David Ebrey Assistant Professor

David Ebrey (Ph.D., UCLA) works on topics across ancient philosophy, including issues in metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and the foundations of natural science. His research, so far, has been on the role of matter in Aristotle's natural philosophy, syllogisms in Aristotle’s logic, Plato’s Meno and Phaedo, Socratic inquiry, moral education, and Platonic forms.  He was a Mellon post doc at Berkeley (2007-2009) and has received an Alice Kaplan Humanities Institute Fellowship (2011-2012) and a Spencer Foundation Grant (2012-2013). In 2013 he was a visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge.

In recent years his undergraduate courses have included a survey course on ancient philosophy, a freshman seminar on Socratic dialogues, and advanced courses on Aristotle's scientific works and on Aristotle's logic and scientific methodology. He has also taught graduate seminars on Plato’s Meno, Plato's Phaedo, Plato's Forms (two-quarters long), Aristotle’s Physics II, Aristotle's Metaphysics Beta, and matter in Aristotle’s natural philosophy.


  • "The Asceticism of the Phaedo: Pleasure, Purification, and the Soul’s Proper Activity" (forthcoming, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie)

Abstract: I argue that according to Socrates in the Phaedo we should not merely evaluate bodily pleasures and desires as worthless or bad, but actively avoid them. We need to avoid them because they change our values and make us believe falsehoods. This change in values and acceptance of falsehoods undermines the soul’s proper activity, making virtue and happiness impossible for us. I situate this account of why we should avoid bodily pleasures within Plato’s project in the Phaedo of providing Pythagorean and Orphic ideas with clearer meanings and better justifications.

  • Theory and Practice in Aristotle’s Natural Science (editor) (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2015)

Description: Aristotle argued that in theory one could acquire knowledge of the natural world. But he did not stop there; he put his theories into practice. This volume of new essays shows how Aristotle's natural science and philosophical theories shed light on one another. The contributors engage with both biological and non-biological scientific works and with a wide variety of theoretical works, including Physics, Generation and Corruption, On the Soul, and Posterior Analytics. The essays focus on a number of themes, including the sort of explanation provided by matter; the relationship between matter, teleology, and necessity; cosmic teleology; how an organism's soul and faculties relate to its end; how to define things such as sleep, void, and soul; and the proper way to make scientific judgments. The resulting volume offers a rich and integrated view of Aristotle's science and shows how it fits with his larger philosophical theories.

  • “Introduction” in Theory and Practice in Aristotle’s Natural Science
  • “Blood, Matter, and Necessity” in Theory and Practice in Aristotle’s Natural Science
  • "Why are there no Conditionals in Aristotle's logic?" (Journal of the History of Philosophy, forthcoming)

Abstract: In this paper I argue that it was not an oversight on Aristotle's part that he left conditionals out of his logic, nor does it reflect a metaphysical prejudice. The key text is Prior Analytics  I.32 (47a22-40), where Aristotle considers an argument with conditionals in it that we would consider valid. He says that the conclusion follows of necessity but that it is not a syllogism. I argue that Aristotle does not think it is a syllogism because he does not think it meets the explanatory requirement in the definition of a syllogism: that the conclusion follow because of the premises. I argue that Aristotle thinks that only argument with simple, categorical premises can meet this requirement.

  • "Meno's Paradox in Context" (British Journal of the History of Philosophy 22, 2014) 

Abstract: I argue that Meno’s Paradox targets the type of knowledge that Socrates has been looking for earlier in the dialogue: knowledge grounded in explanatory definitions. Socrates places strict requirements on definitions and thinks we need these definitions to acquire knowledge. Meno’s challenge uses Socrates’ constraints to argue that we can neither propose definitions nor recognize them. To understand Socrates’ response to the challenge, we need to view Meno’s challenge and Socrates’ response as part of a larger disagreement about the value of inquiry.

  • "Making Room for Matter: Material Causes in the Phaedo and the Physics" (Apeiron, 47, 2014)                                                    

Abstract: It is often claimed that Socrates rejects material causes in the Phaedobecause they are not rational or not teleological. In this paper I argue for a new account: Socrates ultimately rejects material causes because he is committed to each change having a single cause. Because each change has a single cause, this cause must, on its own, provide an adequate explanation for the change. Material causes cannot provide an adequate explanation on their own and so Socrates rejects them. Aristotle agrees that material causes cannot explain changes on their own, but by allowing the same change to have multiple causes, he makes room for a material cause. Aristotle draws attention to the anti-Platonic implications of his four causes in a passage in Physics II.3 (195a3-14) that has been overlooked by commentators.

  • "A New Philosophical Tool in the Meno: 86e-87c " (Ancient Philosophy 33, 2013)                                                      

Abstract: I argue that the technique Socrates describes in the Meno at 86e-87c allows him to make progress without definitions, even while accepting that definitions are necessary for knowledge. Some contend that the technique involves provisionally accepting a claim. I argue, instead, that it provides a secure biconditional that one can use to reduce the question one cares care about to a new question that one thinks will be easier to answer.