What I’m Working On Now

  • I’m revising my first monograph, provisionally titled Humanist Certainty. Broadly speaking, the book argues that the ancient notion of certainty, alien to the modern concept of the same name, is most fully theorized in Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria as a term denoting customary agreement, not unimpeachable truth. This consensus-based understanding of certainty, built upon earlier sources including Aristotle and Cicero, exerts an enormous influence on Quintilian’s humanist readers, who use it to ground their writings on law, logic, and science. The second half of the book, which treats these later authors, focuses on the writings on Lorenzo Valla, Thomas Hobbes, and Giambattista Vico. The monograph expands upon my doctoral dissertation, which you can download at Columbia’s Academic Commons website.
  • Building from a conference presentation I gave at Cambridge in 2018, I have an article forthcoming (Palgrave) on the Aristotelian roots of some of Hobbes’ later writings on scientia civilis and the strategies for grounding this firm knowledge of politics. While these later works like the Elements of Law and De Cive are often taken to be emblematic of Hobbes’ post-humanist, anti-rhetorical phase, I argue that even Hobbes’ strict models of demonstrative science still retain some terminology and methods from Aristotle’s Rhetoric.
  • I have a couple side projects that approach questions of modern technological development through the lens of ancient intellectual culture. Specifically, I’m reconsidering a conference talk I gave several years ago on the how the ancient rhetorical tradition understands the notion of “information” or even “data” that can be owned and quantified. I’m also beginning a project on the problems of identifying “deepfake” videos and whether the epistemological tests of various Hellenistic schools might be helpful for separating real and artificial appearances. Additionally, this work shows how the ancient rhetorical tactic of ethopoeia, central to Ciceronian courtroom oratory, anticipates some of our ascendant concerns relating to deepfake videos.
  • As far as non-academic side projects go, I’m running the New York City Marathon again this November as part of the Dashing Whippets Running Team, and I’m working on some piano tunes by Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, and Bach.

(last updated 10/3/2019)