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 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. 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 forthcoming 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.
The second project I am working on focuses on the effects of value on perception. I apply the account Susanna Siegel develops in the Rationality of Perception to the aesthetic domain and explore the implications of such an account for rethinking traditional problems in philosophical aesthetics. One’s prior outlook – expertise, beliefs, desires, fears, preferences – can have both aesthetically good and bad influences on perceptual experiences, just as it can have both epistemically good and bad influences. Analyzing these bad influences in cases of hijacked aesthetic perception reveals that, unless we recognize that our perception of high-level and low-level aesthetically relevant properties is itself aesthetically charged, we will be at a loss when it comes to explaining what goes wrong in these cases. I argue that, just as perception can be rational or irrational, so too it can be apt or inapt. I also think that applying Siegel’s problematization of hijacked experience and her solution to aesthetic cases allows us to demystify various issues in philosophical aesthetics, particularly notions of aesthetic normativity, aesthetic value, and aesthetic engagement. Furthermore, I am very interested in exploring the practical implications this kind of account of aesthetic engagement might have for curatorial and exhibitionary practices. This is something I am pursuing with my co-author, Octavian Ion, in “Apt perception, Aesthetic engagement, and Installation art.”
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. This quarter at UCSC, I am teaching an undergraduate lecture course on Continental Philosophy. I try to integrate student-oriented strategies into my teaching. I use backwards planning when designing my classes: instead of primarily deciding on what texts to teach, I formulate what skills, content-oriented or otherwise, I want my students to develop in the class and then I decide on the content and the methods of evaluation that will help students achieve the set skill-goals. Recently, I came across the idea of giving a syllabus an extreme makeover (I need to thank Robin Dunkin for that): the idea is to make syllabi more readable and to make them look less like contracts. I gave this approach a try when I was designing my Continental Philosophy syllabus. Here is the result.
In the spring quarter, I will be teaching a senior seminar on art criticism and value and a graduate seminar on philosophy and fiction. Next academic year, I am set to teach an undergraduate lecture course and a senior seminar on feminist philosophy and a graduate seminar on early modern women philosophers. 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.