I am an assistant professor at UC Santa Cruz. Prior to this, I was at Brown doing postdoctoral research funded by SSHRC. I work on contemporary issues in value theory, in particular moral psychology and aesthetics, and on the history of these fields. I have written on Kant’s aesthetics, particularly on his views on art here, on Kantian art criticism here, his take on music here, and the historical development of his views on beauty here. For further information, you can have a look at my CV, Phil Papers Profile, or Academia.edu Profile. I also post information on recent and upcoming talks, publications, and events here. Currently, I am working on two projects.
IMAGINATIVE RESISTANCE: The first project aims at developing a more nuanced understanding of the psychological phenomenon called “imaginative resistance.” The phenomenon refers to psychological difficulties otherwise competent imaginers experience when engaging in particular imaginative activities prompted by works of fiction. Usually, we have no trouble going along with time-travelling or space-exploration stories, or superhero movies. At other times, we do not seem to be able to play along so easily; for instance, when we are presented with a white savior narrative like the one in The Great Wall or with storylines peppered with racist stereotypes such as those found in Gone with the Wind and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. As with any new and rapidly growing area of research, there has been much disagreement and confusion among scholars. In my Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on imaginative resistance, I lay out the sources of disagreement and confusion, with the aim of clarifying the central issues surrounding imaginative resistance. So far, no historical investigation of the phenomenon has been carried out with an attempt to examine how imaginative resistance connects up with the writings of any of the major philosophical figures in the history of aesthetics. I will partially amend this gap in the literature by constructing a Humean and a Kantian explanation of the phenomenon. My choice of these two figures is not arbitrary, since I believe that they capture certain aspects of the imaginative resistance phenomenon that have been neglected in the existing literature: the role of emotions and the nonbinary nature of resistance reactions. I also propose an alternative interpretation of the phenomenon that not only accounts for variation in resistance reactions but also diversity in resistance-triggering claims. I argue that imaginative resistance occurs when we are asked to violate what we care about or tolerate the violation of what we care about. Depending on gravity of the violation, our resistance reactions can fall on a spectrum ranging from “I can’t imagine” to “I won’t imagine.” I also use this account as a basis for explicating the effects of racist, sexist, and homophobic biases in our engagement with fictional works, and for developing strategies for overcoming groundless biases that affect people’s engagement with fiction.
SENSITIVE AESTHETICS: I am working on a book project where I explore the effects of value on aesthetic perception and put forward a contextualist theory of aesthetic engagement and normativity. Aesthetic perception refers to conscious experience of lower-level and higher-level aesthetically relevant properties of objects (e.g., properties of having a certain color, shape, being elegant, garish, vivid, energetic) through the five senses. What makes these properties aesthetically relevant is that they inform aesthetic practices, such as appreciation, curation, collecting, critiquing, etc. My book, Sensitive Aesthetics, analyzes cases where our aesthetic perception, and the aesthetic practices it informs, go awry due to bad influences stemming from our prior outlooks (our expertise, beliefs, desires, fears, preferences, and attitudes) and uses this analysis to ground a new contextualist theory of aesthetic engagement and normativity. In a certain sense, what I aim to do is analogous to Susanna Siegel’s project in The Rationality of Perception (2017). Siegel observes that in some cases a person’s prior outlook hijacks their perception and distorts the way they perceive things, for instance, when their racist biases influence their perception of the danger posed by someone of a different skin color. Even though the subject has a genuine perceptual experience (i.e. they really perceive the person as dangerous), this does not mean that they are blameless. They are blameworthy, according to Siegel, because they have allowed their prior outlook to improperly influence their perception, resulting in irrational perception. Likewise, I analyze cases of hijacked aesthetic experience, but I propose an alternative solution, namely that aesthetic perception can be apt or inapt.
I am also engaged in exploring the practical implications that the resulting account of aesthetic normativity and engagement might have for curatorial and exhibitionary practices, especially with respect to increasing inclusivity and accessibility. This practical aspect is something I am pursuing with my co-author, Octavian Ion, in “Apt Perception, Aesthetic Engagement, and Installation Art.” Currently, we are also working on the implications of the account for reimagining virtual exhibition space, as this proves to be a pressing issue in post-COVID-19 museology.
In previous years I’ve had the opportunity to teach a variety of courses at MacEwan University and at the University of Alberta: Introductions to Philosophy (Values and Society; Knowledge and Reality), Bioethics, Aesthetics, and Existentialism. At UCSC, I have taught courses on history of philosophy, aesthetics, and moral psychology.
In the 2021 Fall Quarter, I am set to teach an introduction to feminist philosophy and a graduate seminar on 18th Century Aesthetics. If you are interested in taking or auditing any of these classes, please do not hesitate to contact me. You can reach me via email.
I am also the subject of numerous abstract portraits. You can see a selection of this work here.