Professor of Classical Philosophy, University of Oxford, UK
Professor Christopher Shields received his bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1979 from Bowling Green State University, where he also earned his M.A. in Philosophy in 1981. He furthered his philosophical studies at Cornell University and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in 1984 and 1986 respectively. He first taught at Colby College (1986–88), then the University of Colorado at Boulder from 1988 to 2004 as Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor. He joined the University ofOxford in 2004 and is currently Professor of Classical Philosophy and Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall.
Professor Shields has held visiting positions at universities in the U.S.A., the U.K., New Zealand, and Germany, such as Visiting Fellow at Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford (1992–93); Visiting Professor at Yale University (2002) and Cornell University (2007); Erskine Visiting Professor at University of Canterbury (2003); and Visiting Scholar and Senior Fellow at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (2012, 2013).
Professor Shields is widely recognized as an expert in ancient philosophy and metaphysics. His research interests also include philosophy of mind, medieval philosophy, modern philosophy, and philosophy and literature. As a prolific writer, he has authored or edited seven books and nearly fifty articles, including The Oxford Handbook of Aristotle (2012);Ancient Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction (2011; Chinese edition 2014); Aristotle (2007; Chinese edition 2013); Blackwell Guide to Ancient Philosophy (2002; Chinese edition 2009); and Order in Multiplicity: Homonymy in the Philosophy of Aristotle (1999). He is also the general editor of History of the Philosophy of Mind (in 5 vols., forthcoming).
As the 19th incumbent of the Tang Chun-I Visiting Professorship, Professor Shields will offer a public lecture on “A Return to Soul: Living Systems and Other Unities,” which explores the manner in which living systems qualify as privileged unities. Additionally, he will offer a four-week graduate seminar on Aristotle’s De Anima, with a special emphasis on the role and nature of hylomorphic explanation in psychology. Students with work through Professor Shield’s translation and commentary, which is undergoing its final revisions before appearing from Clarendon Press, Oxford, next year. Finally, he will offer a departmental seminar on “TheSummum Bonum in Aristotle’s Ethics: Fractured Goodness,” which examines a dispute about the metaphysics of goodness between Plato and Aristotle.
A Return to Soul: Living Systems and Other Unities
It is easy to presume that the notion of the soul has been superseded by science. If that is so, then outside of religious contexts we have little cause to take seriously the contention that we have souls. After all, whatever explanatory work the soul may once have been invoked to discharge is now handled in the context of the empirical sciences, including most centrally, of course, the biological sciences. This presumption is, however, at best premature, and, at worst, simply short-sighted. When we reflect on the broader metaphysical grounds for introducing the soul as a principle of unity advanced by Aristotle, we find ourselves with reason to revisit afresh the suggestion that living systems are privileged unities. We must, then, either accept the unity of such systems as primitive or postulate some principle of privilege. When we postulate such a principle, however, we return to the hypothesis that living systems are, after all, ensouled beings.
The Aristotelian Soul
23 Sept 2013 (Mon) 3:30-6:15 YIA 201
27 Sept 2013 (Fri) 2:30-5:15 LSK 201
4 Oct 2013 (Fri) 2:30-5:15 LSK 201
De Anima contains Aristotle’s most mature reflections on the soul and its capacities. Probably composed in his second and last period in Athens, the treatise casts a long shadow: over the last two millennia there have been an estimated eight-hundred commentaries dedicated to it; and it continues to be a subject of non-antiquarian study even today. The abiding interest of Aristotle’s De Anima owes in part to the intrinsic merit of its subject matter: life, the soul and its relation to the body, perception, thought, desire, and human action. Another source of interest derives from the general framework within which Aristotle conducts his investigations into the these topics: De Anima makes full and complex use of Aristotle’s most sophisticated hylomorphism, with the result that it offers a unified framework for assaying phenomena whose close relations tend to be obscured in comparatively piecemeal approaches.
Our goal in this seminar is twofold: we will want to understand Aristotle’s often challenging contentions regarding the soul and its capacities and then to determine whether we ourselves should accept or reject the analyses he offers. Towards these ends, we will divide our discussions into four sections, beginning with an introduction to the problems of the soul, as Aristotle conceives them, and then following with consideration of three waves, or distinct applications, of hylomorphism, to: (i) soul-body relations; (ii) perception (aisthêsis); and (iii) reason (nous).
The Summum Bonum in Aristotle’s Ethics: Fractured Goodness
Aristotle contends that Plato was wrong to postulate the existence of a Form of the Good, which, as characterises it, is meant to be “some good beyond all other good things, something good in its own right (τι καθ’ αὑτὸ εἶναι), which is the cause of the goodness of all good things” (EN 1095a26–28). Yet he himself endorses the existence of some best and highest good (τἀγαθὸν καὶ τὸ ἄριστον; EN1094a17–21), which he conceives as the end of all intentional action. While this is not a contradiction, it brings into sharp relief the question of Aristotle’s own understanding of the summum bonum: does he in fact have a coherent, defensible conception?