Meet the Fellows: 2019 Newcombe Fellow Larkin Philpot

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2019 class of Fellows includes Larkin Philpot, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. Larkin poses questions that drive his research:

I decided to study ancient philosophy almost before I knew what it was. I was drawn, at least in part, by the allure of the past. There is something special about reading texts written thousands of years ago and feeling a connection to such a remote time; and philosophy has the ability to forge an especially intimate connection because of the range of fundamental questions it addresses concerning the nature of ourselves, the world, and our place in it. However, what we find in the great philosophers of antiquity, such as Plato and Aristotle, is more than an historical snapshot—their ideas are hardly stagnant. Ancient philosophers were especially astute observers and theorists of human nature and offer rich resources for understanding ourselves.

Much of my work is centered around the concept of desire. I am fascinated by the way in which desire or motivation, in some form or another, stands at the very center of our lives as living beings and agents operating in the world. In particular, it seems that we are all motivated by a conception of what is good for us, and indeed this motivation might seem to be fundamental. My dissertation addresses the way in which Aristotle appeals to self-love to explain this motivation toward one’s own good: Just as I am motivated to promote the good of my friend, because I love my friend, so I am motivated to promote my own good because I love myself. This provides a interesting model of human psychology and resources for addressing a variety of questions, such as: What constitutes a self? How can we conceptualize our relation to ourselves, and what is the range of possible relations? How do we come to be motivated by our good, and how can this motivation fail?

Larkin’s dissertation, titled Aristotle on Self-love and Desire, examines Aristotle’s account of self-love and its role in motivating us towards our good. For more information on the 2019 Newcombe Fellows, click here.



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