Directly below is a list of recent papers (omitting any that are at or close to the refereeing stage).
Spinoza’s Aesthetics (in the Blackwell Companion to Spinoza)
In the paper, I discuss the various views on Spinoza’s aesthetics that have been formulated. One of the most prominent views on Spinoza with regard to aesthetics is that Spinoza's basic philosophical framework precludes him from having a theory of aesthetics. This claim is largely based on remarks Spinoza makes in the Appendix to Part I of the Ethics, where he discusses how we go wrong in our application of terms like ‘good’, ‘evil’, ‘beautiful’, and ‘ugly’. I go on to argue that Spinoza’s remarks in this passage have been misinterpreted and that we really can understand Spinoza as having a theory of aesthetics, so long as we understand his central aesthetic concept to be perfection rather than beauty, much in the same way that we can understand Spinoza to have an ethical theory, properly understood.
Cartesian Sensory Perception, Agreeability, and the Puzzle of Aesthetic Pleasure (in The British Journal for the History of Philosophy)
In this paper, I address Descartes’ claims that sensory perceptions function to aid and preserve the subject in interacting with the world, and focus specifically on the ‘valence’, or agreeable/disagreeable quality, that characterizes many sensations. I show how Descartes considers this aspect of sensation to be a significant factor in the ecological role of sensory perception and then turn to a kind of case that seems to pose a problem for this view: that of aesthetic pleasure. I consider Descartes’ remarks on a particular kind of aesthetic pleasure, that found in musical consonance, and argue that his discussion of this phenomenon reveals that he distinguishes between two distinct kinds of valence -- evaluative sensory valence and aesthetic valence – only one of which functions to report directly on ecological evaluation. Further, I suggest that the best way to understand the distinction between these is by appealing to Descartes’ three grades of sensory perception.
“Of the Octave the Relation 2:1”: How an Exemplary Case of Formal Causation Turned Against the Neo-Aristotelians (forthcoming in The British Journal for the History of Philosophy)
In this paper, I address how music theory, generally, and the case of the octave more specifically, played an instrumental and under-appreciated role in the development of 17th century mechanization of sensory perception. In particular, I argue that investigation into the causes of the octave, Aristotle’s chosen example of a formal cause, and other musical intervals like it served to undermine the Neo-Aristotelian framework, while also providing key evidence in support of a mechanistic account of sensory perception. I begin by discussing how the case of the octave was understood in Scholastic Neo-Aristotelian philosophy and how this framework was applied in 16thcentury music theory. Following this, I show how developments in music theory and acoustics challenged the status of formal causes and real qualities in this Neo-Aristotelian framework. Finally, I show how these developments provided a much-needed detailed, empirically supported example of the mechanistic-style metaphysics of sensory perception that was prevalent in the Early Modern period, focusing primarily on Descartes.
Music & Modality (forthcoming in Modality: A History)
Discussion of art (and, in particular, fine or beautiful art) is often saturated with modal language. For instance, Clive Bell asks us what it is to perceive something as a work of art other than to perceive in it a sort of necessity of form. In a very different context, Kant tells us that, while beauty cannot be determined by a rule or concept, fine art presupposes or necessitates a rule. However, it is often unclear what this modal talk is supposed to mean. It might be that we should take it as analogical — we perceive the artistic form as if it were necessary; a rule is necessary for art, as it were. However, noticing this alone is not entirely helpful in that it does not indicate what kind of similarity is present. In addition, it is unclear how a work of art would be similar to a necessary consequence while not in fact possessing the same kind necessity. In this paper, I argue that the modal talk in the case of music is analogous to other kinds of modality, but not merely so. Rather, musical perception turns out to require a robust modal structure in its own right, organized according to paradigmaticity.
Stoic Antecedents to Cartesian Rationalism (with Simon Shogry, Braesnose College, Oxford)
The influence of the Stoics on Descartes’ epistemology has been tacitly recognized by many commentators, despite the fact that there has been little written on the subject. The general view is that Descartes’ ‘doxastic volantarism’ was inspired by a similar view held by the Stoics, who first introduced the notion of ‘assent’ (sunkatathesis) into the philosophical lexicon and deployed it systematically in their epistemological and psychological theorizing. Commentators generally agree that Cartesian ‘clear and distinct perceptions’ and the assent that they demand from the will may have been inspired by the Stoic notion of kataleptic impressions, which, as we learn from one colorful passage, ‘all but drag us by the hair to assent’ (SE AM VII.257). However, one notable dissimilarity is that, while the Stoic kataleptic impression is paradigmatically a sensory impression, Cartesian ‘clear and distinct perceptions’ are rarely so, if ever. Bearing this in mind, we argue that Descartes’ notion of a ‘clear and distinct perception’ bears a hitherto-unremarked similarity to the Stoic prolêpsis, or ‘natural notion’.
Kepler’s Mathematical Epistemology
In this paper, I investigate Kepler’s use of geometry in his master-work, the Harmonices Mundi. Most scholarly discussion of Kepler’s mathematics has focused on its connection to his metaphysical views or to its specific applied use in his astronomical calculations. I focus on the general role of geometry in the project of the Harmonices Mundi and argue that it serves a very important, and overlooked, epistemological function. This is not to discount or argue against the clear metaphysical significance that Kepler affords to geometry, but rather to argue that the epistemological role of geometry is at least equally significant. As evidenced by his treatment of and elaboration on Euclid’s geometry, his organizational scheme linking groups of geometrical objects with ‘degrees of knowledge,’ and his subsequent application of the geometry, Kepler was deeply concerned with the possibility of scientific knowledge and its means of confirmation. In light of this, I argue that the geometry presented in the Harmonices Mundi provided Kepler with a means of confirming scientific knowledge as such, as well as with a means for determining the direction of his future inquiries.