My research concentrates on aesthetics, ethics, and the intersection between these realms of value. In my doctoral thesis, I defended the moral beauty view, whereby the moral virtues are beautiful, and the moral vices ugly character traits. Currently, I am working on three interrelated projects. First, I am developing a dual-component theory of beauty, which seeks to strike a balance between formalist theories (which emphasise the objective, formal features of objects) and subjectivist theories (which emphasise the pleasure that subjects experience upon encounters with beautiful objects). Second, I am examining naturalist theories of ethical and aesthetic value, elaborating on my views concerning the relationship between personality traits studied by psychologists and the virtues. Third, I am looking into how films, and especially television series, can offer unique insights into human character and personality, and get us to rethink important moral questions. Together, these projects will allow me to articulate a unified theory of value in which beauty plays a fundamental role, not only genealogically, but also heuristically and practically.
"Virtue and Vice on TV: Television and Ethical Reflection"
Educating Character Through the Arts, edited by Laura D'Olimpio, Panos Paris, and Aidan Thompson (London: Routledge)
ABSTRACT: Television series are one of the most popular and sophisticated narrative artworks of our time. Like most narrative artworks, television series deal with complex questions, many of which are of an ethical nature. This has been noticed in the academic literature, which has focused on the prevalence of antiheroes or ‘rough heroes’ on television, and the capacity of television to elicit positive responses to such characters. What has remained largely unexplored, however, is the role that such series and characters can play in our moral thinking and in enhancing our character. This chapter proposes that television series can enhance ethical reflection by making us both more aware of and sensitive to the multifarious ways in which character is shaped and subsequently manifested, and more reflective vis-à-vis our own moral judgement of character. I focus on televisual rough-hero works, broadly conceived, which do so in a distinctive way. Specifically, they not only provide us with complex characterological landscapes, and elicit our emotional engagement and investment in several characters, but crucially also engage us in what I will call an elenctic pattern: a sustained sequence of affirmation and questioning of both the moral dimensions of characters and events, and our own reactions to them. This enriches our thinking about character by getting us to examine the workings of our own moral judgement, notice inconsistencies and biases, and appreciate the richness and complexity involved in such judgements and their objects. Although the elenctic pattern is not unique to television, television series provide a distinctively suitable medium and format for it, offering it unprecedented power and scope. I argue that this is because of their length, serialised structure, and what I call their narrative malleability. Ultimately, then, though much of my argument focuses on a particular genre, this chapter points to the broader potential of television for character education.
"The Aesthetics of Ethics: Exemplarism, Beauty, and the Psychology of Morality"
The Journal of Value Inquiry (pre-print available online)
[Available Open Access.]
ABSTRACT: Linda Zagzebski recently put forward a new theory, moral exemplarism, that is meant to provide an alternative to theories like consequentialism and deontology, and which proposes to define key moral terms by direct reference to exemplars. The theory’s basic structure is straightforward. A virtuous person is defined as a person like that, where that points to individuals like Leopold Socha, Confucius, Jesus Christ, and so on. A key component of this theory is the function played by the emotions, specifically the emotion of admiration, which helps us identify moral exemplars, inspires our emulation of them, and grounds moral motivation. In other words, admiration tracks persons like that. The aim of this article is to show that unless moral exemplarism recognises and incorporates an aesthetic dimension to morality, as did, for instance, eighteenth-century sentimentalists by recognising the categories of moral beauty and ugliness, the theory suffers important theoretical difficulties, whilst failing to yield some of the theoretical merits that it boasts. To this end, I will cast doubt on the prominent role accorded to the emotion of admiration for morality, arguing that it has to either be qualified as a specific kind of admiration––namely that which takes the beautiful as its object––or be replaced altogether with the affective response to the beautiful, a mark of which is pleasure or delight in the contemplation of an object. In short, an aesthetics of character is necessary in order to properly theorise the affective and motivational components of morality under an exemplarist framework.
"Functional Beauty, Pleasure, and Experience"
Australasian Journal of Philosophy 98:3 (2020), pp.516-530.
[Free access link (limited availability).]
ABSTRACT: I offer a set of sufficient conditions for (a kind of) beauty, drawing on Parsons and Carlson’s account of ‘functional beauty’. First, I argue that their account is flawed, whilst falling short of its promise of bringing comprehensiveness and unity to aesthetics. Instead, I propose, the account should be modified to state that if an object is well-formed for its function(s) and pleases competent judges in so far as it is thus experienced, then it is (functionally) beautiful. I argue that my proposal offers greater informativeness, comprehensiveness, and unity—accommodating, inter alia, mathematical, literary, and moral beauty—whilst surviving reflective scrutiny.
"Moral Beauty and Education"
Journal of Moral Education 48:4 (2019), pp.395-411.
[Free access link.]
ABSTRACT: This article seeks to rekindle a version of the age-old view that aesthetic education can contribute to the development of virtue. It proceeds as follows. First, it introduces the moral beauty view, whereby the moral virtues are beautiful, and the moral vices ugly, character traits. Second, two ways in which moral beauty and ugliness can manifest themselves are considered: in people and in artworks. Third, it is argued that character education couched partly in aesthetic terms, and coupled with the cultivation of a sensitivity to moral beauty and ugliness, promise a solid and motivationally robust anchor for moral character development. It is suggested that introducing the notions of moral beauty and ugliness in our conceptual repertoire, coupled with the presence of moral beauty in our surroundings, can undergird more traditional pathways to virtue, whilst being congenial to the maintenance of virtue. Before closing, three objections against these suggestions are addressed, and some avenues for exploring the notion of moral beauty vis-à-vis moral motivation and education are proposed.
"The 'Moralism' in Immoralism: A Critique of Immoralism in Aesthetics"
British Journal of Aesthetics 59:1 (2019), pp.13-33.
ABSTRACT: According to immoralists, some artworks are better aesthetically in virtue of their immorality. A. W. Eaton recently offered a novel defence of this view, seeking to overcome shortcomings in previous accounts, thereby occasioning a reconsideration of immoralism. Yet, as I argue in this paper, Eaton’s attempt is unsuccessful, insofar as it consists partly of inadequately supported claims, and partly—and more interestingly, albeit paradoxically––of covert moralist assumptions that are, eo ipso, incompatible with immoralism. I then turn to a parallel debate in ethics concerning the possibility of admirable immorality, suggesting that a consideration of the state of that debate further supports my argument against immoralism. I close by suggesting some strategies by which immoralists may offer a rejoinder, although I note that their prospects are rather dim, not least because available defences of immoralism and similar positions all seem to share the same flawed pattern.
"On Form, and the Possibility of Moral Beauty"
Metaphilosophy 49:5 (2018), pp.711-729.
ABSTRACT: There is a tendency in contemporary (analytic) aesthetics to considerably restrict the scope of things that can be beautiful or ugly. This peculiarly modern tendency is holding back progress in aesthetics and robbing it of its potential contribution to other domains of inquiry. One view that has suffered neglect as a result of this tendency is the moral beauty view, whereby the moral virtues are beautiful and the moral vices are ugly. This neglect stems from an assumption to the effect that virtues and vices simply cannot be beautiful or ugly. The aim of this paper is twofold. First, it develops an account of form, under which, it argues, possession of form suffices for an object’s candidature for beauty and ugliness. Second, it argues that, under the foregoing proposal, the moral beauty view turns out to be a coherent position, and so should be taken seriously in both aesthetics and ethics.
"The Empirical Case for Moral Beauty"
Australasian Journal of Philosophy 96:4 (2018), pp.642-656
[Free access link (limited availability).]
ABSTRACT: Although formative of modern value theory, the moral beauty view––which states that moral virtue is beautiful and moral vice ugly––is now mostly neglected by (analytic) philosophers. The two contemporary defences of the view mostly capitalise on its intuitive attractiveness, but to little avail: such considerations hardly convince sceptics of what is nowadays a rather unpopular view. Historically, the view was supported by thought experiments; and although these greatly increase its plausibility, they also raise empirical questions, which they leave unanswered. Here, I offer a novel defence of the moral beauty view capitalising on empirical evidence and arguing via an inference to the best explanation.
"The Deformity-Related Conception of Ugliness"
British Journal of Aesthetics 57:2 (2017), pp.139-160
The author's original version of the manuscript is available here.
ABSTRACT: Ugliness is a neglected topic in contemporary analytic aesthetics. This is regrettable given that this topic is not just genuinely fascinating, but could also illuminate other areas in the field, seeing as ugliness, albeit unexplored, does feature rather prominently in several debates in aesthetics. This paper articulates a ‘deformity-related’ conception of ugliness. Ultimately, I argue that deformity, understood in a certain way, and displeasure, jointly suffice for ugliness. First, I motivate my proposal, by locating a ‘deformity-related’ conception of ugliness in aesthetic tradition, offering examples in support, and rejecting related alternative suggestions. Second, I argue that the proposal boasts considerable merits. Not only does it capture much of what we ordinarily think of as ugly, but it also comprises an objective criterion for ugliness, offers unity and comprehensiveness, and is informative and explanatorily potent. Third, I discuss a number of objections, thereby demonstrating that the proposal withstands reflective scrutiny.
"Scepticism About Virtue and the Five-Factor Model of Personality"
Utilitas 29:4 (2017), pp.423-452
ABSTRACT: Considerable progress in personality and social psychology has been largely ignored by philosophers, many of whom still remain sceptical concerning whether the conception of character presupposed by virtue theory is descriptively adequate. Here, I employ the five-factor model of personality, currently the consensus view in personality psychology, to respond to a strong reading of the situationist challenge, whereby most people lack dispositions that are both cross-situationally consistent and temporally stable. I show that situationists rely on a false dichotomy between character traits and situations, and that evidence supports the empirical adequacy of the sorts of character traits presupposed by virtue ethics. Additionally, I suggest that the personality traits of the five-factor model are relevant to virtue theory, insofar as they are malleable, morally salient, and seem to structurally parallel Aristotelian virtues and vices. Thus, contra situationism, the five-factor model supports the descriptive adequacy of a virtue-theoretical framework.
WORK UNDER REVIEW
[Title redacted for anonymity.]
WORK IN PROGRESS
(NB. This list includes papers that are still in nascent form, and so subject to change)
"Nature and Culture: A Reconsideration of Neo-Aristotelian Ethical Naturalism"
"The Doctrine of the Mean: Virtue, Practical Guidance, and Personality Psychology"
Aesthetics, Ethics, and Character: A Defence of the Moral Beauty View (PhD Thesis)
ABSTRACT: My thesis defends a view that has long been out of fashion in philosophy. This view, which I label the moral beauty view, states that if a quality is a moral virtue, then it is a beautiful character trait and, conversely, if a quality is a moral vice, then it is an ugly character trait. A cornerstone of value theory throughout the eighteenth century, the moral beauty view suddenly disappeared in the nineteenth century. Here, I begin by offering a brief historical survey of the moral beauty view from British eighteenth-century philosophy to date, and isolate some central tenets and worries. Subsequently, I advance three arguments in defence of the view, dispelling major worries along the way. First, I argue that a sufficient condition for something’s being capable of being either beautiful or ugly is that it possesses form. The moral virtues and vices have form. Hence, the moral virtues and vices can be beautiful or ugly. Second, I argue that if an object is deformed and displeases competent appreciators in being experienced as deformed, then that object is ugly. Under the dominant meta-ethical position in virtue ethics, the moral vices satisfy the conditions for something’s being deformed. Additionally, the moral vices displease competent appreciators in contemplation. Hence, the moral vices are ugly character traits. Third, I articulate an empirically-testable formulation of the view, according to which if someone judges another to be more (or less) morally virtuous (or vicious), she or he will judge that person to be more (or less) beautiful (or ugly). I present substantial empirical evidence in support of this hypothesis. I then argue that the moral beauty view is the best explanation of the relevant phenomena. Finally, I summarise my arguments and discuss some major potential implications of the moral beauty view for debates in aesthetics and ethics. I show how the moral beauty view can inform debates concerning the interaction between aesthetic and cognitive value, aesthetic and moral value, and the feasibility of a virtue aesthetics; it also has considerable, if not radical, implications for scholarship and interpretation of philosophers as diverse as Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Hume, and Smith. Finally, the moral beauty view has important novel implications for moral motivation and education.