Marc Gasser-Wingate

Research

My recent research has focused on the role perception plays in Aristotelian epistemology—how much it contributes to the more advanced cognitive states that make up our intellectual lives, and how we should understand the nature of its contribution.

Here are some papers on these and related topics:

  • Aristotle on Induction and First Principles
    Philosophers’ Imprint  16(4)  2016·abstract·published copy
    Aristotle’s cognitive ideal is a form of understanding that requires a sophisticated grasp of scientific first principles. At the end of the Analytics, Aristotle tells us that we learn these principles by induction (epagôgê). But on the whole, commentators have found this an implausible claim: induction seems far too basic a process to yield the sort of knowledge Aristotle’s account requires. In this paper I argue that this criticism is misguided. I defend a broader reading of Aristotelian induction, on which there’s good sense to be made of the claim that we come to grasp first principles inductively, and show that this reading is a natural one given Aristotle’s broader views on scientific learning.
  • Aristotle on the Perception of Universals
    abstract·working draft
    Aristotle claims that “although we perceive particulars, perception is of universals; for instance of human being, not of Callias-the-human-being” (APo B19 100a16-b1). I offer an interpretation of this claim and examine its significance in Aristotle’s epistemology.
  • Conviction and Priority in Aristotle’s Account of Scientific Understanding
    abstract·working draft
    Aristotle is often portrayed as a certain sort of rational foundationalist, who thinks that all our scientific understanding is justified on the basis of first principles, and that these first principles are themselves justified by some non-inferential form of rational intuition (noūs). I argue against this view and, more broadly, against interpretations of Aristotle’s epistemology that focus on the justificatory relations between various cognitive states.

I’ve lately also been revisiting some interpretive ideas concerning the notion of self-sufficiency Aristotle invokes in his ethical works.

  • Aristotle on Self-Sufficiency, External Goods, and Contemplation
    Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie (forth.)·abstract·penultimate draft
    Aristotle tells us that contemplation is the most self-sufficient form of virtuous activity: we can contemplate alone, and with minimal resources, while moral virtues like courage require other individuals to be courageous towards, or courageous with. This is hard to square with the rest of his discussion of self-sufficiency in the Ethics: Aristotle doesn’t generally seek to minimize the number of resources necessary for a flourishing human life, and seems happy to grant that such a life will be self-sufficient despite requiring a lot of external goods. In this paper I develop an interpretation of self-sufficiency as a form of independence from external contributors to our activity, and argue that this interpretation accounts both for Aristotle’s views on contemplation and for the role self-sufficiency plays in his broader account of human happiness.

Finally, I’m interested in contemporary philosophy of math, particularly in questions concerning mathematical explanation, and structuralist approaches to mathematical ontology.

Here’s a paper on the latter of these topics:

  • Structuralism and Its Ontology
    Ergo  2(1)  2015·abstract·published copy
    A prominent version of mathematical structuralism holds that mathematical objects are at bottom nothing but “positions in structures,” purely relational entities without any sort of nature independent of the structure to which they belong. Such an ontology is often presented as a response to Benacerraf’s “multiple reductions” problem, or motivated on hermeneutic grounds, as a faithful representation of the discourse and practice of mathematics. In this paper I argue that there are serious difficulties with this kind of view: its proponents rely on a distinction between “essential” and “nonessential” features of mathematical objects, and there’s no good way to articulate this distinction which is compatible with basic structuralist commitments. But all is not lost. For I further argue that the insights motivating structuralism (or at least those worth preserving) can be preserved without formulating the view in ontologically committal terms.

And here’s my CV.