Dr Margaret Hampson
Trinity College Dublin – Department of Philosophy
I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin. I specialise in ancient philosophy, with a particular interest on Aristotle’s Ethics and Moral Psychology.
I gained my PhD in 2017 from the Philosophy Department at UCL, working with Dr Fiona Leigh and Prof MM McCabe. My PhD Thesis ‘Enacting Virtue’, examined by Dr Joachim Aufderheide (KCL) and Prof Ursula Coope (Oxford), developed an account of Aristotelian virtue acquisition, exploring the role of mimēsis in action that leads to virtue.
My current research is focused on Aristotle’s conception of the ‘fine’ (to kalon) and how a sensitivity to this value is developed in the process of moral habituation. I previously completed the MPhil Stud in Philosophy at UCL. My thesis was entitled ‘A Non-Intellectualist Account of Epicurean Emotions’ and was examined by Prof James Warren (Cambridge) and Prof Raphael Woolf (KCL).
I completed a BA in Philosophy at Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge. I have worked as a Research Associate for the Keeling Centre for Ancient Philosophy, UCL; Fixed-Term Lecturer in the Department of Classics, University of Kent, and a Teaching Assistant in the Department of Philosophy, UCL. I occasionally produce posters for conferences and other philosophy related events.
Hampson, M. (forthcoming) ‘Aristotle on the Necessity Habituation: Re-Reading Nicomachean Ethics 2.4′, Phronesis.
Hampson, M. (forthcoming) ‘Aristotle on the nature of ethos’, in J. Dunham (ed.), Habit in the History of Philosophy, London: Routledge.
Hampson, M. (forthcoming) ‘The Learner’s Motivation and the Structure of Habituation in Aristotle’, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie.
Hampson, M. (2019) ‘Imitating Virtue’, Phronesis 64 (3), 292-320.
2019-2020 Postdoctoral Report
The 2019-2020 academic year has been, for most of us in academia, a year of two halves. As a postdoctoral research fellow, without teaching duties, I was saved the disruption of moving to online teaching when universities closed in the Spring and have been able to continue with my research throughout lockdown. All the same, I have missed the companionship of my friends and colleagues and the ready opportunities for conversation that working in the Trinity Plato Centre provides, as well as the work-in-progress seminar and weekly reading group which, in term time, punctuate the week.
Upon arriving at the Trinity Plato Centre in October 2019, I began work on my research project – funded by the Irish Research Council – on Aristotle on Moral Development and Sensitivity to the Fine. The project develops work begun in my doctoral thesis on Aristotle’s account of moral habituation, and seeks to shed further light on Aristotelian moral development via an exploration of Aristotle’s notion of ‘the fine’ and our engagement with this as a form of value. As part of this project, I spent some months thinking about the way in which a moral learner comes to be motivated to act for the sake of the fine through the performance of virtuous actions, considering in particular what the agential perspective (as opposed to the perspective of an onlooker) affords a moral learner and the role that this perspective plays in coming to appreciate the fineness of virtuous action. I had the opportunity to discuss this work in the Plato Centre Work-in-Progress seminar (as well as the TCD Philosophy Departmental Colloquium) and received helpful feedback from members of the Centre, before then presenting this as a talk to the B-Club at the University of Cambridge. The final version of this paper, ‘The Learner’s Motivation and the Structure of Habituation in Aristotle’, was accepted by Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie this Spring, and is now available to read online ahead of print.
Once lockdown was imposed in Ireland, I began work on a contribution to a forthcoming volume on habit and the history of philosophy (for Routledge’s Rewriting the History of Philosophy series), examining Aristotle’s notion of ethos (habit, habituation) in the Nicomachean Ethics to better understand what Aristotle means to convey when he claims that character virtue ‘arises from habit’. I suggest that our feeling of familiarity with the notions of ‘habit’ and ‘habituation’ can engender a like feeling of familiarity with the process Aristotle describes and can encourage us to conceive of this process in an overly narrow way. In particular, I argue that the use of the label ‘non-rational’ is perhaps misleading, especially when this label is used to foreclose questions about what kinds of activity may be involved in the process of habituation, and what kind of states can be produced as a result. I suggest, instead, that we should be guided by Aristotle’s own presentation of ethos within the Nicomachean Ethics where I suggest that ethos is characterised not as a non-rational process, but primarily as a process of being active. This points to interesting questions about what a learner’s activity affords and how this contributes to her successful development, which I plan to take up in my research this coming year.
Having completed this work on the nature of ethos – at least for the time being – I turned my attention to an existing paper, developed from my doctoral thesis, in order to prepare it for publication. This paper offers a new reading of a much read passage in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics – namely NE 2.4 – in which Aristotle poses and responds to a puzzle about moral habituation. Aristotle’s response to this puzzle has received a great deal of attention in the scholarly literature and interpretations of this passage have come, rightly or wrongly, to inform scholarship on central issues within Aristotle’s ethics. Yet whilst Aristotle’s response to this puzzle has been variously interpreted, the nature of the puzzle has been assumed almost unquestioningly. I argue, however, that scholarship has mischaracterised the nature of the puzzle Aristotle is posing and the view that he seeks to defend in this passage. Where the traditional reading of the puzzle takes Aristotle to be concerned with a learner’s ability to perform virtuous actions, I argue instead that he is concerned to explain why habituation into virtue is necessary. I hope that by reading the passage in this new light we can come to appreciate the wider significance of this passage for our understanding of Aristotelian ethics. This paper is now forthcoming in Phronesis, and should be available in print in 2021.
In addition to my work on Aristotle’s ethics and moral psychology, I have enjoyed having the opportunity this year to read – and even write about – Plato. In the Spring I attended and presented at the workshop on Plato’s theory of forms, discussing the Hippias Major and Plato’s criticism of definition by exemplar and example. The session provided the opportunity to discuss Prof Vasilis Politis’ (2018) interpretation of this argument which lays the foundation for his forthcoming monograph on Plato’s Essentialism. The weekly Plato Centre reading group, meanwhile, offered the opportunity to read carefully Plato’s Philebus. At the time, this provided a welcome break from my own work on Aristotle, though as it happens, reading the Philebus earlier in the year provided important preparation for a project I have been engaged in over the summer of 2020, co-authoring with Dr Katharine O’Reilly (KCL) a response to James Warren’s work on memory, anticipation and pleasure for the forthcoming proceedings of the 9th Keeling Colloquium on moral psychology. I am co-editor of this volume, with Dr Fiona Leigh (UCL) – who has given talks to the Plato Centre in the past – and we anticipate its publication in 2021.
Alongside this work I have been pursuing a side project on Plato’s treatment of philia (friendship) in his account of the tyrannical character in Republic book 9, which stems from a conference hosted in Edinburgh in November 2019 on Re-reading Plato’s Republic. The conference, organised by Prof MM McCabe (emerita KCL, Cambridge) represented the culmination of a ten year project spent reading Plato’s Republic in Yale or London, one book per year. As a graduate student I was lucky enough to participate for the final two years of this reading group and was delighted to participate as an ‘interlocutor’ in the Edinburgh conference. In the Plato Centre, meanwhile, we had planned begin reading Republic 8 and 9 on the day that the closure of universities in Ireland was announced and I hope that, when we return to the Centre, there will still be the appetite to read these books!
An unfortunate casualty of lockdown was the international workshop on Eudemian Ethics Book 3 that myself and Giulio di Basilio were organising for summer 2020. Our plan was – and still is – to carefully read this overlooked book of the EE with a group of junior and senior scholars. Such workshops, we believe, work best in person so we have opted not to pursue the ‘Zoom’ format; we hope that by summer 2021 we will have the opportunity to host our international guests.
As the new academic year fast approaches, I hope to return to my work on the fine, and to develop the thoughts and questions that have arisen through my work over the previous year.