My research takes up problems in the philosophy of art where they intersect with broader issues in epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language. In particular, my work has focused on taking seriously the premise that art is a fundamentally social practice whose nature is thoroughly conventional. Yet even though conventions are arbitrary and historically-contingent creatures, I don't think this means that the philosophy of art has to be an exercise in bare conceptual analysis. Instead, I think that we have no privileged epistemic access to the ontology of art and other social kinds, and that it is our best reflective understanding of our social practices that should constrain our theorizing. To my mind, the philosophy of art is first and foremost an explanatory enterprise, and its main concern should be to ground the explanatory hypotheses of empirical art scholarship.
I am currently working on a monograph concerning the explanatory role that intuitions and expert testimony play in grounding our judgements about the ontology of artworks and other social kinds. A growing body of anthropological, art-historical, and psychological evidence indicates that our artworld-intuitions reflect entirely arbitrary historical interests that are not shared by members of other cultures, nor even by our own cultural predecessors. This consensus presents a problem for the ontology of art, where theory-choice is guided primarily by appeal to intuitions about “hard” cases and descriptive adequacy. My goal is to explain whether and when such appeals are epistemically sound, and to offer a reliable methodological framework for testing our artworld-intuitions.
Works in Progress or Under Review (*) (drafts available upon request)
- A paper on artworld conventions* - In which I argue that art-kinds cannot be analysed simply in terms of their associated physical media, since these do not suffice to give them their status as art-kinds. The missing ingredient, I suggest, is a notion of convention which marks the difference between art and non-art for a given physical medium: Ruth Millikan’s 'natural' conventions.
- A paper on art-ontological intuitions* - In which I present a series of problems showing that our intuitions about the ontological properties of art and art-kinds reflect cultural and social conventions, not bare ontology. As a result, I argue, we should not make the mistake of thinking that the ontology of social kinds like 'art' boils down to the concepts marshaled by competent users of those terms.
- A paper on titles* - In which I tackle the commonplace assumption that an artwork's title is its proper name. I argue that close consideration of the history of our titling practices shows that the primary function of at least some titles is not referential, and that these 'reflective' titles are actually parts of their bearers. What is more, I argue that some classes of proper names exhibit similar properties, and that this fact should prompt philosophers to reconsider the social character of naming.
- A paper on fiction* - In which I argue that the weight of our critical and reflective literary practices motivates the conclusion that story-truth is constrained by the law of non-contradiction. In particular, I argue that the conventions reflected in our practices mean that an author cannot successfully write a universal fiction (a story according to which everything is true).
- A paper on literary criticism - In which I argue that certain kinds of criticism are explanatory dead ends because (1) they are not concerned with fictional truth (or plausibility) in the first place, and (2) they read into the stories they purport to analyze a background of false "facts" and theories which are then used to support dubious meta-textual claims about the real world.
- A paper on coincident objects - In which I argue that many problems of coincidence—especially statue problems—are the illusory result of a fairly common linguistic phenomenon: the use of partitive terms to individuate uses of non-count nouns (NCNs). By marking partitives and NCNs, I argue that we can easily account for the intuition that a statue and its matter are identical, as well as our tendency to think of them as having different identity-conditions.
It is a truism among philosophers that art is intention-dependent—i.e., art-making is an activity that depends in some way on the maker’s intentions—but not much thought has been given to just what this entails. My dissertation explores this lacuna, arguing that, properly understood, intention-dependence sets a number of important constraints on theories of art. In particular, I argue that taking intention-dependence seriously allows us to supply success- and failure-conditions for art-attempts, to identify artistic practices cross-culturally, and to pinpoint the reference of ‘art’ and art-kind terms. For a more detailed abstract, click here.