Category Archives: Activities

CFP: Philosophy of Art Meets Philosophy of Science

Shaping the Trading Zone: Bringing Aesthetics and Philosophy of Science Together

Friday 5th – Saturday 6th September 2014
School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science
University of Leeds

Invited speakers: Ann-Sophie Barwich (University of Exeter), Otávio Bueno (Miami), Alix Cohen (Edinburgh), George Darby (London), Catherine Elgin (Harvard University), Steven French (Leeds), John Kulvicki (Dartmouth College), Aaron Meskin (Leeds), Dean Rickles (Sydney), Nola Semczyszyn (Franklin & Marshall College), Adam Toon (University of Exeter)

There are a limited number of places on the programme for graduate speakers. Those interested in presenting should send an abstract of no more than 250 words to Steven French at s.r.d.french@leeds.ac.uk by Monday July 14th.

Papers should (obviously) address the core theme of the conference on how the philosophy of art and the philosophy of science might be brought into productive engagement with one another.

Although this is not directed connected to our project, it does touch on related issues. Consider submitting, as it should be a fun and rewarding event!

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Early Career Speaker: Katherine Allen

We are pleased to announce that Katherine Allen, an independent scholar who earned her PhD from the University of East Anglia in 2013, will be the early career speaker in our next workshop: Narratives and Social Cognition! Katherine will give a talk entitled “Sweet Influence: Defending a Cautious Aesthetic Cognitivism” on Thursday, June 19th, 2014, along with invited speakers Raymond Mar and Stacie Friend.

You can find the abstract for each talk at the workshop page. Please register to help our event planning.

For more information on how to apply to be an early career speaker at our other upcoming workshops, please see this call for abstracts.

Public Event: Can Stories Change the Way You Think?

Can Stories Change the Way You Think?

Can stories change the way you think? Since the times of Plato and Aristotle, many scholars in the humanities have contended that reading stories can change the way one thinks, for better or for worse. In recent years, there has also been increasing scientific attention to this question. For example, an article recently published in the journal Science controversially claims that reading high-brow fictions — but not low-brow ones — can improve one’s ability to understand other minds.

This interdisciplinary roundtable brings together a psychologist, a philosopher, and a literary theorist to discuss whether stories can change the way one thinks. Each scholar will give a brief presentation, drawing from his or her field of expertise. An open Q&A session will follow the presentations.

The roundtable discussion will take place on Wednesday, 18th June, 2014, 6:00pm-7:30pm at Leeds Art Gallery. Attendance is free and all are welcome!

(See also the workshop on the following day!)


Roundtable Participants:
Raymond Mar (Department of Psychology, York University)
Diana Holmes (Department of French, University of Leeds)
Peter Lamarque (Department of Philosophy, University of York)


This event is a part of the Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics and Human Nature project, supported by Marie Curie Action Grant PIIF-GA-2012-328977. The event poster is designed by the highly- and multi-talented Nils-Hennes Stear.

Early Career Speaker: Brian Fiala

We are pleased to announce that Brian Fiala, a postdoc at the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology program of Washington University in St. Louis, will be the early career speaker in our next workshop: Animated Objects in Make-Believe! Brian will give a talk entitled “Person-Perception and Puppets: Why It’s so Easy to See Inanimate Objects as Animated” on Thursday, May 15th, 2014, along with invited speakers James Hamilton and Louise Bunce.

You can find the abstract for each talk at the workshop page. Please register, especially if you are considering attending the workshop dinner.

We can’t wait to learn more about puppets and pretense!

For more information on how to apply to be an early career speaker at our other upcoming workshops, please see this call for abstracts.

Workshop: Narratives and Social Cognition

It is commonly thought that engaging with narratives can shape the way we engage with the real world. But how? This workshop aims to connect psychological and philosophical research on the mechanisms that enable narratives to shape our social cognition. Looking at the broader context, the workshop will also examine questions such as how such mechanisms can be discovered and whether they are unique to fictional narratives.

Thursday, June 19th, 2014
10:00am (Welcome)
10:05am Katherine Allen [early career speaker]
11:00am Stacie Friend
12:15pm Raymond Mar
01:15pm (End)

Leeds Humanities Research Institute
29-31 Clarendon Place
Leeds, West Yorkshire LS2 9JT

The workshop is free and open to all. Please register using this form to help our event planning. (See also the public event on the night before!)


Raymond Mar (psychology, York University)

“The Possible Impacts of Imagining the Self in Narrative Worlds”
We frequently entertain ourselves by consuming narrative fiction in various forms, such as films, television shows, and books. There is growing evidence, however, that these experiences may affect us in ways other than providing entertainment. Engaging with stories appears to involve a mental simulation of social experience, driven by the events depicted in the narrative. This raises the possibility that these imagined social experiences may influence social processes along with how we view the social world. I will present empirical research pertaining to the correlates and outcomes associated with engaging with narrative fiction, with respect to both socioemotional processes and broader social attitudes.

Stacie Friend (philosophy, Heythrop College)

“Fact, Fiction, and Psychological Insight”
Many philosophers, critics, and ordinary readers agree that great literature can provide psychological insights, often profound ones that cannot be obtained in any other way. Gregory Currie has argued, by contrast, that recent results in psychology cast doubt on the ability of authors of fiction to capture what is really going on in people’s minds. I neither defend nor deny this sceptical stance. Instead, I argue for two claims relevant to evaluating it: (i) that if fictional literature can provide psychological insight, so too can non-fictional literature; and (ii) in either case, the possibility of psychological insight turns on the factual accuracy of the psychological depictions in the work.

Katherine Allen (independent scholar)

“Sweet Influence: Defending a Cautious Aesthetic Cognitivism”
Theorists such as Gregory Currie, Scott Stroud, Raymond Mar and Keith Oatley have proposed that fictions can enhance social cognition, transmit social information and generate moral and psychological insights. Fictions are cognitively valuable insofar as they entice us to occupy novel perspectives, facilitating unusually extended and richly-detailed simulations regarding characters’ thoughts, feelings and motivations, and act as a source of subjective knowledge, affording readers a sense of “what it is like” to undergo depicted experiences. Such theories necessarily imply that our affective and cognitive responses to fictions are, broadly speaking, accuracy-sensitive; in the absence of such a presupposition, fiction’s power to persuade seems sinister rather than salutary.

I will argue that there is reason to suspect that our readerly intuitions/pretheoretical judgements about a fiction’s plausibility and “lifelikeness” are unlikely to act as a reliable marker of a work’s psychological accuracy. Rather, I will argue that fictions, like other texts, work to contribute to our knowledge of the world and its inhabitants cumulatively and collaboratively: while intuitions can misfire, and our cognitive and affective responses to any individual fiction remain fallible, fictions enjoy an interpretive “afterlife” during which we continue to reflect on their contents and assimilate any insights they engendered. It is within this post-engagement period, during which we can investigate, substantiate and integrate a fiction’s “claims” within a broader conceptual schema, that the primary experience of engaging with a fiction can give rise to knowledge.


This event is a part of the Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics and Human Nature project workshops, supported by Marie Curie Action Grant PIIF-GA-2012-328977.

Early Career Speaker: Kevin Tobia

We are pleased to announce that Kevin Tobia, a BPhil student at Oxford University, will be the first early career speaker in our workshop series! Kevin will give a talk entitled “The More You Know, The Less It Matters: Mystery, Wonder, and Value” at the upcoming Language of Aesthetics workshop on Saturday, March 15th, 2014, along with invited speakers Louise McNally and Alex Plakias.

You can find the abstract for all talks on the workshop page. Registration is free but required. Please use this form to register.

We are very much looking forward to this workshop!

For more information on how to apply to be an early career speaker at our other upcoming workshops, please see this call for abstracts.

Workshop: Animated Objects in Make-Believe

An especially curious subset of prop-oriented make-believe involves animating, or pretending to give agency to, objects in service of narratives. We see this with children who play with their dolls. We also see this with storytellers who tell tales with their puppets. This workshop brings together a psychologist and a philosopher to discuss the experience and perception of animated objects in make-believe.

Thursday, May 15th, 2014
1:30pm (Welcome)
1:35pm Brian Fiala [early career speaker]
2:30pm Louise Bunce
3:45pm Jim Hamilton

Leeds Humanities Research Institute
29-31 Clarendon Place
Leeds, West Yorkshire LS2 9JT

The workshop is free and open to all. Please register here, especially if you are considering attending the workshop dinner.


James Hamilton (philosophy, Kansas State University)

“Spectating Animated Objects”
There are a number of puzzles about spectating animated objects. One puzzle is that it seems spectators should not, at least when talking “seriously,” attribute mental states to them. And yet we do. A second puzzle concerns how spectators ascribe agency in performances featuring animated objects, specifically to puppets and puppeteers, and whether they perceive the relationship between puppet and puppeteer differently from that between an animation and an animator (or team of animators), and a robot and its engineer(s) and programmer(s). A third puzzle concerns how the information delivered in a performance involving animated objects, such as a standard Punch & Judy show, is actually processed in time by the performance’s spectators. A fourth puzzle concerns the apparent fact (which, if true, should be troubling not only to puppeteers and scholars of puppetry but also to those working on human-robot interactions and video animations) that the closer to human features an animated object is–in movement, sound, and appearance–the more responsive the human participant in the exchange is until, that is, the so-called “uncanny valley” is reached, at which point human participants become frightened, distrustful, and even disgusted by the animated object. This puzzling phenomenon, if it were real, would be both a practical concern to makers of animated objects but also a theoretical concern for those who wish to understand how animated objects are experienced and understood by spectators.

Louise Bunce (psychology, University of Winchester)

“Is It Real? Learning to Navigate Reality”
Our ability to make real/not-real judgments is an important skill that we use everyday, enabling us to reason about, and behave appropriately towards, a variety of objects and entities. This is a complicated task, not least because we can judge real/not-real status on the basis of reality-as-ontological status or reality-as-authenticity. For example, a child might believe that Father Christmas is ‘real’ (exists) but that a particular representation of Father Christmas is not ‘the real one’ (authenticity). This talk will present research to demonstrate how and when children learn to judge a range of objects and entities, from toys to taxidermy, on the basis of their real/not-real status.

Brian Fiala (philosophy-neuroscience-psychology, Washington University in St. Louis)

“Person-Perception and Puppets: Why It’s so Easy to See Inanimate Objects as Animated”
We see mentality everywhere, even in ordinary objects such as Roombas and burnt toast, and especially in aesthetic objects such as puppets. How do we do it? Using three children’s puppets as examples, I will sketch a psychological answer following Thomas Reid, who argued that god endowed us with a special pre-rational faculty for perceiving the mental states of other people. Sesame Street’s Grover illustrates the basic principles well. Grover has eyes, a biological body, and a sing-song voice. These simple cues cause us to attribute mentality to an object that we know to be a puppet. Shari Lewis’s Lambchop illustrates principles of cross-modal binding. Lewis’s ventriloquism is less than virtuosic, yet sufficient for us to perceive her voice as emanating from her sock-puppet. Finally, the more realistic-looking puppets from The Dark Crystal appear uncanny (creepy), because their faces fail to display the subtle emotional cues that are normally present in real people and animals. In short, puppets are effective aesthetic tools because they easily engage our natural mechanisms for person-perception.


This event is a part of the Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics and Human Nature project workshops, supported by Marie Curie Action Grant PIIF-GA-2012-328977.

Workshop: The Language of Aesthetics

How do people use language to communicate their aesthetic judgments to one another? What can philosophers learn from analyzing the language used to communicate aesthetic judgments? This workshop brings together linguistics and philosophy to discuss the nature and significance of the language of aesthetics.

Saturday, March 15th, 2014
1:30pm Kevin Tobia [early career speaker]
2:30pm Alex Plakias
3:45pm Louise McNally

Leeds Humanities Research Institute
29-31 Clarendon Place
Leeds, West Yorkshire LS2 9JT

The workshop is free and open to all.


Louise McNally (language sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra)

“Decomposing Aesthetic (and Other) Adjectives”
In this talk I discuss some work I have been carrying out with Isidora Stojanovic and Berit Gehrke. As a prelude to a discussion of what makes a judgment aesthetic, we have asked what potentially subject-dependent meaning components adjectives have and on the basis of an analysis of these components divide adjectives into various subclasses. The resulting classification is rather more fine-grained than what we have seen in the aesthetics literature. While the question of what is involved in an aesthetic judgment is somewhat orthogonal to the specific words (in this case adjectives) used to make such a judgment, we consider it methodologically important to ensure that any philosophical discussion properly controls for possible confounds from the nuances of the linguistic data, and indeed we might hope that a clearer picture of the data might result in clearer answers to the philosophical questions.

Alexandra Plakias (philosophy, Northern Institute of Philosophy, University of Aberdeen)

“A Little Less Conversation: Relativism and Data”
In the debate over relativism about aesthetics and morality, much is made of our intuitions regarding whether two people ‘really’ disagree, or are ‘really’ contradicting one another. I argue that, as typically used, appeals to such intuitions are problematic, since there is good reason to doubt whether our intuitions track semantic features of these discourses. I suggest an alternative route to relativism, one which is empirically informed but does not rely on intuitions about dialogues or utterances. Along the way, I raise some methodological issues regarding philosophers’ use of empirical data.

Kevin Tobia (philosophy, Oxford University)

“The More You Know, The Less It Matters: Mystery, Wonder, and Value”
Can knowing less about something make it seem more valuable? In the case of art, it might appear that just the opposite is true; the more we are told about a piece of art, the more we appreciate and value it. Linguistic or textual accompaniment to art often, in addition to other functions, aims to achieve such an effect. But perhaps knowing less about an object also invokes a sense of mystery, one that inspires wonder. Might this even lead to greater aesthetic appreciation and valuation? In a field study conducted at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford I tested this hypothesis, that in at least some cases, knowing less about a work of art or an object increases its perceived mystery and felt feelings of emotional wonder towards the object, resulting in greater attributions of aesthetic value to the object.


To make the workshop more family-friendly, childcare has been arranged for participants who need it. Please contact us for more details.

This event is a part of the Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics and Human Nature project workshops, supported by Marie Curie Action Grant PIIF-GA-2012-328977.

Aestheticians and Museums

Aestheticians and museums do not cross paths as often as you might expect.

Sure, there have been some notable interactions. Richard Wollheim‘s Painting as an Art (1987) resulted from his invited lectures at the National Gallery of Art. (Though I am not aware of anything as high-profile since.) Recently, some aestheticians have done an impressive job integrating their research with events at museums. Nola Semczyszyn curated an exhibit on nature, aesthetics, and technology. Christy Mag Uidhir and Cynthia Freeland hosted a conference on printmaking and aesthetics in association with The Museum of Print History. Hans Maes organized a colloquium on the ethics and aesthetics of erotic art in conjunction with the Shunga exhibit at The British Museum. Nevertheless, compared to art historians, interactions with museums seem to be rarities for philosophical aestheticians.

I wonder why this is.

As I see it, there exist quite a few common interests between aestheticians and curators. Both are interested in the psychology of audience participation. Both want to understand — though perhaps for different ends — how people perceive, how people imagine, how people emotionally react, and how people learn. Both are also interested in the relationship between the artworld and the arts, and their relationships with societal issues such as race, gender, and class. Finally, both are interested in answering — albeit in different ways — fundamental questions about the nature of art and aesthetic value.

Indeed, as the domain of philosophical aesthetics extends beyond the fine arts, there seem to be more opportunities for aestheticians to interact with museums beyond the fine arts ones. Philosophers who scoff at the beautiful might find The Museum of Bad Art or The Trash Museum to be ideal companions. Philosophers who write about photography and film — both of which are now established subjects in aesthetics — might find their match in media museums. Philosophers who work on the intersection between aesthetics, perception, and technology might find the collections in science museums complementary to their own research. Finally, elsewhere I have speculated about the possibility of harnessing the data that museums are making openly accessible to find philosophically-interesting patterns.

Still, none of these possibilities are realized yet, as far as I know. So I am still wondering.

  • Are there other examples of fruitful interactions between aestheticians and museums?
  • Why have philosophical aestheticians been relatively absent from museums?
  • What can philosophers offer curators and other museum professionals, if any?
  • What can working with museums do for philosophical progress, if any?

[x-posted at Aesthetics for Birds; please comment there!]