The primary focus of my research is in the fields of aesthetics and the philosophy of art. I have published extensively on a wide variety of topics in those areas, including aesthetic testimony, authorship, the definition of art, emotional responses to fiction, the epistemology of photography, style, and the philosophical questions raised by the arts of comics, dance, theatre and videogames. Outside of aesthetics, I have co-authored works on the metaphysics of information and the cognitive architecture of the imagination.
Much of my current research uses experimental methods from the cognitive sciences to explore questions of philosophical interest to aestheticians. So, for example, a co-authored journal article, ‘Mere Exposure to Bad Art’ (British Journal of Aesthetics 2013), explores the interaction between artistic quality and the mere exposure effect. The mere exposure effect is a well-established psychological phenomenon whereby repeated exposure to a stimulus enhances people’s attitudes towards it. Some sceptics about artistic value and canonicity are impressed by research which suggests mere exposure to works of art increases liking for them— the phenomenon might seem to provide an explanation of canonicity that makes no reference to value or quality. But our research suggests that mere exposure to bad works of art, such as the paintings of Thomas Kinkade, decreases liking for them. The results, then, provide the basis for a response to one argument for aesthetic scepticism.
Another recent experimental project used psycholinguistic methods to explore the semantics of aesthetic adjectives. I have been working with a collaborator, Dr Shen-yi Liao, to adapt an established method of investigating the context-sensitivity of adjectives to an online environment. The results of our research suggest that aesthetic adjectives such as ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’ function neither like paradigmatic relative (and context-sensitive) gradables such as ‘tall’ nor like paradigmatic absolute, and arguably non-context sensitive, gradables such as ‘spotted’. Our first paper coming out of this project, ‘Aesthetic Adjectives: Experimental Semantics and Context-Sensitivity’ was recently published in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Another paper on that topic, ‘Aesthetic Adjectives Lack Uniform Behavior’, which we co-authored with Louise McNally, was published in Inquiry. Other ongoing x-aesthetics projects explore folk attitudes towards aesthetic testimony and the nature of art concepts. I’ve also started working with two psychologists, Pam Birtill and Beth Armstrong, on an experimental project about the interaction of values in the domain of food.
To get a sense of my view of the relationship between philosophical aesthetics and empirical research, see this very short piece from 2014.
I continue to explore philosophical issues raised by comics and other popular art forms. Most philosophy of art focuses on putatively high and pure art forms; the art of comics is interesting, at least in part, because it is a paradigmatic example of the popular and hybrid. Because of this, comics have begun to attract greater philosophical attention in the last few years. Some of this work appears in my recently co-edited book, The Art of Comics: A Philosophical Approach. Roy Cook, Frank Bramlett and I also edited The Routledge Companion to Comics. Jon Robson and I have published numerous articles on videogames (e.g., ‘Videogames as Self-Involving Fictions’). And I have work in progress on rap music and the short story.
Jon and I have also recently published an article in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, ‘Taste and Acquaintance’, which explores the epistemology of gustatory judgments. I also co-authored a recently published essay on aesthetic and ethical interaction in the case of food. This latter topic (and the philosophy of food more broadly) is a relatively new interest of mine and stems from my development of two new classes on the philosophy of food at Leeds and the University of Colorado.
In addition to the co-authors mentioned above, I’ve collaborated on research with James Andow, Jonathan Cohen, Simon Fokt, Kris Goffin, Anna Ichino, Matthew Kieran, Joshua Knobe, Annelies Monseré, Margaret Moore, Mark Phelan, Levno Plato, Jonathan Weinberg, and Nick Wiltsher.
I have significant experience in running large scale grants—between 2009 and 2013 I was Co-Investigator on a major research project on the relationship between scientific and philosophical approaches to the arts. Along with the other investigators on the project, I recently co-edited two volumes of essays related to the topic of our research–the first was published by OUP and the second was published by CUP as part of their Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements.
European Commission FP7-PEOPLE-2012-IIF Grant, “Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics and Human Nature”, 2013-2015.
This grant brought Dr Shen-yi Liao to Leeds to work with me on projects on experimental philosophical aesthetics. Go to the project website here.
Arts and Humanities Research Council Research Grant AH/G01226441, “Method in Philosophical Aesthetics: The Challenge From the Sciences,” 2009-2013.
I was CI on this major grant which explored the relationship between scientific and philosophical approaches to aesthetics. The project’s website is still available here.
My Google Scholar page
My PhilPapers page