Research Projects

I have a number of different ongoing projects which orient my scholarship, research, public speaking, and even my video work.  When people ask me just what area of Philosophy I've specialized in, I run into some difficulties in explaining to them exactly what I do -- and you can see why if you read these newly revised overviews of my main current projects:

1) Understanding Anger, Emotion, and Rationality

I've been thinking, writing, and speaking about the emotion of Anger for about a decade.  At least in certain ancient and medieval discussions and depictions of the emotion, it plays an important role not only in interpersonal relationships, but also in politics, culture, and society.   I'm particularly interested  in using classic theories of anger to understand what anger is and how it works, how anger is connected with rationality and the other emotions, and whether and when anger is an appropriate moral response.

One major project I'm currently working on is a book reconstructing Aristotle's perspective upon anger as a psychological, moral, and political matter.  As I've been working on that larger project, I've published a few studies on Aristotle, affectivity, and anger -- one on anger and forgiveness, another on affectivity and law, and another comparing Aristotle with Scheler and Von Hildebrand.

I've also given a number of conference and invited presentations bearing on Aristotle's theory of anger -- one providing an overview of my project, one on anger and akrasia, another on virtues and vices bearing on anger, another on anger, justice and injustice, and finally, one on revenge, retribution, and punishment.

Eventually, I have another (and probably much thicker!) book planned, in which I will examine anger's treatment in a range of philosophical (e.g. Platonic, Stoic, Thomistic, Cartesian), theological, psychological, and literary perspectives.  This current year, I am providing a monthly lecture series focused on Ancient and Medieval conceptions about anger, hosted by the Kingston Library, called Understanding Anger (videos available here).  Last year, I also delivered a guest sermon about early Christian views on anger.

2) Virtue Ethics and Moral Theory

Ethics was one of the very first classes I taught in my career, and I've continued teaching it regularly (videos are available here).  The approach that I tend to take is oriented by studying and applying moral theories, usually by focusing not on reductive textbook versions of those theories, but by looking at the best and brightest representatives who contributed to the development of those moral theories -- so, if I'm discussing, for instance, Utilitarianism, I do so through the works of classic thinkers like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

The family of moral theories that I find most congenial, and focus upon the most is called Virtue Ethics.  Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas are key classic thinkers in that approach -- and I do work on all three of those -- and one major contemporary thinker whose work I engage (and who I've actually studied with) is Alasdair MacIntyre.  There are many other figures who fit into Virtue Ethics as well, whose work and thought I engage with -- Cicero,  John Cassian, Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, Anselm of Canterbury, Mary Wollstonecraft, Max Scheler, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Martin Luther King, Jr.  You can read about some of them in my blog, Virtue Ethics Digest.

I'm also quite interested in other approaches in moral theory, particularly those who present interesting challenges to Virtue Ethics, so I do some work, and devote a good bit of thought to a rather disparate (and in some cases, dissolute!) batch of thinkers -- Epictetus, Epicurus, Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, G.W.F. Hegel, Jeremy Bentham, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida.

Three rather distinctive book projects have slowly emerged -- just in outlines at present -- from my focus on moral theories, their applications, and virtue ethics in particular.  One of these is a book on Aristotle and Leadership.  Another is a book bringing Lacanian psychoanalytic theory into dialogue with virtue ethics, particularly that of Alasdair MacIntyre.  A third is more of a practical book, designed to assist pet owners in thinking and feeling their way through difficult decisions regarding their pets.

 3) Revisiting Existentialism as a Philosophical Movement

As an undergraduate, I was very much taken with Existentialist thought in general, and with Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, and Friedrich Nietzsche in particular.  As I moved into graduate school, I held on some elements of Sartre's and Nietzsche's thought for quite some time, but eventually relinquished interest in Existentialism for other focuses (particularly Hegel, post-structuralism, and eventually the history of philosophy).  What ended up bringing me back to rereading Existentialist thinkers and texts was requests from my YouTube viewers that led to my decision to start a sequence of videos on Existentialist thought.

I discovered that many of these thinkers possessed a richness and depth that had been wasted upon me as a young man, but which I could now appreciate as I moved into middle age, and I became quite interested in reappropriating these thinkers, not only in the context of their own time and culture, but as resources for living a thoughtful life in the present.  So far, this has led not only to the video series (which is still far from finished), but also to my designing an online class (running now, with the next section starting in June), and providing a year-long lecture series at the Kingston Library, Glimpses into Existence.

Over the last several years, I've also given invited talks on Existentialist thinkers -- including this one on Nietzsche and another one on Rilke.  Eventually -- when I find the time -- I'm hoping to do some writing on Existentialist thinkers, most likely in the form of book-length studies, but I'm not sure at this point precisely what form they will take

4) The Thought of Anselm of Canterbury

 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 lays out Anselm's moral theory as fully as possible, comparing his own to other approaches.  While I work on this first book, I gather material and reflections for a shorter, more metaphysically oriented book on Anselm and time, eternity, God, and human being.  I'm also working on studies about God, justice, and mercy that will eventually be turned into a book-length study as well.

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.

5) G.W.F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit

At one time in graduate school, if you had asked me who my favorite thinker was, I'd have immediately and enthusiastically answered that it was Hegel -- someone I'm still quite fond of even today, nearly two decades later.  Back then, taking a Hegel seminar, I used a second-edition of the Phaenomenologie des Geistes, in the old Fraktur script (which I'd learned to read), that amazingly was available in the SIUC library.  I also led a semester-long reading group and held private tutorials on Hegel for other students.  When I had to take a "special thinker" preliminary exam, it was Hegel who I selected, and the advice given was "just memorize the entire structure of the Phenomenology. . .  and these parts of the Science of Logic as well."

Although one of my earliest publications was on Hegel -- and I did start writing a few other pieces as well -- I ended up focusing on other thinkers in my published work.  I did get to teach Hegel once in a while, and did go back and reread from time to time.  What changed all of this was, again, requests from my YouTube audience -- they wanted more Hegel.  So, I thought about how that might be done, and I eventually settled on the perhaps overly ambitious project that is now called Half-Hour Hegel.

What I've committed to doing is to create lecture videos going through the Phenomenology of Spirit, paragraph by paragraph, skipping no sections, commenting on each one. They're available in a video playlist, but that's rapidly getting rather unwieldy (there's already 40 lectures -- and I'm expecting to do another 200-300 more!), so I created a blog, Half Hour Hegel, to house, curate, and occasionally comment on them.  It's probably going to take me about 3-4 years all told to bring this off, and that's releasing at least 1 video per week.  But, its something nobody has ever done before, and it turns out to be awfully useful for Hegel-readers, so I'm going to see it through, God willing.

6) The Issue of Christian Philosophy

The thinker I ended up researching and writing upon for my dissertation was a controversial Catholic figure from the 20th century, Maurice Blondel.  Much of his work remains untranslated, and in the early 2000s, I started looking at some of his pieces on the notion of Christian philosophy, written in the course of some debates that took place in the 1930s about that very same topic.  As it turned out, there was little English-language discussion of these debates, and what there was (with a few exceptions) gave a very partial and somewhat biased perspective on them.  As I started following out leads, I got drawn into a research project that took half a decade, but culminated in my first book, Reason Fulfilled by Revelation: The 1930s Christian Philosophy Debates in France.

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.  I've also gotten quite interested in looking at the intersection between Christianity and philosophy in early Christian writers, and that may lead to some talks, papers, or even a book.

Over the years, I've published and presented quite a few pieces about the issues involved with Christian philosophy -- on figures and issues ranging from Saint Anselm, Catherine of Alexandria, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Adriaan Peperzak, John Deely, Pope Benedict XVI, to affectivity and holiness and renewal of Christian intellectual life.  I've also published a thematic bibliography of literature pertaining to the debates.

7) Critical Thinking, Logic, and Argument

As an undergraduate, I pursued degrees in both Philosophy and Mathematics, and that lead me not only into quite a bit of work in the foundations of Mathematics, but also in Formal Logic and in Games Theory.  I pursued those about as far as I was interested in during my early graduate school years, and then moved on to other areas.  But once I started teaching, I ended up revisiting Logic as well as covering Critical Thinking classes quite often.  In fact, at my last tenure track position (at Fayetteville State University), I taught mainly Critical Thinking classes -- 3 or 4 each semester.  In fact, my last semester there was my first semester engaging in lecture capture -- you can see my Critical Thinking class videos here.

I've long been interested in the broader theory of argument that goes beyond just Logic and Critical Thinking to encompass dialectic, rhetoric, and more flexible theories of inference and inquiry -- the sort of work, for example, that Aristotle did in his own day, or theorists like Chaim Perelman, Ernesto Grassi, Kenneth Burke, and Paul Ricoeur (among many others) did in the 20th century. 

While I was still working at FSU, I took advantage of every opportunity offered to engage in faculty development, learning and applying a variety of pedagogical strategies in order to teach Critical Thinking more effectively.  This eventually led into my being tapped to help with the university's 10 year institutional Quality Enhancement Plan, first as a subject matter expert on critical thinking, then as a member of the writing committee, and eventually as a writer of several sections of the plan itself.  I also studied the CLA, brought its performance task assessments into my own Critical Thinking classes, led faculty development sessions and workshops, and even oversaw institution-wide assessment of critical thinking.

Since leaving FSU, I still occasionally consult with schools, organizations, and institutions about critical thinking and educational assessment.  I've also started a new YouTube channel devoted specifically to Critical Thinking, Logic, and Argumentation.