Thomas A. Blackson
Lattie F. Coor Hall, 3356
School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ. 85287-4302
firstname.lastname@example.org, tomblackson.com, www.public.asu.edu/~blackson
I was born in Havre de Grace, Maryland. I went to college in the Midwest. When I graduated, I wasn't sure what to do. I moved to Cambridge, since some friends were moving there. I worked in computers, first at Instrumentation Laboratory and later at MIT. After a few years, I took a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. My first academic jobs were visiting positions. I was a Visiting Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University for two years and at Arizona State University for two years. My first permanent position was at Temple University. After three years, I was promoted with tenure to Associate Professor. I never much liked living in the East, so I took a reduction in rank and returned to Arizona State University when a permanent job became available. (Arizona is beautiful, and in those days there was more desert and fewer people. Plus, I had made friends in Tempe.) Two years later, I was tenured and promoted to Associate Professor for a second time.
My research interests are primarily in ancient philosophy and in issues connected to artificial intelligence and rationality.
427-ca. 347 B.C.): Apology of Socrates."
AUTOBIOGRAPHY/AUTOFICTION. An International and
Interdisciplinary Handbook. Volume III: Exemplary
autobiographical/autofictional texts. Edited by Martina
Wagner-Egelhaaf. De Gruyter, Berlin. Forthcoming.
I consider the possibility that the
Apology is a work of autofiction. Autofiction is a
genre in which the author tries to bring out something
important about a person or a series of events that the
author witnessed, but that the reader would miss in a
straightforward historical account. My focus is on
Apology 29c-30b, where Socrates is made to explain
what he was doing and what he will not stop doing.
History of Evil, Volume 1: The History of Evil in
Antiquity. 2000BCE-450CE (edited by Tom Angier), 163-174. Routledge, 2019. Submitted 2012.
Epicurus did not discuss evil as
theological problem. He was interested in the practical
problem of living well, and his discussion of goods and evils
is part of his solution to this problem. It is in this
connection that Epicurus makes a lasting contribution to
understanding evil and its causes. He rejected the dominate
line of thought from the classical tradition of Plato and
Aristotle. Epicurus seems to have been an empiricist, not a
rationalist. From within this perspective, he developed a new
understanding of the good life.
Rhizomata. A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science, 9 (2017), 91-112.
In the secondary literature, there are two main interpretations of how the Stoics understood
impulsive impressions in adults: the "form" interpretation and the "no-form" interpretation. Inwood
and other historians argue for the form interpretation in terms of the well-known passages in
Stobaeus' account of Stoic ethics that provide the most important evidence for how the Stoics
understood impulsive impressions in adults. I argue that these arguments for the form interpretation
are not sound and that the passages in Stobaeus provide no reason to believe that the form interpretation
is more plausible than the no-form interpretation.
"The Stoic Explanation for the Origin of Vice."
Méthexis: International Journal for Ancient Philosophy, 29 (2017), 121-140.
The Stoics thought that once human beings become rational, they immediately form
false beliefs about what is good and what is bad. There are no exceptions. Even the sage
once had false beliefs about the value of things. The dispute among the Stoics was not
about whether this happens, but was about how to explain the reasoning that results
in these beliefs. The primary evidence for this dispute is Galen's discussion in
On the Doctrines of Plato and Hippocrates. On the basis of this discussion and certain assumptions
about how the Stoics understood impulses in the psychology of children and
adults, I set out an interpretation of (i) Chrysippus' explanation of what happens at
the onset of reason when human beings form false beliefs about what is good and what
is bad, (ii) Posidonius' criticism of this explanation of the origin of vice, and (iii) the
explanation that Posidonius himself thought was correct.
"The Rationalization Explanation."
The Review of Metaphysics, 70 (2016), 59-86.
According to the Stoics, human beings enslave themselves. When they change from nonrational
children into rational adults, human beings form false beliefs about what is good and what is bad.
These beliefs enslave them to things that are neither good nor bad. I argue for an interpretation
of how the Stoics understood the reasoning in terms of which human beings form these false beliefs.
This interpretation helps makes sense of the argument against Chrysippus's explanation of the origin of
vice that Galen attributes to Posidonius. It also helps explain how the Stoics could think that nature is
provident and that nature constructs human beings so that they enslave themselves when they change from
nonrational children into rational adults.
"Against Weatherson on How to
Frame a Decision Problem." Journal of Philosophical
Research, 41 (2016), 69-72.
In "Knowledge, Bets, and Interests,"
Brian Weatherson makes a suggestion for how to frame a
decision problem. He argues that "the states we can 'leave
off' a decision table are the states that the agent knows not
to obtain." I present and defend an example that shows that
Weatherson's principle is false. Weatherson is correct to
think that some intuitively rational decisions wouldn't be
rational if states the agent knows not to obtain were not
omitted from the outcomes in the decision problem. This,
however, is not true of every rational decision. Weatherson's
principle for how to frame a decision problem is open to
"Two Interpretations of
Socratic Intellectualism." Ancient Philosophy, 35 (2015), 23-39.
Among historians of philosophy,
Socratic intellectualist psychology has been understood in at
least two ways. On one way (the D interpretation), all
action is a matter of a fixed desire for the good and belief
about what the good is. On another interpretation (the
B interpretation), all action is completely a matter
of belief. I argue for the B interpretation for the
Protagoras. As such, this paper makes good on
endnote 12 on page 68 in Ancient Greek Philosophy
where I endorse the B interpretation without much
"Extrinsic Attitudinal Pleasure." Philosophical
Studies, 159 (2012), 277-291.
I argue for an alternative
interpretation of some of the examples Fred Feldman uses to
establish his theory of happiness (Pleasure and the Good
Life (Oxford University Press, 2004) and What is
This Thing Called Happiness? (Oxford University Press,
2010)). According to Feldman, the examples show that certain
utterances of the form 'S is pleased/glad that P' and 'S is
displeased/sad that P' should be interpreted as expressions
of extrinsic attitudinal pleasure and displeasure and hence
must be excluded from the aggregative sum of attitudinal
pleasure and displeasure that constitutes happiness. I
develop a new interpretation of Feldman's examples. This
interpretation allows the attitudinal hedonist to preserve
the idea that happiness is simply a matter of the attitudinal
pleasure and displeasure in one's life and that all
attitudinal pleasure and displeasure counts equally in the
aggregation that constitutes happiness.
Ancient Greek Philosophy: From the
Presocratics to the Hellenistic Philosophers.
In this book, I set out an
interpretation of ancient Greek philosophy in terms of a line
of thought in which the thinking or cognition in expertise is
understood to be a matter of "reason" as opposed to
"experience." This idea is in Parmenides and some of the
Pluralists, especially Democritus and the Atomists. And the
line of thought, as I understand it, runs though Socrates'
love of wisdom and its connection to the soul. It is central
to the Tripartite Theory of the Soul and the otherworldly
perspective that seems so prominent in Plato's traditionally
middle and late dialogues. It continues in Aristotle, in his
distinction between first and second philosophy, in his
psychology, and in his ethics and understanding of the best
life for human beings. The line of thought continues in the
Hellenistic philosophers. Epicurus and the Epicureans take
some of the first steps to move away from the rationalism of
the classical tradition. They seem to try to work out some
form of empiricism. The Stoics continue the rationalist line
in a modified form, and the Academic and Pyrrhonian Skeptics
seem to reject the distinction altogether.
"Early Work on Rationality: the Lorenz-Frede
Interpretation." History of Philosophy Quarterly, 27
In The Brute Within (Oxford
University Press, 2006), Hendrik Lorenz tries to incorporate
Plato's Tripartite Theory of the Human Soul within the
framework of the ancient Rationalist/Empiricist tradition
that Michael Frede has outlined in series of papers. To
correct what I believe is a mistake in Lorenz's
interpretation, I consider certain passages in the
Gorgias in which Socrates discusses the kind of
cognition he calls "experience." I argue that these passages
strongly suggest that Plato, in the Republic, in the
tripartite theory, allows for action to be completely a
matter of the appetite and spirit, with reason playing no
role whatsoever. Further, given my interpretation of the
tripartite theory, I note that there is a clear connection
between Plato's work in understanding the Socratic claim that
human beings are psychological beings and contemporary work
in philosophical psychology according to which cognitive
behavior can be rational even though no part of this behavior
depends on an instance of reasoning. Plato was the pioneer,
and Lorenz's interpretation unnecessarily obscures this
"On Feldman's Theory of Happiness." Utilitas, 21
In Pleasure and the Good Life
(Oxford University Press, 2004), Fred Feldman argues that
there is a propositional attitude (he calls "attitudinal
pleasure/displeasure") expressed in ordinary uses of
sentences of the form 'S is pleased/displeased that P.' He
distinguishes intrinsic from extrinsic
attitudinal pleasure and displeasure, and he excludes
extrinsic attitudinal pleasure/displeasure from the
aggregation of attitudinal pleasure/displeasure that
constitutes happiness. I argue that Feldman has not made a
strong case for this distinction and exclusion.
"On Williamson's Argument for (Ii) in
his Anti-luminosity Argument." Philosophy and
Phenomenological Research, 74 (2007), 397-405.
Williamson's anti-luminosity argument
depends on what he says is an "intuitive" connection between
knowledge and reliability. (Knowledge and its Limits
(Oxford University Press, 2000), 100.) I believe that the
connection is "intuitive," although this can take some time
to see, but I argue that this "intuitive" connection is not
sufficient to support (Ii) in his
anti-luminosity argument. The defender of luminosity can
affirm that knowledge is reliable in the way Williamson
maintains, and so Williamson's argument against luminosity
"Induction and Experience in Metaphysics A1."
Review of Metaphysics, 59 (2006), 541-552.
Aristotle, as I understand him, tries
to free Platonic rationalism from a confused ontology. He
rejects the Pythagorean ontology of soul and body in which
Plato had cast his rationalism. Reason is not inborn,
according to Aristotle. Rather, reason and its knowledge
naturally become present over time in the process of
"induction." The question I address is how Aristotle
understood "experience" when he says, in specifying induction
in Metaphysics A1 and in II.19 of the Posterior
Analytics, that knowledge comes through experience. My
answer is contrary to the one Michael Frede gives in his
"Aristotle's Rationalism" (Rationality in Greek
Thought (edited by Michael Frede and Gisela Striker
(Oxford University Press, 1996)), 157-173). I argue that the
experience that underlies the expertise of the practitioner,
e.g., the medical practitioner, is not the state of mind in
the inductive process that precedes and gives rise to reason
and its knowledge. The experience in induction is a state
that characterizes the soul early in its natural development.
The experience of a practitioner comes late in the life of an
adult, if at all, and its presence is over and above the
knowledge that belongs to reason. On my view, but not
Frede's, Plato and Aristotle both thought that the knowledge
essential to reason is in the human adult as long as he or
she is not maimed or otherwise defective. (I no longer have
as much confidence in the argument of this paper as I had
when I wrote it. For my present view, see Ancient Greek
"In Defense of an Unpopular Interpretation of Ancient
Skepticism." Logical Analysis and the History of
Philosophy: History of Epistemology, 8 (2005),
The subject of this paper is the
history of late Academic Skepticism and its connection to the
emergence of Pyrrhonian Skepticism. The two main ways to
understand this period in history are anthologized The
Original Sceptics: A Controversy (Hackett Publishing
Company, 1977), edited by Myles Burnyeat and Michael Frede.
Frede's position in this book has been less convincing to
many than Burnyeat's position. Unlike Burnyeat and others,
Frede argues that life without belief was not a fundamental
feature of Pyrrhonism. Frede presents his arguments somewhat
confusingly, which has made his interpretation difficult to
appreciate. I argue that there is more to be said for Frede's
interpretation than has been thought. I argue that Frede's
interpretation, when properly understood, shows that the
ancient skeptics in the Clitomachian-Pyrrhonian tradition are
fallibilists who took the first steps in working out the view
that epistemic justification is a matter of whether a belief
is the outcome of a correct cognitive process and that
correctness here need not be understood in terms of a
reliable connection to truth.
"An Invalid Argument for Contextualism." Philosophy
and Phenomenological Research, 68 (2004), 344-345.
In "Assertion, Knowledge, and Context"
(Philosophical Review, Vol. 111, No. 2 (April 2002),
167-203), Keith DeRose offers the following argument for
contexualism: "The knowledge account assertion provides a
powerful argument for contextualism: if the standards for
when one is in a position to warrantedly assert that P are
the same as those what comprise a truth-condition for 'I know
P,' then if the former vary with context, so do the latter.
In short: The knowledge account of assertion together with
the context-sensitivity of assertability yields contextulaism
about knowledge." (187.) I show that this argument is invalid.
This paper is published with a response from DeRose.
I am the Managing Editor and Book Symposium Editor for Philosophical Studies. Book symposiums are a regular occurrence in the journal. If you have a suggestion, e-mail me.
PHI 319: Philosophy, Computing, and
An introductory study of logical techniques to model intelligence.
PHI 328: History of
An introduction to ancient Greek philosophy from 585 BC to 529 AD.
PHI 333: Introduction to
An introductory study of symbolic techniques to represent statements and arguments.
PHI 420: Topics in the History of
Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.
PHI 420/581: Topics in the History of
Free will in ancient thought.
PHI 420/581: Topics in the History of
PHI 328, PHI 333
PHI 319, PHI 420 (Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics)