Much of my current work concerns the nature and limits of well-being. For the past couple of years I have been engaged in an integrated research project that spans topics in aesthetics and ethics. Against a widely held view, I think that well-being is in many ways less important than other forms of value, particularly meaning and worth. In a few recent papers, I defend an objective list theory of what makes a life worth living, a purely objectivist theory of meaning, and a mental statist theory of well-being.
My research interests range across a wide variety of topics in ethics, the philosophy of art, and general value theory, such as the nature of pleasure, the relationship between well-being and the meaning of life, theories of love, the metaphysics of death, theories of humor, the appeal of horror, and the nature of aesthetic value. I've written essays on an array of topics in the philosophy of art and have particular interests in the philosophy of (not in) film.
The first area in which I developed research interests is the philosophy of art. My initial interest in aesthetics came via the philosophy of film. I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to work with Noël Carroll. I have a long-standing passion for cinema and pursued a graduate minor in film while working on my PhD in philosophy. In the last couple of years, I published several articles in the philosophy of film and on the philosophical contributions made by film.
Most of my work in the philosophy of art has been concerned with our emotional engagement with narrative fiction. So far, I have explored several fundamental problems regarding our emotional responses to art. I've published articles on the paradox of fiction, the paradox of suspense, and the paradox of tragedy. I wrote my dissertation on the relationship between art and morality, focusing on the interaction between the moral emotions and amusement. In a series of independent papers I engage the current literature on the topic, and develop several new arguments in support of moralism about art—the view that moral flaws in an artwork can be detrimental to its aesthetic value.
I am especially interested in the normative assessment of emotion. Lately, I've been trying to sort through issues related to emotional proportionality. The core problem is this: The intensity of emotional response is largely a matter of how much one cares about the focus—the object that stands to be affected. If intensity is largely a matter of how much we care, then assessments of proportional appropriateness will require that we be able to normatively assess care.
On another front, I wonder to what extent one can be morally responsible for non-voluntary emotional reactions. I think that the way we respond to offensive emotional reactions lends support to a minimal attributionist theory of moral responsibility, a theory I otherwise find implausible. Conversely, I am interested in how voluntary control of our emotions can threaten their authenticity. In a paper on the consequences of free will skepticism, I take a close look at love.