Research

Directly below is a list of recent papers (omitting any that are at or close to the refereeing stage). 

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.

Spinoza’s Aesthetics (in preparation for 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.

Descartes' Passions: Cause, Referent, and Object

There has been a recent upswing in medieval and early modern theories of the emotions. In this paper I argue that Cartesian passions are individuated as a class via a three-fold distinction between proximate cause, referent, and object. On my account, the proximate cause of a passion is its most immediate efficient cause, its referent is its primary representational content, and its object is its perceived cause or intentional object. I argue that this three-fold distinction is only made explicit in Descartes’ discussion of the ‘proper passions,’ but that is present in his discussion of other passions more generally. This account has the advantage of providing an elegant and unified account of how Descartes deals with the passions, while also enabling me to make sense of some of the more puzzling passages that have troubled Cartesian scholars (like his claim that the proper passions are ‘referred to the soul’ — CSM I 336-337/AT 11: 345). I conclude the paper with a discussion of how Descartes’ classification of emotional states as passions compares with some contemporary perceptual accounts of emotion.

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’.