Most of my research to date has been at the intersection of Moral Philosophy (and especially Moral Psychology & Environmental Ethics), the Philosophy of Mind, Psychology & Cognitive Science, and Philosophical Aesthetics.
Broadly speaking, my research is concerned with characterising certain emotions, and understanding the role that these emotions play in our lives in various ways, particularly with respect to our perceptual, moral and aesthetic capacities.
Freedom, Harmony & Moral Beauty (Revise & Resubmit at Philosophers' Imprint, under review)
Abstract: Why are moral actions beautiful, when indeed they are? This paper assesses the view, found most notably in Schiller, that moral actions are beautiful just when they present the appearance of freedom by appearing to be the result of internal harmony (the Schillerian Internal Harmony Thesis). I argue that while this thesis can accommodate some of the beauty involved in contrasts of the ‘continent’ and the ‘fully’ virtuous, it cannot account for all of the beauty in such contrasts, and so needs to be weakened considerably (to the Internal Harmony Thesis). To account for the remaining beauty that cannot be fully accommodated even by this revised thesis, as well as the beauty contained in contrasts that involve agents who experience internal conflict as a result of being sensitive to different sources of moral value to an appropriate extent, a number of further theses need to be posited: namely, that the beauty of some moral actions is to be accommodated in terms of internal disharmony (the Internal Disharmony Thesis), and in terms of a felt harmony between the appreciator of the action and the executor of the action (the Affective Harmony Thesis). As such, in contrast to Schiller, I suggest that we need to take a pluralist and context-sensitive approach to accommodating the beauty of moral actions.
Motivational Internalism & Disinterestedness (under consideration at the British Journal of Aesthetics)
Abstract: According to the most important objection to the existence of moral beauty, true judgements of moral beauty are not possible as moral judgements require being motivated to act in line with the moral judgement made, and judgements of beauty require not being motivated to act in any way. Here, I clarify the argument underlying the objection, and show that it does not show that moral beauty does not exist. I present two responses: namely, that the beauty of moral beauty does not lie in the moral goodness per se (the “adjacent properties” response); and that only a dispositional motivation to act is required for the moral judgements that are typically made as part of judgements of moral beauty, whereas aesthetic judgements only rule out state motivations to act (the “equivocation of motivation required” response). In addressing the objection, I show how moral beauty is consistent with disinterestedness, and so should be accepted more widely; and also clarify where the beauty in moral beauty resides, and how the moral-aesthetic distinction should be drawn.
Truly, Madly, Deeply: Moral Beauty and the Self (under external peer review at Ergo)
Abstract: When are morally good actions beautiful, when indeed they are? In this paper, it is argued that morally good actions are beautiful to the extent that they appear to express the deep or true self, and in turn tend to give rise to an emotion which is characterised by feelings of being moved, unity, inspiration, and meaningfulness, inter alia. In advancing the case for this claim, two further benefits are accrued. First, it is revealed that there are two additional sources of well-formedness in play in the context of moral beauty in addition to those that have tended to be focused on to date: one which is connected to imagining a deep location for the goodness concerned, and another which is connected to imagining that the goodness concerned stems from capacities which are essential to the person. Second, it is further revealed which features of morally good entities tend to give rise to the emotion that has been argued to constitute beauty (in a certain sense).
"A Mark of a Good Soul": Appreciation of Beauty and Ugliness Leads to Endorsement of Moral Values (with Simone Schnall, under consideration at Environment & Behavior).
Abstract: Across two studies (N = 698), we show that both appreciation of the beauty and ugliness of landscapes leads to greater endorsement of self- transcendent values, such as concern for the rights and welfare of close and distant others, relative to appreciation of aesthetically neutral landscapes. We show that the salutary effect of appreciating beauty was fully mediated by the kinds of positive affect that tend to be had in response to sources of intrinsic value—such as feeling inspired, joyous, moved and admiration—but that the effect of appreciating ugliness was not mediated by negative affect. These studies show that the beneficial effects of appreciating the aesthetic quality of the natural world isn’t limited to leading to more pro-environmental values, but also extends to prosocial values, and that even appreciation of ugliness, in addition to beauty, can lead to morally beneficial consequences.
Abstract: I argue that the main existing accounts of the relationship between the beauty of environmental entities and their moral standing are mistaken in important ways. Beauty does not, as has been suggested by optimists, confer intrinsic moral standing. Nor is it the case, as has been suggested by pessimists, that beauty at best provides an anthropocentric source of moral standing that is commensurate with other sources of pleasure. I present arguments and evidence that show that the appreciation of beauty tends to cause a transformational state of mind that is more valuable than mere pleasure, but that leads us to falsely represent beautiful entities as being sentient and, in turn, as having intrinsic moral standing. To this extent, beauty is not, then, a source of intrinsic moral standing; it’s a source of a more important anthropocentric value than has hitherto been acknowledged.
Supplementary materials are available on my OSF page: https://osf.io/hu8ad/
Abstract: Which traits are beautiful? And is their beauty perceptual? It is argued that moral virtues are partly beautiful to the extent that they tend to give rise to a certain emotion—ecstasy—and that compassion tends to be more beautiful than fair-mindedness because it tends to give rise to this emotion to a greater extent. It is then argued, on the basis that emotions are best thought of as a special, evaluative, kind of perception, that this argument suggests that moral virtues are partly beautiful to the extent that they tend to give rise to a certain kind of evaluative perceptual experience.
Supplementary materials are available on my OSF page: https://osf.io/24q5f/
Abstract: I offer the first sustained defence of the claim that ugliness is constituted by the disposition to disgust. I advance three main lines of argument in support of this thesis. First, ugliness and disgustingness tend to lie in the same kinds of things and properties (the argument from ostensions). Second, the thesis is better placed than all existing accounts to accommodate the following facts: ugliness is narrowly and systematically distributed in a heterogenous set of things, ugliness is sometimes enjoyed, and ugliness sits opposed to beauty across a neutral midpoint (the argument from proposed intensions). And third, ugliness and disgustingness function in the same way in both giving rise to representations of contamination (the argument from the law of contagion). In making these arguments, I show why prominent objections to the thesis do not succeed, cast light on some of the artistic functions of ugliness, and, in addition, demonstrate why a dispositional account of disgustingness is correct, and present a novel problem for warrant-based accounts of disgustingness (the ‘too many reasons’ problem).
Winner of the 2024 Arthur Danto/American Society of Aesthetics Prize
Abstract: In this article, an account of the architecture of the cognitive contamination system is offered, according to which the contamination system can generate contamination representations in circumstances that do not satisfy the norms of contamination, including in cases of mere visual contact with disgusting objects. It is argued that this architecture is important for explaining the content, logic, distribution, and persistence of maternal impression beliefs—according to which foetal defects are caused by the pregnant mother’s experiences and actions—which in turn provide important evidence of the architecture of the cognitive contamination system.
Abstract: In this article, robust evidence is provided showing that an individual’s moral character can contribute to the aesthetic quality of their appearance, as well as be beautiful or ugly itself. It is argued that this evidence supports two main conclusions. Firstly, moral beauty and ugliness lie on the inside, and beauty and ugliness are not perception dependent as a result; and second, aesthetic perception is affected by moral information, and thus moral beauty and ugliness lie on the outside too.
Beauty and Sublimity: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Literature and the Arts (2020) British Journal of Aesthetics, 60, 4: 492-195. https://doi.org/10.1093/aesthj/ayz057
Art and the Emotions: Debating the Work of Jenefer Robinson (2019) Debates in Aesthetics, 14, 1: 1-14 (with Shelby Moser).
Restorative aesthetic pleasures & restoring the unity of pleasure (2017) Australasian Philosophical Review, 1, 1: 73-78. https://doi.org/10.1080/24740500.2017.1296399
Abstract: I argue, contra Mohan Matthen, that at least some aesthetic pleasures arising from the appreciation of aesthetic features of artworks are what he calls ‘r-pleasures’ as opposed to ‘f-pleasures’—and moreover, that the paradigm aesthetic pleasure (arising in response to beauty) appears to be an r-pleasure on Matthen’s terms. I then argue that talk of r- and f-pleasures does not distinguish different kinds, but two different features of pleasure; so this supposed distinction (at least) cannot be used to characterize a sui generis aesthetic pleasure.
Expression, Evolution and Ontology: Debating the Work of Stephen Davies (2017) Debates in Aesthetics, 13, 1: 1-10 (with Shelby Moser).