Current Work


Current Projects

         Monumentalizing Nature

Of recent, there has been much discussion of monuments, and in particular of artefactual monuments. Interestingly, however, the first national monument designated as such in the U.S. was a natural entity—Devil’s Tower. This paper explores philosophical and practical issues with using the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate natural areas as “monuments.” First, I look at what monuments in nature are monuments to. I then argue that there are a few concerns one might have about designating natural entities as monuments. One is that monumentalizing nature leads people to appreciate nature in an inappropriate manner. Another concern is that monumentalizing nature results in a problematic form of ecotourism. Both worries stem from the object-focused quality of monuments: in designating something as a monument, one distinguishes the entity and sets it apart from its surroundings. Recognizing this provides a backdrop for the final part of my discussion. Other writers have distinguished so-called countermonuments from monuments. I argue that areas designated as wilderness via The Wilderness Act of 1964 can be seen as a sort of countermonument. Importantly, countermonuments are not object focused, so I suggest that The Wilderness Act avoids the concerns regarding natural monuments.

       How Do Instrumental and Noninstrumental Valuing Differ?

A ubiquitous distinction in value theory is between two ways in which one can value something: someone can value an entity for its own sake and someone can value an entity for the sake of other things. How, precisely, though, do these two modes of valuing differ? A number of ideas come to mind. For instance, one might suggest that valuing an entity for the sake of something else is a conditional and derivative form of valuing. However, in a paper currently in development, I argue against this and other likely accounts. I then go on to develop a better way of distinguishing the two valuing attitudes. Focusing first on instrumental valuing, I suggest that, when one values an entity for the sake of something else, one must be prone to intend to do something so that the former entity brings about or contributes to a given end. By contrast, when one values something for its own sake, one is prone to focus on it without a tendency to intend to do something with the object so that it contributes to some end. In other words, a core difference between the two modes of valuing has to do with a volitional feature. Drawing from my account, I then go on to refine a methodology commonly used in value theory and advance debates about the value of a wide range of entities.

      JOMO, Lofi, and Historical Value

“JOMO” is the joy of missing out on something. One instance is when one enjoys something from a distance, thereby missing out on the heart of the action— e.g. taking special pleasure when listening to live music from the other room, where the sounds are muffled and distant, where one is not in the optimal location to enjoy the music’s formal qualities, and where one does not partake in the full audience experience. After exploring why one might take pleasure in this sort of experience, I go on to suggest that Lofi house music—popularized by a number of UK artists—engenders this sort of JOMO. It reduces high frequencies to convey a muffled, murky quality to the music, it samples vocals from the 70s and 80s in a way that distorts them and renders them nonsensical, and it uses tape hiss and other distortion to give a layer of “atmosphere” not inherent in the song itself. Listening to Lofi is like listening to music from the other room. This suggests something more generally about historical value. Carolyn Korsmeyer has argued that people have a certain aesthetic experience when they handle old objects— they feel in touch with the past. While true, I think the qualities of Lofi and the experience of JOMO suggest that people often want to be in touch with the past, but still kept at a distance from it. They want to experience the past as past, or as something that is separate and somewhat distant from them. Korsmeyer and others note that people enjoy objects that show signs of their age—e.g. that have a patina. My discussion provides one explanation why: in virtue of an object’s agedness, people get that sense of being separated from the past. Patina is like the muffled quality of Lofi. So, in sum, I show how reflecting on Lofi and JOMO helps fill out the conception of certain historical values and our experience of them.

        A Modest Defense of The Wilderness Act

In developing my paper “Monumentalizing Nature,” I have developed a number of paper ideas regarding The United States Wilderness Act of 1964. The Act is a landmark environmental law aimed at protecting wilderness areas. However, it faces a number of objections and concerns. William Cronon argues that the wilderness preservation system neglects indigenous history insofar as it involves seeing much of the western U.S. as wild when, in reality, it has been inhabited for more than 10,000 years. More recently, Steven Vogel has argued that environmental philosophers ought to do away with the very concept of nature and wilderness, arguing, among other things, that these concepts rest on an unscientific worldview that sees humans as separate from nature.

            Taking Vogel’s argument first, I plan to argue that his view is based on the assumption that all normatively-relevant distinctions must stem, ultimately, from the sciences. This assumption, however, is false. To take one example, people tend to think that their family heirlooms matter in a special way to them and not to other people. Yet, within evolutionary biology, there is no deep difference between their forbearers and those of other people. So, for related reasons, it is not problematic if the human/nature distinction is not recognized by the sciences. Turning to Cronon, I think his worry has more bite. For, the Wilderness Act does define wilderness as a place that retains its “primeval character and influence.” It is not clear which parts of the U.S. mainland would qualify as being wild. However, as Doug Scott has noted, the Act actually has a legal precedent for being applied to areas with significant past human influence (viz. that have been logged). So, I want to argue that we should reconceive of the Act as being partly forward looking: it can be used to create wilderness in previously trammeled areas. Reconceiving of the Act in this way avoids Cronon’s worry but raises new issues about the meaning and political dimensions behind wilderness preservation, which I plan to explore in the remainder of the paper.

            Then, in a second paper, I want to raise a new worry regarding The Wilderness Act. The worry is that the Act is ableist: it prohibits all mechanized and wheel-based modes of transport. As a result, those unable to walk are unable to experience wilderness. As I argue in “Monumentalizing Nature,” this is a problem partly because the experience of wilderness is both valuable and unlike one’s experience in, say, a national park, national forest, or national monument. Here, my work will take a rather practical turn as I attempt to provide a philosophically-informed policy recommendation for how the U.S. government (and other governments that have emulated The Wilderness Act) could amend the Act to allow equal access without undermining the wilderness character of preserved areas.

            Of potential help in the preceding paper will be my discussion in a    third project. Here, I want to explore the values mentioned in The Wilderness Act with a particular eye to which values are distinctive of wilderness. I am intrigued, for instance, by the Act’s reference to the value of solitude. Additionally, defenders of wilderness often speak of the importance of being vulnerable in wilderness. Some might wonder whether these values are an expression of a problematic fascination in the United States with individualism, so I want to explore whether there are other, more defensible reasons why solitude and wilderness vulnerability are valuable. This exploration will help show why wilderness is special insofar as other land-designations (e.g. National Forests) do not engender a sense of solitude or vulnerability. It may also shed light on how we can provide equal access to the distinctive values of wilderness without undermining those very values.

        What is Historical Value? What is Historical Significance?

In light of research I have done thus far, I want to explore the scope of historical value. For, though there are clear cases of historical value, the boundaries of this value are fuzzy. Clear cases involve things that have historical value in the sense that they are rightly celebrated on account of their history (e.g. the pen used by Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation). Many things, however, are protected for their history without being celebrated. Such entities have significant histories, but those histories may be either partly or wholly negative. The Titanic is an example of the former. Concentration camps are an example of the latter. There are also things that are actively condemned because of their history. In the U.S., confederate monuments are a prominent example.

            In light of these examples, I plan to develop a framework for thinking about different historical objects. Tentatively, my idea is that things can have uplifting historical value, somber historical value, mere historical significance, and historical disvalue. But more needs to be done to characterize the difference between these categories. Additionally, in outlining the above framework, other questions come to the fore. For instance, why is somber historical value really a value? This is similar to a question in aesthetics—why are horror films and tragedies of aesthetic value when they engender negative emotions?—but some of the answers to this latter question do not seem as plausible when related to somber historical value. The upshot of this study will be a more detailed framework of historical objects and one which may have practical upshots regarding preservation standards that I develop in later work. 

      Animal Ethics

Although it is on hold right now, I plan to rework a paper that I presented at the Pacific APA and the Indiana Philosophical Association concerning Kant’s justification of duties regarding animals. Like others, I think that Kant offers the “wrong kind of reason” for valuing animals, but I think more needs to be said to bring out what, precisely, makes the reason of the “wrong kind.” My suspicion is that the reason cannot play a certain role in our reasoning—namely, Kant’s reason for feeling gratitude towards an animal is not a consideration that one can reason from in coming to feel gratitude. But to develop this further, I want to think about whether a normative reason is better, at least in one sense, if it can figure into an agent’s motivation for adopting the called-for attitude. After exploring this, I would then like to return to Kant’s discussion and see whether I can provide an account of the reasons for feeling gratitude towards service animals (and similar attitudes towards other kinds of animals) that (1) avoids a refined “wrong-reason” objection, and (2) does not imply that the animals in question have an intrinsic value or moral status.

     Instrumental, Symbolic, Constitutive Values

Sometimes people value things for what they symbolize or for the role they play in constituting some larger whole. Such cases are not always accurately described as ones in which people value the entities instrumentally. For instance, J.S. Mill goes to quite some length to argue that virtues are a part of happiness and not mere means to happiness, suggesting that this point saves utilitarianism from an important objection. So, the question arises: how does valuing something as a constituent differ from valuing something instrumentally? Going further, even the idea of valuing something instrumentally is not all that clear: as Shelly Kagan argues, sometimes people value an entity for its own sake in virtue of its instrumental properties, as might be the case with an especially sharp sword or fast race bike. So, given all of this, I want to explore the differences between these different ways of valuing, and see whether tools, constituents, and symbols might sometimes reasonably be valued partly for their own sakes. My hope is that this discussion will clarify the value of various entities, including things as disparate as artworks, national flags, and virtuous character traits thought to be constitutive of a good life.

      If Immoralism Is True, What Does It Mean for Art-Related Practices?

In a paper that I presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics, I explore the different ways in which moral values influence aesthetic value. Sometimes a work of art is created by someone who exhibits moral flaws. Other times, an artwork is created in a morally problematic manner, say by involving the death of an animal. And in yet other instances, the very content or meaning of an artwork is morally problematic. I focus on the latter two cases and argue for what is called immoralism: the view that a work of art can be aesthetically better because it was created in a morally problematic way and/or because it has a morally flawed content. This paper has led me to want to explore what the existence of morally-problematic works, and the truth of immoralism, would mean for art-related practices. Are there, for instance, moral reasons to allow for a social context—perhaps provided by the artworld—in which one can explore the boundary of what is moral, perhaps occasionally (and inadvertently) crossing the line, so to speak? Or regarding morally-problematic artworks that already exist, what should our curatorial and preservation practices be? Should we put them in exhibits? If so, in what contexts and with what auxiliary information? The answers to these questions will likely vary depending on details of particular examples, so in future work I want to explore these questions with respect to particular cases and many different kinds of morally-problematic artworks.

      Which Natural Entities are of Universal Heritage Value?

A number of writers, such as Erich Hatala Matthes and Henry Cleere, have suggested that natural entities can bear universal heritage value, or be of heritage value to every human being. I find this line of thought intriguing and initially plausible, though more needs to be done to examine precisely which natural entities have this status. The first step is to determine how it is that something comes to have heritage value. My previous work, as well as ideas presented by Matthes, suggest that an object can come to have heritage value if it is related in noteworthy ways to aspects of one’s heritage. Yet what counts, in the present context, as being “related in noteworthy ways” to one’s heritage? This is what I want to explore in more detail. My suspicion is that the natural entities which are the best candidates for having universal heritage value are things not recognized as such by UNESCO. They are celestial bodies. It remains to be seen, then, what sorts of natural entities on Earth might have universal heritage value.