David Ebrey

Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter [roughly Assistant Professor], Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
at the Research Training Group Philosophy, Science and the Sciences



david.ebrey@gmail.com

I work on ancient Greek philosophy, primarily on Plato and Aristotle. I have written on Socratic inquiry, the value of knowledge in Plato, Platonic forms, matter in Aristotle's natural philosophy, and syllogisms in his logic. I am currently writing a book on Plato's Phaedo. Recently I taught a freshman seminar on Homer and Plato, introduction to Medieval Philosophy, a course on Aristotle's De Anima, and a graduate seminar on the Phaedo.

From 2008 to 2016 UC Berkeley put the audio from my Intro to Ancient Philosophy course online on iTunes University. Not every session was recorded, and I only intended it for students who missed class. Nonetheless, they have been popular. Berkeley recently pulled these from iTunes, but they are still available here:






Papers

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or
Find all abstracts below list of titles 

Comments always appreciated!


Published or Forthcoming

1. "Identity and Explanation in the Euthyphro"  Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 52 (2017) please email me for a copy of this paper.

2. “The Asceticism of the Phaedo: Pleasure, Purification, and the Soul’s Proper Activity”  Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 99 (2017)  pdf 

3. “Socrates on Why We Should Inquire” Ancient Philosophy 37 (2017) pdf (not final Proofs)

4. "The Value of Rule in Plato’s Dialogues: A Reply to Melissa LanePlato Journal 16 (2016) [nominally] pdf (not final Proosf)

5. Theory and Practice in Aristotle’s Natural Science (editor) (Cambridge University Press, 2015) pdf (Table of Contents and Intro)

6. “Introduction” in Theory and Practice in Aristotle’s Natural Science pdf (Table of Contents and Intro)

7. “Blood, Matter, and Necessity” in Theory and Practice in Aristotle’s Natural Science pdf

8. “Why Are There No Conditionals in Aristotle’s Logic?” Journal of the History of Philosophy 43 (2015) pdf

9. “Meno’s Paradox in Context,” British Journal of the History of Philosophy 22 (2014) pdf


11. “A New Philosophical Tool in the Meno: 86e-87c,” Ancient Philosophy 33 (2013) pdf


Book Reviews

12. Review of Gail Fine The Possibility of Inquiry: Meno's Paradox from Socrates to Sextus in Journal of the History of Philosophy 55, 2017, 537-538 pdf


14. Review of Iakovos Vasiliou Aiming at Virtue in Plato in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2009.08.21


Works in Progress

Please do not cite unpublished work without permission


15. “The Matter for Birth, Life, and the Elements doc and pdf [to be included in the Cambridge Companion to Ancient Science]







Abstracts

Published or Forthcoming

            "Identity and Explanation in the EuthyphroOxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 52 (2017) (email me for a copy of this paper)

Abstract: According to many interpreters, Socrates in the Euthyphro thinks that an answer to ‘what is the holy?’ should pick out some feature that is prior to being holy. While this is a powerful way to think of answers to the ‘what is it?’ question, one that Aristotle develops, I argue that the Euthyphro provides an important alternative to this Aristotelian account. Instead, an answer to ‘what is the holy?’ should pick out precisely being holy, not some feature prior to it. I begin by showing how this interpretation allows for a straightforward reading of a key argument: Socrates’ refutation of Euthyphro’s proposal that the holy is the god-loved. Then I address considerations that seem to favor the Aristotelian account. I end by explaining how answers to ‘what is f-ness?’ questions are informative on this account, even though they do not identify anything other than f-ness.


"The Asceticism of the Phaedo: Pleasure, Purification, and the Soul's Proper Activity"  Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 99 (2017) pdf 

Abstract:   I argue that according to Socrates in the Phaedo we should not merely evaluate bodily pleasures and desires as worthless or bad, but actively avoid them. We need to avoid them because they change our values and make us believe falsehoods. This change in values and acceptance of falsehoods undermines the soul’s proper activity, making virtue and happiness impossible for us. I situate this account of why we should avoid bodily pleasures within Plato’ project in the Phaedo of revealing the truth behind Pythagorean and Orphic ideas by providing them with clearer meanings and better justifications.

"Socrates on Why We Should Inquire"  Ancient Philosophy 37 (2017) pdf (not final Proofs)

Abstract: This paper examines whether Socrates provides his interlocutors with good reasons to seek knowledge of what virtue is, reasons that they are in a position to appreciate. I argue that in the Laches he does provide such reasons, but they are not the reasons that are most commonly identified as Socratic. Socrates thinks his interlocutors should be motivated not by the idea that virtue is knowledge nor by the idea that knowledge is good for its own sake, but rather by the idea that knowledge is needed to recognize what to aim at. His argument reaches the potentially life-altering conclusion that we should all seek knowledge of what virtue is. It is powerful precisely because it relies on uncontroversial premises that his interlocutors could be expected to accept. In laying out this argument, I distinguish different ways in which someone could count as a teacher of virtue. At the end of the article, I situate the argument within the debate about whether virtue is teachable.

"The Value of Rule in Plato’s Dialogues: A Reply to Melissa Lane Plato Journal 16 (2016) [nominally] pdf (not final Proofs)

A reply to Melissa Lane's "Antianarchia: interpreting political thought in Plato"
In these comments I focus on how to think of antianarchia as an element of Plato's political thought, and in doing so raise some methodological questions about how to read Plato’s dialogues, focusing on what is involved in attributing views to Plato in general.

Theory and Practice in Aristotle's Natural Science (editor, Cambridge University Press, 2015) pdf (Table of Contents and Intro)

Aristotle argued that in theory one could acquire knowledge of the natural world. But he did not simply provide a theoretical account of how to do this; he put his theories into practice. This volume shows how Aristotle’s natural science and philosophical theories shed light on one another. The contributors engage with Aristotle’s biological and non-biological scientific works and with a wide variety of his theoretical works, including PhysicsGeneration and CorruptionOn the Soul, and Posterior Analytics. The chapters focus on a number of themes, including the sort of explanation provided by matter; the relationship between matter, teleology, and necessity; cosmic teleology; how an organism’s soul and faculties relate to its end; how to define things such as sleep, void, and soul; and the proper way to make scientific judgments. The resulting volume offers a rich and integrated view of Aristotle’s science and shows how it fits with his larger philosophical theories.

"Blood, Matter, and Necessity" (my essay in Theory and Practice in Aristotle's Natural Science) pdf

Abstract: According to most scholars, in the Parts of Animals Aristotle frequently provides explanations in terms of material necessity, as well as explanations in terms of that-for-the-sake-of-which, i.e., final causes. In this paper, I argue that we misunderstand both matter and the way that Aristotle explains things using necessity if we interpret Aristotle as explaining things in terms of material necessity. Aristotle does not use the term “matter” very frequently in his detailed discussions of animal parts; when he does use it, he typically identifies blood as matter. I argue that this is because blood is, for Aristotle, what properly nourishes and grows the other parts of the body and he views nourishment and growth as types of coming-to-be. The second half of the paper turns to necessity as a cause in the Parts of Animals. I argue that in the Parts of Animals Aristotle is not interested in distinguishing between what Aristotle elsewhere treats as very different types of necessity.

            "Why are there no Conditionals in Aristotle's logic?" (Journal of the History of Philosophy 53, 2015) pdf

Abstract: Aristotle presents a formal logic in the Prior Analytics in which the premises and conclusions are never conditionals. In this paper I argue that he did not simply overlook conditionals, nor does their absence reflect a metaphysical prejudice on his part. Instead, he thinks that arguments with conditionals cannot be syllogisms because of the way he understands the explanatory requirement in the definition of a syllogism: the requirement that the conclusion follow because of the premises. The key passage is Prior Analytics I.32, 47a22–40, where Aristotle considers an argument with conditionals that we would consider valid, but which he denies is a syllogism. I argue that Aristotle thinks that to meet the explanatory requirement a syllogism must draw its conclusion through the way its terms are predicated of one another. Because arguments with conditionals do not, in general, draw their conclusions through predications, he did not include them in his logic.

"Meno's Paradox in Context" (British Journal of the History of Philosophy 22, 2014) pdf

Abstract: I argue that Meno’s Paradox targets the type of knowledge that Socrates has been looking for earlier in the dialogue: knowledge grounded in explanatory definitions. Socrates places strict requirements on definitions and thinks we need these definitions to acquire knowledge. Meno’s challenge uses Socrates’ constraints to argue that we can neither propose definitions nor recognize them. To understand Socrates’ response to the challenge, we need to view Meno’s challenge and Socrates’ response as part of a larger disagreement about the value of inquiry.

          "Making Room for Matter: Material Causes in the Phaedo and the Physics" (Apeiron 47,  2014) pdf

Abstract: It is often claimed that Socrates rejects material causes in the Phaedo because they are not rational or not teleological. In this paper I argue for a new account: Socrates ultimately rejects material causes because he is committed to each change having a single cause. Because each change has a single cause, this cause must, on its own, provide an adequate explanation for the change. Material causes cannot provide an adequate explanation on their own and so Socrates rejects them. Aristotle agrees that material causes cannot explain changes on their own, but by allowing the same change to have multiple causes, he makes room for a material cause. Aristotle draws attention to the anti-Platonic implications of his four causes in a passage in Physics II.3 (195a3-14) that has been overlooked by commentators. 

"A New Philosophical Tool in the Meno: 86e-87c " (Ancient Philosophy 33, 2013) pdf
Abstract: This paper examines whether Socrates provides his interlocutors with good reasons to seek knowledge of what virtue is, reasons that they are in a position to appreciate. I argue that in the Laches he does provide such reasons, but they are not the reasons that are most commonly identified as Socratic. Socrates thinks his interlocutors should be motivated not by the idea that virtue is knowledge nor by the idea that knowledge is good for its own sake, but rather by the idea that knowledge is needed to recognize whether we are improving ourselves. His argument reaches the potentially life-altering conclusion that we should all seek knowledge of what virtue is. It is powerful precisely because it relies on uncontroversial premises that his interlocutors could be expected to accept. In laying out this argument, I distinguish different reasons to want a teacher of virtue and, corresponding to these reasons, different types of teachers of virtue. At the end of the article, I situate this argument within the debate about whether virtue is teachable. 
           

Works in progress

"The Matter for Birth, Life, and the Elements" doc and pdf [to be included in the Cambridge Companion to Ancient Science]

Abstract: In this essay I consider three case studies of Aristotle’s use of matter, drawn from three different scientific contexts: menstrual fluid as the matter of animal generation in the Generation of Animals, the living body as matter of an organism in Aristotle’s On the Soul (De Anima), and the matter of elemental transformation in Generation and Corruption. I argue that Aristotle conceives of matter differently in these treatises (1) because of the different sorts of changes under consideration, and (2) because sometimes he is considering the matter for one specific change, and sometimes the matter for all of a thing’s natural changes. My account allows me to explain some of the strange features that Aristotle ascribes to the matter for elemental transformation in Generation and Corruption II. These features were interpreted by later commentators as general features of all matter. I argue that they are a result of the specific way that Aristotle thinks about the transmutation of the elements.

              "Forms and the Origin of Self-Predication" doc and pdf

Abstract: This paper argues that we need a new account of how Plato thinks of forms in order to understand why he treats self-predication (e.g., justice is just) as obvious. The first part of the paper argues that self-predication is not clearly absurd; whether it is absurd depends on how one thinks about things like justice and holiness. I show how definitions proposed in the dialogues provide a model within which self-predication is intuitive. However, this model reveals a serious puzzle about self-predication that arises from how Plato describes forms. I argue that to resolve this puzzle we should look to the etymology of the Greek terms translated “form”: eidos and idea, which originally referred to a thing’s appearance. While Platonic forms are importantly different from appearances, they are similar in key respects that help us explain self-predication. The paper ends by arguing that this account provides a much more natural way to understand how Plato uses self-predication in his arguments.

"Matter's Defining Feature in Physics I" doc and pdf

Abstract: I argue that Aristotle makes matter a principle in Physics I.7 because he thinks that in every change there must be something that undergoes that change because of the sort of thing it is; this is matter’s defining feature in Physics I. I argue for this by showing how it helps us understand two puzzles Aristotle raises, one before providing his account in I.7 and one immediately after. Aristotle thinks that both of these puzzles are resolved by the distinction between two different ways to be what something comes-to-be from: on the one hand, there is what, by virtue of itself (kath hauta), something comes to be from, and on the other hand, what, by virtue of concurrence (kata sumbebekos), something comes to be from. Once we distinguish these two, Aristotle identifies matter as what things come to be from by virtue of itself, not by virtue of concurrence.

"The Sun, The Good, and the Value of Knowledge" doc and pdf

Abstract: In the Republic Socrates leads us to expect that knowledge of the form of the good will be crucial to living well (505a-e), and yet in the sun analogy (506d-509c) the form of the good only seems to have a highly abstract metaphysical and epistemological role, irrelevant to how we live. In this paper I provide a new account of how knowledge of the form of the good is supposed to help us live well. My account is based on Socrates’ claim, rarely mentioned by scholars, that this form is the cause of our power to know (508e). On my account, Socrates is providing a theoretical underpinning for his frequent claim that the best life is one of knowledge.

"
The Difference between Teaching and Habituation in Plato and Aristotledoc and pdf  [I am not actively working on this, but I would like to return to it.]
 
From the Introduction:  One of Plato and Aristotle’s insights is that moral education should develop both reason and the emotions. But how should it do this? Should there be a single type of education that simultaneously develops both reason and the emotions or should these be developed by separate processes? If separate, how should they relate to each other? Our answers to these questions will be tightly connected to our understanding of moral psychology: what is the relation between reason, desires, and emotions, and what role do they play in a good life? I think that Plato and Aristotle have interesting, compelling, and yet importantly different answers to these questions. It is frequently thought that their views on moral education are very similar, perhaps with different emphases. And they certainly do overlap in a number of important ways. But I think that Plato and Aristotle have different views of how to develop reason and the emotions. Carefully distinguishing their views gives us two very different models for moral education and points to an important question at the intersection of moral psychology and moral education.



Working on the Sun Analogy


Dissertation

  
             My complete dissertation, Aristotle's Motivation for Matter, can be found here.

For my most up to date thoughts on the central idea of my dissertation, see "The Defining Feature of Matter in Physics I" above.


Selected papers given at conferences (no current plans to work on these further)

"Three Difficulties with the Royal Art" [given at the 2009 West Coast Plato Workshop on the Euthydemus] doc

"Socrates and Plato on the Value of Knowledge" [given at the 2008 West Coast Plato Workshop on the Theaetetus] doc


All work copyright David Ebrey 2017