Research

 

My areas of specialization are ancient philosophy, philosophical logic, and medieval Armenian theology.

In ancient philosophy I focus on the Hellenistic period with special attention to the Stoics and their logic and philosophy of language. My current project is a paper on the Stoics’ approach to the sorites paradox. The sorites is an ancient puzzle based on what we now recognize on vague predicates like “bald.” ¬†Since there is no recognized precise boundary dividing the bald from the non-bald, a series of questions about whether heads that are arranged in such a way that each successive head has indiscernibly less hair will logically elicit the paradoxical response that even the last head, one that completely lacks hair, is not bald. Not only contemporary philosophers but also the ancient Stoics occupied themselves with this paradox that seems to undermine deeply held intuitions about logic and meaning. One of the leading contemporary philosophers working on vagueness and the sorites, Timothy Williamson, has argued that the Stoics held a position very similar to his own: epistemicism, which affirms the existence of a determinate though unknowable boundary that separates the bald and non-bald. Another important philosopher and scholar, Susanne Bobzien, has presented compelling objections to Williamson’s thesis of Stoic epistemicism. In agreement with Bobzien, I try to show that the Stoics, or more precisely their greatest logician, Chrysippus, adopted a response to the sorites very similar to another contemporary solution distinct from epistemicism.

My work in Armenian theology stems from my interest in the influence and reception of Greek philosophy in medieval Armenia. Beginning in the fifth century the Armenians translated and produced commentaries on Aristotle and other Greek philosophers. They also produced a vast corpus of theological and historical literature. After studying the Classical Armenian language at Oxford University in the mid-1990s, I began to work on Armenian philosophical literature but also the many biblical commentaries which have been largely neglected in the study of Christian exegesis. My most recent work has been on the writings and theology of the tenth century monk and poet-theologian St. Gregory of Narek. During my sabbatical in the fall of 2017, I completed a book that provides a comprehensive treatment of his life and works.

Although my interests appear to be unrelated, there are some important connections between the study of logic, language, and meaning in antiquity (and in modern times) and the development of biblical hermeneutics and theology in the Middle Ages. One of the delights of scholarship is the opportunity to trace out the direct connections that often exist between very different areas of inquiry.