Research Projects

Currently, I have several different ongoing research projects at varied stages of development.  Many of my past publications and presentations represent portions or stages in these projects.  These may seem rather disparate and unrelated to each other, but there is one discernible common thread running through all of the work, writing, public speaking, teaching, and project coordination which I do.  Here's how I see that thread

Everything that we do, think, say, desire, produce involves practical reasoning in some way, on some level.  Even the drive to get matters correct in our thinking which culminates in rather abstract disciplines such as logic, epistemology, metaphysics -- even that drive and those disciplines, realize it or not,  are situated within broader, deeper horizons concerned ultimately with the nature and pursuit of the good and goods.  Like some other thinkers, I see theoretical, speculative or "pure" reason as enfolded within practical rationality.  So, I'm very interested in focusing on that.

I also think that philosophers and theologians of the past have immeasurable riches to offer those of us in the present grappling with the perennial problems of human existence.  The countless times that I have seen people for the first time really encountering Aristotle, Epictetus, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hobbes, Rene Descartes. . .  (the list could go on and on), finding out that these thinkers have something valuable, interesting, helpful, to offer them-- the occasions in which I have seen people light up, become visibly animated, puzzled, happy, hopeful. . .  after enough of those times, I realized that one thing I really want to do is to share those riches of Ancient, Medieval, and Modern thinkers with other people.

This motivation is one akin to that of Saint Anselm, after he discovered his famous Proslogion argument: "Supposing, then, that if what I rejoiced to have discovered were written down it would please its readers." So, all that said, here are the main projects I am continually working on:

1)Teaching, Learning, and Assessment in Ethics

Ethics was the very first college course I was given to teach, back during graduate school.  I've taught it many times since, at a number of different places, and to very different types of students.  Each semester that I've taught again, I've learned a lot myself -- rereading the texts, talking with students about the ideas, reflecting on their assignments as I read and grade them, and thinking about not only how better to get the ideas across to my students, but also how to get them interested, even passionate about Ethics.

I've been developing a number of resources for students, the intention being to bridge the gap between the classic and contemporary texts on which I have them cut their teeth, and their own developing understandings, their daily lives, relationships, moral choices, and typical actions.  I'm not looking for any sort of "magic bullet," one single pedagogical technique or strategy which would captivate the minds of my students, paving the way for them to develop a full, or even adequate knowledge of Ethics.  Instead, I've come to realize that what students need and benefit most from -- in the relatively short time of the semester we're allotted for introducing them to the discipline -- is being provided a wide array of different, mutually complementary resources, assignments, activities, examples.  Accordingly, that's what I've been trying to do -- and likely will be doing over the next twenty years or so.

Just two examples:  Over the last year, I've started actually videoing lecture and discussion sessions in my Ethics classes -- 22 videos from Fall 2011 and 25 videos from Spring 2012 are available in YouTube.  Interestingly, though my own students -- in face-to-face and online classes use those videos -- I've been getting far more people outside of my classes, all over the world, watching, using, even commenting and asking questions on those videos.  I've decided recently to start producing several new video series, aimed specifically at helping students better understand key concepts, authors, and theories in Ethics. 

While teaching at my previous position at Fayetteville State University, I co-founded the Ethics in Business Education Project, a partnership between academic philosophers and business educators, aimed at improving the Ethics components of Business classes and curricula -- and doing so in demonstrable ways.  This meant, among others things, helping the FSU School of Business and Economics develop Ethics assessments which they could use to maintain their AACSB accreditation.  I've continued developing and using similar types of assessment for my own students, and eventually intend to start publishing some work about this in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

2)  The 1930s French Christian Philosophy Debates: 

this is at the same time an indulgence of mine and a sorely needed area of study, which I place first not because it is the most important topic of my research, but because it is the one in which I have perhaps been most successful.  My first book pertaining to the debates appears this spring.  These debates are fascinating not only because they involved so many brilliant 20th century French philosophers and theologians (like Maurice Blondel, Etienne Gilson, and Jacques Maritain), and not only because they staked out so many different and competing positions, but because, as I've argued elsewhere, the basic issues involved in these debates have never been examined as thoroughly, as deeply, and in such detail as they were in that time.

My book provides translations of documents previously inaccessible to French-less readers.  It also gives a nearly hundred-page historical and thematic introduction, and ends with a chronological bibliography.  I've published several articles on these debates and the issue of Christian philosophy, and intend to continue that work.  I'd like to write at least two more books pertaining to the debates and their issues:  one, an intellectual history of the debates, the other, a thematic treatment of positions articulated during the debates.

 3) Anger, Emotion, and Rationality: 

 this is a topic I have been long interested in, whose first sparks came in reading through Aristotle's Rhetoric, Politics, and his two Ethics in Greek, and realizing two things:  first, at least in his thought, anger had a unique and important place among the "passions of the soul"; second, that Aristotle did not provide a systematic theory of anger, but that one could be reconstructed by reading across his works.  Once those sparks caught, it took a constant flame, as I started taking note of and then studying other thinkers' theories (or significant lack thereof) about anger, rationality, the emotions, aggression, and the range of very different attitudes they adopted towards anger.

I'll admit that my interest in anger's connection to rationality had two other, more personal motives as well.  Like many young men in our culture (and how many others!) I struggled with anger, and often gave over control to my own anger.  I needed to come to terms with that emotion, as well as my own habits and choices bearing on it and shaping it, and I found in Ancient and Medieval philosophers and theologians depths of insight far exceeding those offered by many contemporary "experts" on the subject.  I also noticed how often anger and closely allied emotional responses like resentment, bitterness, rivalry, and indignation crept into our discussions and debates in graduate school.  I realized that anger often plays a role in some of our purportedly dispassionate, objective discourses, and I wanted to understand it.

Over the years, I've made a number of conference presentations and some popular talks bearing on anger, particularly -- though not confined to -- anger in Aristotle's moral and political theory.  Over the last several years, I have also been writing a book specifically on Aristotle's discussions of anger, weaving them together into a systematic theory.  After I finish that project, I intend to start work on a much broader study of anger which will engage and compare views of  philosophers, theologians, and psychologists

4) The Thought of St. Anselm

I never meant to become a St. Anselm scholar.  There's an entire story there, ranging from prelim exams to conversations with monks, involving pride and humility, successes and setbacks.  I started my first serious work on Anselm -- never published -- more than a decade ago.  For a long time, I was mainly fascinated with Anselm's unum argumentum, not only with the aspect of it which Intro books call the "ontological argument", but also with other aspects, such as God's paradoxically harmonious justice and mercy.  Even more than to Anselm's metaphysics, I have been attracted to his moral theory, which, like pretty much every other area of his thought, has to be pieced together from his various treatises, letters, the account of his life, his Dicta, the anselmian portions of the de simultudinibus, and his prayers.  Over the years, I have written papers teasing out Anselm's views on these matters, including simplicity, freedom, punishment, personality, practical rationality, eternal life, and justice's ontological status.

My plans for books an Anselm may seem in parts overly ambitious, not only because they assume that I can actually carry out the work, but also because one might doubt whether there really is enough material on these matters to sift through and systematically reconstruct in Anselm's works.  The book I am working on currently, of which I have finished several of the twelve or so projected chapters (books, like children change and escape our plans as they grow), lays out Anselm's moral theory as fully as possible, comparing his own to other approaches.  While I work on this first book, I keep gathering material and reflections for a shorter, more metaphysically oriented book on Anselm and time, eternity, God, and human being.  I may yet, down the line, put together the book I'd originally meant to write about Anselm, situating the so-called "ontological" argument within his broader thought and then examining the bases and assumptions of other philosophers' and theologians' construals or misconstruals of his insight.

Most of Anselm's works have been translated into English, but not all, so I started slowly translating the portions of the De similitudinibus which two great Anselm scholars have determined to be genuinely anselmian, and which they label the De humanibus moribus.  Given De similitudinibus' importance in medieval spirituality, I've decided to translate the whole of it.  I also have in mind going on to translate some of the other pseudo-anselmian texts from Latin to English.