William B Cochran
What is wisdom?
Is there a connection between being wise
How is it transferred?
How is it acquired?
and being good?
To answer these questions philosophers often look to Aristotle for guidance, but they lack a crucial part of his account. Aristotle believes we need practical wisdom (phronesis) to become ‘fully good,’ and that teaching (didaskalia) cultivates practical wisdom. Yet what Aristotle means by ‘teaching’ remains opaque. In my dissertation, I weave together Aristotle’s comments to recover his view: teaching instills true, well-reasoned accounts of why things are the way they are in students who are sufficiently prepared to receive them. I then intervene in two debates in the literature using my interpretation. Each intervention further clarifies Aristotle’s thinking—both about how we become good, and what is required to be good. I then use my interpretation to defend Aristotle against ‘possibly the most serious objection, the one potentially undermining of Aristotle’s whole ethical system’ — the paradox of moral education.(Miller 2016, p. 28).
In future research, I plan to continue to explore the concept of wisdom in ancient thought (both east and west)—what it is, how it is communicated and acquired, and what connection it has to moral character.
I am also interested in exploring how ancient philosophy is relevant for today—and tomorrow. In my “Dewey, Aristotle, and Education as Completion,” forthcoming in Philosophy of Education (2018), I make the case for viewing Aristotle’s model of education as a viable alternative to both traditionalism and progressivism.
Ancient Wisdom & Future Technology
And in my “Aristotle on Enhancing Human Excellence,” I interpret Aristotle on human nature and reason to show that he is not as opposed to biomedical enhancements as scholars often claim.
Upcoming Talk: "Aristotle on Enhancing Human Excellence: Nature, Reason, and Genetic Engineering"
Great Lakes Philosophy Conference (April 2019).
Abstract: Opponents of biomedical enhancements often claim that their use violates our essential human nature (Kass 2017, Ch. 6). Critics of this view claim that human nature has no real bearing on this debate (Buchanan 2017, Ch. 3 & 2011, Ch. 4). Yet scholars on both sides of the debate agree on one thing: Aristotle supports their position. Since both sides enlist Aristotle to support their argument, we can make some progress through this impasse if we interpret Aristotle correctly. I argue that each side gets part of Aristotle right, but neither captures his full thinking on this topic. Working from Aristotle’s thoughts on the relationship between our nature and our good, I argue he would maintain that we should enhance our reasoning capacities, so long as these enhancements do not prohibit us from actively exercising them. Moreover, we can enhance ourselves in this way and remain human.
Buchanan, Allen. 2017. Better Than Human: The Promise and Perils of Biomedical Enhancement. Oxford: OUP.
. 2011. Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement Oxford: OUP.
Kass, Leon R. 2017. Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times. New York: Encounter Books.
Miller, Alistair. 2016. A New Vision of Liberal Education: The Good of an Unexamined Life. New York: Routledge.