My dissertation is called “Non-Ideal Practices: An Essay on Ethical Theory and Deliberation.” I argue that ethical theory should play a role in deliberation only in contexts of problem-solving. Standardly, agents are taken to have an overriding commitment to an ideal theory that dictates the obligatory, permissible, and forbidden actions in every conceivable situation. I show that the standard view imposes undesirable psychological burdens by requiring agents to reconstruct their motivations in light of theory. A more flexible view, however, allows agents to act according to the norms of their local practices and appeal to theory only when those norms prove insufficient to resolve particular problems. This flexible view of the role of theory places constraints on the form of theory, now regarded as non-ideal. The dissertation spells out a flexible pragmatism for the test cases of regret, toleration, punishment, and partiality.
In a series of papers—“Fittingness and Value: A Two-Level Theory of (Some) Aesthetic Normativity” (in progress), “Grounding Aesthetic Obligations” (forthcoming in the British Journal of Aesthetics), and “Dewey on Functional Beauty and the Realm of the Aesthetic” (published in the Postgraduate Journal of Aesthetics)—I claim that our pursuit of aesthetic value ought to be freed from many of its traditional restrictions. I argue that fittingness constraints on the interpretation, appreciation, and presentation of aesthetic objects are justified only because they facilitate the value of shareability; that there are no non-moral obligations toward the aesthetic as such; and that the range of aesthetic objects should be broadened to include bodily and other proximal experiences. Two book reviews (published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism and in the magazine Art Papers) argue against monism about the value of art, understood as the thesis that art’s value lies only in its capacity to afford an informed experience of pleasure (as Rafe McGregor thinks), or as the thesis that art’s value lies only in its capacity to afford understanding (as Alva Noë thinks).
Philosophy in Literature
In “Love and Transience in Proust” (published in Philosophy), I argue against recent philosophical interpretations of Proust as a solipsist and hedonist, suggesting that his antipathy toward romantic relationships stems from demanding evaluative standards for the permanence of love and not from an impossible epistemic standard for knowing others. I develop my project further in “A Proustian Account of Practical Reason” (in progress), which explores the claim that we have most reason not to satisfy our desires and should therefore devote ourselves to the pursuit of the most valuable and difficult projects but aim never to complete them. Of course, there’s a skeptical challenge to the idea that engagement with literature could count as philosophy at all. In “Philosophy, Literature, and Emotional Engagement: A Response to Nanay” (published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism), I begin to chip away at that challenge, arguing that the proper response to both should include emotional engagement coupled with reflection.