ed. D. Lehoux, A. C. Morrison, and A. Sharrock, 99-130. Oxford University Press. PDF
- In twenty important passages located throughout De rerum natura, Lucretius refers to natural things happening spontaneously (sponte sua; the Greek term is automaton). The most important of these uses include his discussion of the causes of: nature, matter, and the cosmos in general; the generation and adaptation of plants and animals; the formation of images and thoughts; and the behavior of human beings and the development of human culture. In this paper I examine the way spontaneity functions as a cause in other Greek and Latin writers, beginning with Homer and Hesiod, and including Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, and Theophrastus; among Latin writers Cicero, Pliny, Horace, Vergil and Ovid. I argue that the most important influence (immediately or via Epicurus) on Lucretius’ concept and use of this cause is the natural philosophy of Democritus and his followers and critics. I argue that understanding the nature of spontaneity, and how it differs from chance, is crucial to understanding Lucretius’ account of the cosmos and nature, and also how some of the actions of humans and other animals are “free” and “voluntary”. For in the famous passage at II.251-293 he contrasts free action with action caused or constrained by external forces and outside influences.
(2012a) The Medical Background of Aristotle's Theory of Nature and Spontaneity. Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 27, 105-152. PDF
- An appreciation of the "more philosophical" aspects of ancient medical writings casts considerable light on Aristotle's concept of nature, and how he understands nature to differ from art, on the one hand, and spontaneity or luck, on the other. The account of nature, and its comparison with art and spontaneity in Physics II is developed with continual reference to the medical art. The notion of spontaneous remission of disease (without the aid of the medical art) was a controversial subject in the medical literature, and Aristotle's aporia about the notion of spontaneous generation of natural things runs parallel to this controversy. Aristotle's account of spontaneous generation in the Metaphysics and in the Generation of Animals can also be profitably illuminated by looking at the comparison with medicine in detail. The result, hopefully, is a clearer and more consistent picture not only of Aristotle's concepts of nature, art, and spontaneity, but also of the influence of medical writings and concepts on his natural philosophy. Joel Mann has written a commentary on the essay: LINK
(2012b) Review of Tim O'Keefe, Epicureanism. Aestimatio: Critical Reviews in the History of Science 9, 1-8. LINK
(2011a) Democritus. Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism 136, 257-259. Detroit. (Encyclopedia article) PDF
(2011b) Review of: Being, Nature, and Life in Aristotle, edited by J. G. Lennox and R. Bolton. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2011.9.21. LINK
(2009a) The Aristotelian Explanation of the Halo. Apeiron 42, 325-357. PDF
- For an Aristotelian observer, the halo is a puzzling phenomenon since it is apparently sublunary, and yet perfectly circular. This paper studies Aristotle's explanation of the halo in Meteorology III 2-3 as an optical illusion, as opposed to a substantial thing (like a cloud), as was thought by his predecessors and even many successors. Aristotle's explanation follows the method of explanation of the Posterior Analytics for "subordinate" or "mixed" mathematical-physical sciences. The accompanying diagram described by Aristotle is one of the earliest lettered geometrical diagrams, in particular of a terrestrial phenomenon, and versions of it can still be found in modern textbooks on meteorological optics.
(2009b) Spontaneity, Democritean Causality and Freedom. Elenchos 30, 5-52. PDF
- Critics have alleged that Democritus’ ethical prescriptions (“gnomai”) are incompatible with his physics, since his atomism seems committed to necessity or chance (or an awkward combination of both) as a universal cause of everything, leaving no room for personal responsibility. I argue that Democritus’ critics, both ancient and contemporary, have misunderstood a fundamental concept of his causality: a cause called “spontaneity”, which Democritus evidently considered a necessary (not chance) cause, compatible with human freedom, of both atomic motion and human actions.
(2008) Sources for the Philosophy of Archytas. Ancient Philosophy 28, 173-199. PDF
- An extensive review of Carl Huffman's recent edition of the fragments of Archytas of Tarentum, along with translations of two sets of dubious material rejected by Huffman, including On Wisdom and On Law and Order.
(2007) Lucretius and the History of Science. The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius, 131-148, ed. S. Gillespie and P. Hardie. Cambridge University Press, 2007. (With Catherine Wilson). PDF
- An overview of the influence of Lucretius poem On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura) on the renaissance and scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and an examination of its continuing influence over physical atomism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
(2005a) Authenticating Aristotle’s Protrepticus. Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 29, 193-294. (With D. S. Hutchinson) PDF
- Authenticates approximately 500 lines of Aristotle's lost work the Protrepticus (Exhortation to Philosophy) contained in the circa third century AD work by Iamblichus of Chalcis entitled Protrepticus epi philosophian. Includes a complete English translation of the authenticated material.
(2005b) Aristotle on Teleology. Oxford University Press.
- Monte Johnson examines one of the most controversial aspects of Aristiotle's natural philosophy: his teleology. Is teleology about causation or explanation? Does it exclude or obviate mechanism, determinism, or materialism? Is it focused on the good of individual organisms, or is god or man the ultimate end of all processes and entities? Is teleology restricted to living things, or does it apply to the cosmos as a whole? Does it identify objectively existent causes in the world, or is it merely a heuristic for our understanding of other causal processes? Johnson argues that Aristotle's aporetic approach drives a middle course between these traditional oppositions, and avoids the dilemma, frequently urged against teleology, between backwards causation and anthropomorphism. Although these issues have been debated with extraordinary depth by Aristotle scholars, and touched upon by many in the wider philosophical and scientific community as well, there has been no comprehensive historical treatment of the issue. Aristotle is commonly considered the inventor of teleology, although the precise term originated in the eighteenth century. But if teleology means the use of ends and goals in natural science, then Aristotle was rather a critical innovator of teleological explanation. Teleological notions were widespread among his predecessors, but Aristotle rejected their conception of extrinsic causes such as mind or god as the primary causes for natural things. Aristotle's radical alternative was to assert nature itself as an internal principle of change and an end, and his teleological explanations focus on the intrinsic ends of natural substances - those ends that benefit the natural thing itself. Aristotle's use of ends was subsequently conflated with incompatible 'teleological' notions, including proofs for the existence of a providential or designer god, vitalism and animism, opposition to mechanism and non-teleological causation, and anthropocentrism. Johnson addresses these misconceptions through an elaboration of Aristotle's methodological statements, as well as an examination of the explanations actually offered in the scientific works.
- Reviewed in: Notre Dame Philosophical Review 2006.06.15; Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.08.37; Il-Sole – 24 Ore 6 Aug. 2006; Philosophy in Review 26 (2006): 360-2; Rhizai 3 (2006): 171-8; Journal of the History of Philosophy 45 (2007): 323-4; Ancient Philosophy 27 (2007): 191-200; Phronesis 52 (2007): 248-9; Isis 98 (2007): 375; Aestimatio 4 (2007) 146-152; The British Journal for the History of Science 41 (2008): 129-130. The European Legacy 14 (2009); La Cultura 47 (2009): 174-175; Sean M. Row, Teleology in Political Contexts: an assessment of Monte Ransome Johnson’s “Aristotle on Teleology”. (A thesis presented to the faculty of the college of arts and sciences of Ohio University, 2009.)
(2005c) ‘Atomismus’ in Enzyklopädie der Neuzeit 1, 783-9. Stuttgart: J.N.B. Metzler, 2005. (Encyclopedia article) PDF (German article with an English Translation)
(2004) Review of: The Order of Nature in Aristotle’s Physics by H. Lang. Isis 95, 687-688. PDF
(2003) Was Gassendi an Epicurean? History of Philosophy Quarterly 20, 339-59. JSTOR reprint PDF
- Pierre Gassendi was a major factor in the revival of Epicureanism in early modern philosophy, not only through his contribution to the restoration and criticism of Epicurean texts, but also by his adaptation of Epicurean ideas in his own philosophy, which was itself influential on such important figures of early modern philosophy as Hobbes, Locke, Newton, and Boyle (to name just a few). Despite his vigorous defense of certain Epicurean ideas and ancient atomism, Gassendi goes to great lengths to differentiate his philosophy from Epicureanism on certain key points. In this paper I argue that those key points on which Gassendi rejects and and criticizes the Epicurean view, such as the immortality of the soul and divine creation of the cosmos, are central not only to Epicureanism, but also to Gassendi's own philosophy. In order to see Gassendi's philosophy for what it is, and understand its role in the history of natural theology, we need accept and understand better why he rejected the central theses of Epicureanism.
(2003) AITION, HOU, HORUSMOS, PHILOSOPHEIN. Suda On Line. (Translations of ancient encyclopedia articles, with commentary) LINK
(2001) Review ofW. R. Mann, The Discovery of Things and R. Wardy, Aristotle in China. Ancient Philosophy 21, 188-198.
(2000a) Review of: The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy, ed. A. A. Long. Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.03.12. LINK
(2000b) Ousia: A Fundamental Term in Platonic Ontology. Southwest Philosophy Review 17, 95-101.
- I argue against Deborah Nails that Plato, like Aristotle, frequently used the term "ousia" to indicate what is ontologically fundamental, and that he did so throughout all periods of his writing.
(1999) Review of: The Legacy of Parmenides, by P. Curd. Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.06.21. LINK