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Dr Karen Nielsen

CUF Lecturer in Philosophy and Tutorial Fellow
Somerville College

Somerville College
Woodstock Road; Oxford; OX2 6HD


Research Interests

My research has centred on questions at the intersection of Aristotle’s ethics and moral psychology, and especially on Aristotle's theory of decision (prohairesis). I have published on the reception history of the Nicomachean Ethics and on Aristotle’s reproductive biology. Last spring, CUP published a volume of papers I edited with Devin Henry, Bridging the Gap between Aristotle’s Science and Ethics (2015). The book consolidates emerging research on Aristotle’s science and ethics in order to explore the extent to which the concepts, methods, and practices he developed for scientific inquiry and explanation are used to investigate moral phenomena.




Career & Education

I received my PhD from the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University, where I wrote a dissertation under the supervision of Terry Irwin (2006). My first academic appointment after Cornell was in Canada. I came to Western University as an Assistant Professor in the fall of 2005, and was tenured and promoted to Associate Professor in July 2012. I spent the 2012-13 academic year on sabbatical leave in Oxford, where I was Visiting Scholar at Corpus Christi College in Michaelmas term. I have also taught at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. In the 2007/8 academic year, I held a Lectureship in the Faculty of Philosophy at Cambridge University and a Temporary Lectureship at Trinity College, Cambridge. Before arriving at Cornell on a Fulbright Fellowship in 2000, I was a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in my native city Trondheim, where I earned Cand. mag. (B.A.-equivalent) and Cand. philol. (M.A.- equivalent) degrees in the late 90’s.

I have lectured on a wide range of topics in Ancient Philosophy over the past ten years. In Oxford, I have given lectures on Aristotle's Ethics and Latin Philosophy (specifically, Cicero's De Finibus), and I have also given graduate seminars on Aristotle's Three Ethics with Prof. Terry Irwin. I tutor students for a number of papers, including Plato's Republic (Greek and translation); Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (Greek and translation); Aristotle's Physics; Sextus Empiricus' Outlines of Pyrrhonism; Ethics; Latin Philosophy; Plato's Euthyphro & Meno; Early Greek Philosophy; Early Modern Philosophy; Moral Philosophy; and General Philosophy.

I have served as Graduate Officer for Women in the Faculty of Philosophy from 2013-2016, as well as on a range of committees in the Faculty and at Somerville College.


A note on my name: I sign with both my first names (“Karen Margrethe”), and prefer that all three names appear in writing. Oxford email doesn’t recognise Scandinavian naming practices, so my email address leaves out my second first name. If you find the cluster of consonants in “Margrethe” hard to pronounce, I’m fine with “Karen”!


Bridging the Gap Between Aristotle’s Science and Ethics, D. Henry and K. M. Nielsen (eds.), (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Reviewed in Journal of the History of Philosophy; Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews; Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews.

“The Constitution of the Soul – Aristotle on Lack of Deliberative Authority”, Classical Quarterly, 65.2, 2015.

“Aristotle on Principles in Ethics”, in D. Henry and K. M. Nielsen (eds.), Bridging the Gap Between Aristotle’s Science and Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 29-48.

“Aristotle on Economy and Private Property”, in Marguerite Deslauriers and Pierre Destrée (eds.), A Companion to Aristotle’s Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 67-91.

“The Nicomachean Ethics in Hellenistic Philosophy”, in Jon Miller (ed.), The Reception of Aristotle’s Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 3-30.

“The Will – Origin of the Notion in Aristotle’s Thought”, Antiquorum Philosophia 6 (2012), pp. 47-68.

“Ancient Ethics”, entry (6000 words) in H. LaFollette, S. Stroud and J. Deigh (eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Ethics (Wiley Blackwell, 2012).

“Deliberation as Inquiry: Aristotle’s Alternative to the Presumption of Open Alternatives”, The Philosophical Review, vol. 120, no 3 (2011), pp. 383-421.

“The Good Will: Aristotle, Kant and the Stoics on What is Good without Qualification”, in S. Carson, J. Knowles and B. Myskja (eds.), Kant: Time, Space, and Ethics (Paderborn: Mentis Verlag, 2011), pp. 193-205.

"The Private Parts of Animals: Aristotle on the Teleology of Sexual Difference", Phronesis no 4-5, 2008, pp. 373-405.

"Did Plato Articulate the Achilles Argument?" in Tom Lennon and Robert Stainton (eds.), The Achilles of Rationalist Psychology (Springer Press, 2008), pp. 19-42.

“Dirtying Aristotle’s Hands? The Analysis of 'Mixed Acts' in Nicomachean Ethics, III, 1”, Phronesis no. 3, 2007, pp. 270-300.

Forthcoming Publications

"Vice in the Nicomachean Ethics"

“Deliberation and Decision in the Magna Moralia, Eudemian and Nicomachean Ethics

“Aristotle on Knowing One's Own Acts and Motives. Why Self-Knowledge Matters for Virtue”, in Fiona Leigh (ed.), Self-Knowledge in Ancient Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)

“Aristotle” (in Timpe, Griffith and Levy (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Free Will (Routledge, 2015).

Recent talks

“Vice in the Nicomachean Ethics”, at the conference “Le vice et ses vertus. Théories des vices dans la philosophie antique”, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre / Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris Nov. 27, 2015.

“Vice in the Nicomachean Ethics”, Philosophical Society, Oxford, Feb. 5th 2016

“Spicy Food as Cause of Death: Conditional and Unconditional Necessity in Metaphysics 6.3”, conference on “Actions and Passions in Ancient Greece” at the Maison Française d’Oxford, May 8-9, 2015 organised by Catherine Darbo, Carlo Natali and Cristina Viano.

“Mental Health and Ancient Philosophy: Aristotle on Moral Injury”, at the Oxford Summer School in Philosophy and Psychiatry in July 23-24 2015 (session organised with Chris Megone)


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