I mainly work on early modern philosophy, history of philosophy of science, and metaphysics.
Overall, I'm interested in the points at which systems of thought, practices, etc. break down and fail.*
I'm currently alternating between a BOF-funded postdoc at Ghent University, Belgium and a research position within Ursula Renz's project on Spinoza and the human lifeform at Alpen-Adria-University, in Klagenfurt, Austria. At the moment, I'm based in
Klagenfurt Ghent Klagenfurt Ghent.
Before that, I was a research fellow at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, working on early modern life sciences and teaching early modern philosophy.
And before that, I did a PhD on Descartes and nonreductionism. It argued that, despite all his commitments to reductionism, Descartes was a nonreductionist about various things, especially biology. I tried to make the point that this isn't just inconsistency on Descartes's part, by arguing for nonreductionism in his epistemology of natural philosophy and, in a certain sense, in his metaphysics (via the union of mind and body).
* Why? At one point, I thought the motivation behind this was anti-dogmatic. But then anti-dogmatism tends to be used to justify claims to individual genius, and that seems at least as bad as the dogmatism—and it seems bad in the same sort of way. So it's not the dogmatism itself that's the problem. What's common to both the dogmatic case and the individual genius case is some kind of hubris.
Given that, one of the underlying motivations in what I'm trying to do is anti-hubristic: whenever there's a claim to have the definitive answer to something or other, we should probably be suspicious.
Another motivation is anti-chauvinism. If someone's answer to some problem happens to favour them, we should probably be suspicious there too (and if it's also hubristic, doubly so). For instance, it might not be a coincidence that philosophers, who think for a living, tend to privilege reason (which isn't to say that reason is bad—just that the chauvinism involved suggests some scepticism is in order).
That said, I'm not looking to do something purely negative. Scepticism is fine and all, but, by itself, it's kind of facile. And if all that's at stake is finding fault with the positive claims of others, that's a quick and easy route to hubris again—I always have the answer, because the answer's always no.
The goal is to build up an approach that fundamentally disincentivizes hubris and chauvinism but that allows for, and can produce, positive claims.
Maybe all this sounds obvious, but, to the extent that these issues are addressed at all, they tend to be treated as secondary at best. This project is meant to be inclusive and non-elitist from the ground up. It's ethical (i.e., the anti-hubristic, anti-chauvinistic stuff) at its core; everything else is secondary.
I argue that Descartes explains physiology in terms of whole systems, and not in terms of the size, shape and motion of tiny corpuscles (corpuscular mechanics). It is a standard, entrenched view that Descartes' proper means of explanation in the natural world is through strict reduction to corpuscular mechanics. This view is bolstered by a handful of corpuscular–mechanical explanations in Descartes' physics, which have been taken to be representative of his treatment of all natural phenomena. However, Descartes' explanations of the ‘principal parts’ of physiology do not follow the corpuscular–mechanical pattern. Des Chene has identified systems in Descartes' account of physiology, but takes them to ultimately reduce down to the corpuscle level. I argue that they do not. Rather, Descartes maintains entire systems, with components selected from multiple levels of organization, in order to construct more complete explanations than corpuscular mechanics alone would allow.
I argue that Descartes is not a reductionist about life, but dissolves or eliminates the category entirely. This is surprising both because he repeatedly refers to the life of humans, animals, and plants and because he appears to rely on the category of life to construct his physiology and medicine. Various attempts have been made in the scholarship to attribute a principled concept of life to Descartes. Most recently, Detlefsen (forthcoming) has argued that Descartes ‘is a reductionist with respect to explanation of life phenomena but not an eliminativist with respect to life itself’ (4–5). I show that all these attempts either result in arbitrariness or force Descartes's wider philosophical project into incoherence. I argue that Descartes's ontological commitments make a principled concept of life impossible, that he does not need such a concept, and that his project ends up more coherent without one.
Descartes repeatedly refers to a ‘principle of life’ and appears to make grand claims for its role in his natural philosophy. These claims have been taken at face value in the literature. This paper argues that there is no single principle underlying the operation of the Cartesian body. I show that Descartes's account of physiology explains the operation of the living body through multiple interdependent systems, with no one system more fundamental than any other. As such, Cartesian physiology is incompatible with a hierarchical conception of a body whose operations are driven by a single underlying principle.
A certain reading of Descartes, which we refer to as ‘the embodied Descartes’, is emerging from recent scholarship on L'Homme. This reading complicates our understanding of Descartes's philosophical project: far from strictly separating human minds from bodies, the embodied Descartes keeps them tightly integrated, while animal bodies behave in ways quite distinct from those of other pieces of extended substance. Here, we identify three categories of embodiment in contemporary readings of Descartes's physiology: 1) bodily health and function, 2) embodied reflex and memory, and 3) embodied cognition. All present more or less strong versions of the embodied Descartes. Together, they constitute a compelling reading of a Cartesian natural philosophy that, if not expressly antidualist, is an awfully long way from the canonical picture.
The literature treats Descartes’s position on life as either reductionist or eliminativist. Here, I argue instead that Descartes treats life as an irreducible notion (but avoids giving it a role in his treatment of biology). This makes sense of some otherwise incongruous claims: Descartes makes explicit, if weak, metaphysical commitments to the existence both of a category of ‘life’ and of specifically living creatures. He appears to recognise life but has no way to account for it reductively. This is a problem for Descartes as long as we take his epistemology to be purely reductionist. However, Descartes’s treatment of the union of mind and body suggests that he can allow nonreductionist knowledge. If we do take him to have nonreductive knowledge of life, then we can consider him as a (very weak) kind of vitalist with respect to life itself, while still being an eliminativist about life when it comes to accounting for the operation of the body.
We argue that, within Spinoza's system, epistemic subjectivity is only available to finite minds—and, indeed, that minds as such can only be finite. Epistemic subjectivity is not reducible to anything in God qua God (as opposed to God qua some finite mind). This also means that knowledge is neither available to nor reducible to God qua God, and that God qua God can't have a mind. While there are some passages in the Ethics that are usually seen as endorsing something along the lines of a divine intellect, here, we interpret them as having a purely functional role in the explanation of human epistemology, with no ontological implications for anything like a divine intellect.