What I’m Working On Now

  • I’m writing 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.
  • I recently gave a presentation at Cambridge on Thomas Hobbes’ reliance on an Aristotelian notion of legal agreement, a notion developed in Aristotle’s Rhetoric and repurposed in a variety of Hobbes’ writings (both in English and in Latin) including his Elements of Law and De Cive. I’ll be contributing an expanded version of this talk for an edited volume from CUP on literature and early modern law.
  • I have a couple side projects that approach questions of modern technological development through the lens of ancient philosophy. 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.
  • I’ve just finished editing a book on ambiguitas with Michael Fontaine at Cornell and William Short at the University of Exeter. The volume includes contributions on matters of linguistics, literary theory, Renaissance humanism, and more. In addition to my editorial work, I contributed an essay on the notion of ambiguity in rhetorical education, not merely as a stylistic flaw to be avoided (as ambiguitas is often understood in grammatical texts) but as a point where an expert courtroom advocate can use his strategies of legal interpretation. You can find our book on Amazon and my own contribution at the Philpapers archive.
  • As far as the piano goes, I’ve been working on Copland’s piano version of Rodeo and some of the weirder corners of Bach.
    (last updated 11/5/2018)