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 influence on Quintilian’s humanist readers—including Lorenzo Valla, Thomas Hobbes, and Giambattista Vico—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.

As part of a second research interest, I’ve started to do some writing on the rhetorical tradition as it bears on the emerging anxieties surrounding deepfake videos. I argue that deepfakes approximate the long-standing, low-tech strategy of Ä“thopoeia, the use of persuasive caricature and impersonation. I’ve also become interested in speculative histories of language, especially in Cicero and Tacitus but also in more modern writers like Rousseau.

Much of my 2020 has been spent at home, and I’ve taken the opportunity to work on some Debussy, Beethoven, and Ellington. It seems unlikely that anyone will hold big running events soon, but I’m still logging masked miles with the Dashing Whippets Running Team.

I’ve become a civic evangelist for Vote Forward, a volunteer organization devoted to increasing voter turnout in the United States.

(last updated 9/13/2020)