Bjorn Sether Wastvedt

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I am a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy at the University of Arizona, where I defended my dissertation in September 2020. My main research and teaching interests are in ancient philosophy, moral psychology, and normative and applied ethics. I also have a background in classics, and I teach in political philosophy, the philosophy of religion, and the history of ethics quite broadly. My background in mathematics and computer science sometimes inclines me to the digital humanities.

My dissertation examines virtue of character in Aristotle's Eudemian Ethics. I explain how habitual action forms our character through experiences of pleasure and pain, and how thorough deliberation aims both at mundane goals and at a contemplative life of virtue.

wastvedt@email.arizona.edu

Department of Philosophy
University of Arizona
1145 E. South Campus Drive
Tucson, AZ 85719

TEACHING


Sole instructor (2017-present):

Fall 2020: "Plato's Timaeus"

      *a mix of live- and programmed instruction

Spring 2019: "Virtue and Knowledge in Plato and Aristotle"

      *created and taught this in-person course

      *a team-based learning, flipped classroom instructional model

      view syllabus

Spring 2018: "Ancient Ethics"

      *created, recorded, and taught entire online course

      view syllabus

      watch sample lecture video

Spring 2017: "Environmental Ethics"

      *course taught completely online

      view sample weekly group discussion


Graduate teaching assistant (2014-2016):

Fall 2015: "The Philosophy of Happiness"

(Professor: Daniel Russell)

Fall 2014: "The Ethics and Economics of Wealth Creation"

(Professor: Tom Christiano)


High School Mathematics Teacher (2012-2014):

Knox Central High School, Barbourville, Kentucky

Algebra II, Geometry, Algebra I, Pre-Algebra, Remedial Mathematics

Responsible for an average of 120 students over 35 live hours of teaching per week

RESEARCH


Dissertation

      Aristotle wrote two ethical treatises: the Nicomachean Ethics, which has heavily influenced contemporary moral philosophy and law, and the Eudemian Ethics, which is much less well understood. In my dissertation, I focus on virtue of character in Aristotle's Eudemian Ethics. I explain Aristotle's unique conception of the interaction between the virtues of character and human rational faculties in habit, desire, and action.

      In the four main chapters of the dissertation, I argue as follows: (1) Repeated action habituates character, possibly without any explicit rational involvement on the part of the agent (though this is complicated). (2) Pleasure and pain guide character formation and characterize resultant virtues and vices. (3) With mature virtue of character, we desire correct goals non-rationally. (4) We identify appropriate action to reach these goals through deliberation; excellent deliberation produces action conducive to a contemplative yet active life; the virtuous person chooses fine actions as fine but also because they aim effectively at mundane desires. Throughout, I work extensively with Christopher Rowe's new edition of the Greek text, to which I pay extensive philological attention.

Work under Review

      To be presented at the American Philosophical Association - Pacific Division (2020): "The Eudemian Ethics on Becoming Good."


      Aristotle’s ethical work focuses on the role of virtue in the good life. In the Nicomachean Ethics (EN), we find a detailed picture of how virtuous character forms through habit (II.1-4, 1103a14-1105b17). But in the Eudemian Ethics (EE), Aristotle mentions habit or habituation (ἔθος, ἐθίζω) only once,1 in his definition of character (ἦθος) at II.2, 1220a39-b7. I explain that Aristotle does have a theory of the formation of character in the EE, one that relies heavily on the effects of experiences of pleasure and pain instead of on an account of habit. This belies scholarly insistence, such as it is, that the EE lacks such a theory. It also resolves the apparent tension between Aristotle’s emphasis on the importance of the origins of virtue of character and his fleeting mention of habit in the EE.

      The Eudemian Ethics explains a great deal without the involvement of agential reasoning because it defines virtue of character as a quality of the non-rational soul. Moreover, the same affections that characterize states of character account for their development. Thus from beginning to end, character involves propensities to feel certain affections, and in particular pleasure and pain. In virtue of those affections, someone who is courageous and generous – or rash and spendthrift – feels non-rational desires for ends that are specific enough to lead to action.

      Human beings are eminently rational, though, as Aristotle will be the first to say, and it is their rational capacities that translate their desires into action. How does this happen? Choosing (προαίρεσις) is a key concept in Aristotle’s action theory in general, since it is both for the sake of the natural goods and of the action taken to obtain them. Because it has these two aspects, choosing connects character with the rational activities of deliberating (βούλευσις), believing (δόξα), and wishing (βούλησις).

      I then explain that through the action of προαίρεσις, the rational part of the soul promotes virtue by being naturally inclined toward intermediate affections, desires, and actions that are "as reasoning indicates" (ὡς ὁ λόγος), using "contemplation and service of god" as a standard (ὅρος) for deliberation; and by contributing, through the actions it underwrites, to the habituation of character.

      Aristotle mentions habit (ἔθος) in the EE in only one passage—in fact, in just a single complex thought: II.2, 1220a39-b7. In this paper, I aim to give this passage the thorough consideration it deserves. After presenting a text and translation of the passage, I examine philosophical questions it raises. I examine its argument in detail, and I focus on what we can and cannot learn from it about habit. With this done, I then address a particularly thorny problem raised by the phrase κατὰ ἐπιτακτικὸν λόγον ("in accordance with commanding reason"), and I pursue an extensive syntactical discussion of the passage.

Work in Progress

      I explain Aristotle's peculiar usage of the concept of agential authority (adjective: kurios), especially in Eudemian Ethics II and VIII. Human beings are authoritative over the coming-to-be or not coming-to-be of certain actions. (I explain how this conclusion resolves a similar debate about what is “up to us” in Kenny 1979 and Sauvé-Meyer 2011, inter alia.). God is the most proper subject of authoritative action; thus Aristotle calls human intelligence (nous) "divine" because of the leading role it plays when human beings act with agential authority. Though the Nicomachean Ethics emphasizes this claim, the Eudemian perspective tempers it by noting that, in human beings, desire (orexis) and intelligence cooperate to produce authoritative action.

      My conclusions rely on extensive textual work with various Eudemian Ethics passages.

      Presented at the American Philosophical Association - Eastern Division (Philadelphia 2020): "Separating the EN and the EE?"

      Presented at the annual University of Texas Ancient Philosophy Workshop (March 2019): "Stylometry and the Common Books."

      The last few years have seen important developments in the study of the Eudemian Ethics (EE). 2016 brought a new edition of Anthony Kenny’s The Aristotelian Ethics (TAE, 1978 and 2016). For the 2017 Symposium Aristotelicum, which focused on EE II, Christopher Rowe began a new edition of the EE – the much-needed new Oxford Classical Text. Friedemann Buddensiek is writing a new German translation and commentary of Rowe’s text. In 2018, at a workshop on the EE and EN with Nielsen, Rowe, Buddensiek, and others, the need for analyses like that which I present today became clear: though philosophical analyses of the common books are increasingly common, and though the second new edition of the text since Kenny is now in progress, statistical research following up on Kenny's groundbreaking work has not accompanied these advances.

      The present project aims to energize the statistical discussion of the common books on two fronts. First, since Kenny used Susemihl’s 1884 EE text, I present updated results from the tests Kenny used. I apply them to Christopher Rowe’s draft edition of the EE, by far the newest and most comprehensive available. This exercise shows the ongoing relevance of the debate surrounding Kenny’s original analyses; since the statistical conclusions are similar with respect to Rowe’s edition, the debate between Kenny and his critics is still relevant today. Moreover, though much of this debate is recorded in print, I do not think that conclusions worthy of Kenny’s original analyses have been adequately expressed; therefore, in this part of the project, I also expand Kenny’s explanations of the meaning of his work.

      Second, I bring the most recent research in literary stylometry to bear on the problem of the common books. As I have noted, Kenny’s 1978 analyses remain impressively influential, but as he predicted in the preface to the original edition of TAE, stylometry has gone from an amateur pursuit to a full-fledged discipline. There are new statistical methodologies relevant to the problem of the common books, and stylometrists since Kenny have drawn conclusions (with mathematical certainty) that tell us more about which tests to use and what the results of those tests mean. Additionally, philosophical research on the problem has advanced, producing not more statistical results but a wide variety of conclusions about which parts of the common books may have been modified and why some or all three of them belong to one treatise more than to the other. These philosophical conclusions suggest additional work for the statistically-inclined, for some such conclusions are open to empirical testing through statistical methods. The second part of the paper expands Kenny’s analyses in these two respects.

Past Projects

      Presented at the American Philosophical Association - Pacific Division (San Diego, 2018): "Aristotelian Vice is Not a Conflicted State."


      To understand Aristotle on vice, we must pay close attention to both the Eudemian Ethics and the Nicomachean Ethics. The latter alone will not do. Nor will consideration of only the passages where Aristotle discusses vice; his treatment of vice depends on an understanding both of vicious people and of the prohairesis (perhaps “preferring” or “choosing”) that characterizes them. Aristotle touches on these two topics at various points throughout both his ethical works. I argue that Aristotle’s vicious person does not have a conflicted disposition. This position opposes the views of Thomas Brickhouse (2003) and Josef Müller (2015); I show that because they do not consider certain key inter- and intra-textual content, they draw incorrect conclusions about the character of Aristotle’s vicious person. I begin with a brief description of Aristotle on vice, distinguishing three ways in which we may say that the vicious person is conflicted. My consequent consideration of Brickhouse and Müller develops the view further, and I conclude with a psychological description of Aristotelian vice.

      Presented at the American Philosophical Association - Central Division (Kansas City, 2017): "The Punishment of the Descending Soul in Plotinus' Enneads."


      I address the coherence of the metaphysical and ethical aspects of Plotinus' doctrine of the descent of the individual soul. I argue that with respect to the descent, Plotinus' metaphysics and his theory of justice cannot be reconciled in several respects: the ontological progression of the descent leaves much less responsibility to the soul than Plotinus admits. I then provide a comprehensive treatment of Plotinus' writing on the descent, and I conclude that the moral character of the descent limits the soul's culpability for its actions in the descent itself. After reviewing and rejecting the possibilities for resolution in Plotinian transmigration or theodicy, I conclude that Plotinus cannot accommodate the punishment of the descending soul without either compromising fundamental metaphysical principles or revising his theory of justice. I consider both early and late Enneads, as well as Plotinus' sources in Plato.

      Aristotle's concept of "choosing" (prohairesis) has been difficult for scholars to explain because understanding it requires us to use Aristotle's own psychological apparatus from De Anima.

      I argue that prohairesis is an activity (energeia) in the soul. Prohairesis arises from a wishing (boulêsis) for some end (telos), and the soul's faculty of desire (orektikon) provides prohairesis with its motivating force. Prohairesis also arises from a believing (doxa) established by deliberation (bouleusis) in the soul's rational faculty (logistikon): this doxa and the doxastic content of boulêsis account for the intellectual nature of prohairesis. Prohairesis is thus a compound phenomenon: either an energeia of a compound dunamis ("capacity") or a compound of two energeiai. Because of the relation of prohairesis to boulêsis and bouleusis, one's prohaireseis and one's prohairetic actions (or lack thereof) express one's moral character (hexis êthikês; êthos).

      Following this exposition, I explain how prohairesis functions in the characteristic actions of Aristotle's types of character: the continent (enkratic) and the incontinent (akratic), the vicious, and the virtuous. Throughout, I defend the thesis that we can see prohairesis (as I have described it) expressing the moral character of each of Aristotle's character types.

ABOUT


agua

I volunteer with No Más Muertes (No More Deaths) in Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora. We provide humanitarian aid on both sides of the border. I work primarily with people who have recently been deported.

beethoven

Music is important to me. I have studied piano for about twenty years, and I am also a choral singer. Here's a picture of an original Beethoven manuscript; better editions are now available.

half marathon

I am a competitive amateur endurance athlete. I run in the low 71 minutes for the half marathon (Barcelona 2020, Bath 2020). In the 2017 London Marathon, I was 65th with a time of 2:30:38. Besides running, I also enjoy road cycling on Tucson's wonderful trail system, backpacking in national parks around the country, and just generally being outside.