Published or Forthcoming
Personal Ideals as Metaphors (published in the Journal of the American Philosophical Association) What is it to have and act on a personal ideal? Someone who aspires to be a philosopher might imaginatively think “I am a philosopher” by way of motivating herself to think hard about a philosophical question. But doing so seems to require her to act on an inaccurate self-description, given that she isn’t yet what she regards herself as being. In the literature we find just one answer to this question. J. David Velleman develops the thought that action-by-ideal involves a kind of fictional self-conception. My aim is to expand our thinking about personal ideals by developing another way of understanding them. On this view action-by-ideal involves a kind of metaphorical self-conception. I investigate some salient differences between these views with the aim of understanding the different perspectives they take on the rationality of action-by-ideal. Action-by-ideal is clearly a complex affair about which there no tidy story to be told. This paper is an attempt to clarify and understand more of this messy terrain.
On the Interest in Beauty and Disinterest (published in Philosophers' Imprint) Contemporary philosophical attitudes toward beauty are hard to reconcile with its importance in the history of philosophy. Philosophers used to allow it a starring role in their theories of autonomy, morality, or the good life. But today, if beauty is discussed at all, it is often explicitly denied any such importance. This is due, in part, to the thought that beauty is the object of “disinterested pleasure”. In this paper I clarify the notion of disinterest and develop two general strategies for resisting the emphasis on it, in the hopes of getting a clearer view of beauty’s significance. I present and discuss several literary depictions of the encounter with beauty that motivate both strategies. These depictions illustrate the ways in which aesthetic experience can have a kind of self- or life-transforming significance. I argue that they present difficulties for disinterest theories and suggest we abandon the concept of disinterest to focus instead on the special kind of interest beauty fuels. I propose a closer look at the Platonic thought that beauty is the object of love.
Personal Style and Artistic Style (published in The Philosophical Quarterly) What is it for a person to have style? Philosophers working on action, ethics, and aesthetics are surprisingly quiet on this question. I begin by considering whether theories of artistic style shed any light on it. Many philosophers, artists, and art historians are attracted to the view that artistic style is the expression of personality. I clarify this view and argue that it is implausible for both artistic style and personal style. The fact that both theories of style crack along the same line suggests that they can indeed be mutually illuminating. I articulate and defend a view of personal style according to which, roughly, having style is a matter of expressing one’s ideals. I show how this illuminates the widely neglected value of personal style and propose a new, analogous theory of individual artistic style: artistic style is the expression of the ideals the artist has for her art.
Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces (published in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism) According to Arthur Danto, post-modern or post-historical art began when artists like Andy Warhol collapsed the Modern distinction between art and everyday life by bringing “the everyday” into the artworld with works like Brillo Box. I begin by pointing out that there is another way to collapse this distinction: bring art out of the artworld and into everyday life. An especially effective way of doing this to make street art, which, I argue, is art whose meaning depends on its use of the street. I develop and defend this definition and show how it handles graffiti and traditional public art.
Using the Street for Art: A Reply to Baldini (published in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism) I reply to Andrea Baldini's critical discussion of my "Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces" (2010) by taking up the question: what is "the street" in street art? I argue that the relevant notion of the street is a space whose function it is to facilitate self-expression. I show how this clarifies and extends the theory developed in Riggle (2010). I then argue, contra Baldini, that street art is not always subversive, and when it is, it is not always in virtue of its challenging the co-opting of public space by commercial art.
On the Aesthetic Ideal (published in the British Journal of Aesthetics) How should we pursue aesthetic value, or incorporate it into our lives, if we want to? Is there an ideal of aesthetic life? Philosophers have proposed numerous answers to the analogous question in moral philosophy, but the aesthetic question has received relatively little attention. There is, in essence, a single view, which is that one should develop a sensibility that would give one sweeping access to aesthetic value. I challenge this view on two grounds. First, it threatens to undermine the meaningful attachments we form with aesthetic items, e.g., poems, paintings, songs, or items of design and dress. Second, it fails to accommodate the motivational character of our encounter with beauty, which can diminish our desire to pursue the wider world of aesthetic value. I conclude that whatever the aesthetic ideal is, it must reconcile our desire to broaden our access to aesthetic value with our desire to maintain and cultivate our meaningful aesthetic attachments. I motivate the alternative thought that having style is the aesthetic ideal.
Levinson on the Aesthetic Ideal (published in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism) In “Artistic Worth and Personal Taste” Jerrold Levinson develops a problem for those who think we should strive to be “ideal critics” in our aesthetic lives. He then offers several solutions to this problem. I argue that his solutions miss the mark and that the problem he characterizes may not be genuine after all.
Under Review or In Progress
Transformative Expression and Social Art The hope that art could be personally or socially transformational is an important part of 20th century avant-garde work, and it shaped a movement away from traditional media in an effort to make social life a medium. Artists imagined and created scenarios that facilitated potentially transformative self-expression. In this paper I develop the concept of ‘transformative expression’ and illustrate how it informs a diverse range of such avant-garde works. I then argue that understanding these social artworks in this way raises two interesting questions, one about the nature of aesthetic value and the other about the nature of expressive action. Answers to these questions lie in understanding the aesthetic character of our capacity to act freely and playfully.
Valuing Appearances I explore a tension in theories of aesthetic value in an attempt to diagnose why some philosophers (like me) are attracted to the idea that beauty is the object of love. The tension arises when we try to say something very general about what beauty is not while saying something very specific about what it is. A close look at specific aesthetic properties that commonly feature in thought and talk about beauty reveals a connection between aesthetic value and a kind of 'ethical' value: beauty tends to reflect values around which our lives revolve. It turns out that one important way of valuing appearances is implicated in, and inseparable from, the importance of valuing generally. I draw out the consequences this has for theories of beauty and for recent theories of love in the ethics literature.
Being an Individual We are not merely people; we are individuals, and the cultivation and presentation of individuality is an important concern for us. But what exactly are we aiming at here? How can we go right or wrong? And what is it to be an individual? Moral theories focus on the normative structure of inter-personal interaction, but they generally fail to capture the normative nuances of pursuing, cultivating, and expressing individuality, or what we might generally call ‘self-presentation’. I motivate and develop a way of thinking about the normative structure of self-presentation, which I characterize as a kind of interpersonal appreciative practice. The view focuses on the idea of a “social opening”, which is a kind of opportunity for the presentation of individuality. The norms of self-presentation concern ways of creating, responding, and failing to respond to social openings. A close look at these matters reveals uncharted ethical territory, and I sketch a map of it.
Artistic Style as the Expression of Ideals (with Robert Hopkins) Many philosophers and art historians favor the idea that individual artistic style is the expression of personality. We evaluatively compare the two most plausible versions of this view with the proposal I advance in “Personal Style and Artistic Style,” namely, that style is the expression of the artist’s ideals for her art. The means of comparison is each view’s answer to a range basic questions we think a theory of individual artistic style should address. We argue that our new proposal fares better than both versions of the influential and widely accepted view.
Kant and Cogito I discuss a widely accepted principle in the recent literature on self-verifying knowledge, which holds that thinking I think, or a thought of the form I think that p, makes it true. I show that in the case of ‘I think’ this principle can be understood in three ways. It is either the act of first-personal reference, the act of predication, or the composite referential and predicative act that makes ‘I think’ true. I show that Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, holds the unusual first kind of view, according to which ‘I think’ is fundamentally made true by the act of first-personal reference, the tokening of ‘I’. As a result, the epistemic story about how ‘I think’ is self-verifying need not appeal to a complex second-order thought to the effect of “I am thinking ‘I think’”. A similar story is not true of thoughts of the form ‘I think that p’, for the mere tokening of a first-personal representation does not warrant the self-attribution of any particular thought content. If Kant is right, then the self-verifying status of cogito, or ‘I think’, is, in a sense, more basic than that of other kinds of self-verifying knowledge.
Papers on aesthetic necessity, transformative expression, and the connections between street art and social practice.
Published in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, 2nd Edition, 2014: Beauty and Love & Street Art and Graffiti