I have a BA in the history of ideas from St. John’s College (1985 – Annapolis, USA) and a BA (Hons) in philosophy from King’s College, London (1990). In between study for these degrees I completed a foundation course in fine art at the Rhode Island School of Design. After studying for my degree in philosophy I went on to Cambridge University where I completed my M.Litt. and Ph.D. degrees in philosophy (in 1991 and 1994 respectively). The focus of my postgraduate research was initially meta-ethics, but with my Ph.D I turned to aesthetics, and in particular the aesthetics of photography.
Shortly after completing my Ph.D in 1994 I took up an appointment in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen where I stayed until 2003 when I moved to the University of Kent. During this period I became increasingly interested in the history of philosophy, and in particular 17th and 18th century British philosophy.
I have also been a visiting lecturer in philosophy at the University of Latvia in Riga and was the Gillespie Visiting Professor at the College of Wooster (USA).
- Head of the School of Arts (Previous)
- Academic Representative to the University Health, Safety and Environment Consultative Committee
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My areas of teaching are closely connected with the areas in which I am actively engaged in research. Upon arriving at the University of Kent I designed several modules in aesthetics. The first, Now that is Art: Aesthetics and the Visual Arts, is an introduction to aesthetics and the philosophy of art for first year students. When I became Head of the School of Arts I handed this module over to a colleague, but it remains a vibrant and engaging introduction to questions around the value of art, and particular philosophical problems that arise in relation to the full range of visual art forms.
The second module I introduced to the University of Kent is closely connected with my primary area of research, and is entitled History and Aesthetics of Photography 1: Realism in Theory and Practice. The module combines a history of the photographic medium and its employment by artists, with consideration of the ideas of key realist theorists of photography. The question that runs through the entire module is why have so many writers and artists understood photography to be a supremely realist medium, and what does this imply about photography. The popularity of the module among students led me to design a complementary module, History and Aesthetics of Photography 2: Idealism from Pictorialism to Postmodernism, which is focused on the non-realist traditions of photographic theory and practice.
Finally I designed and convene two modules for the MA in Philosophy of Art of and Aesthetics: Taste, Beauty and the Sublime: Studies in 18th Century Aesthetics (which is also offered to students taking the MA in the 18th Century Studies organised by the School of English), and Beyond the Pale: Fakes, Forgeries and Appropriations.
My primary areas of research activity are the aesthetics of photography and the history of aesthetics (particularly the 18th Century British aesthetics). I first became interested in the former of these when, in the early stages of my postgraduate studies, I encountered the work of Roger Scruton, Kendall Walton, Stanley Cavell, and Roland Barthes of the topic. For many years prior to that I had been an avid photographer and follower of contemporary photography, and in the work of these and other writers on the medium I found intriguing and challenging positions inviting engagement. These authors introduced me to the strangeness of photography, and my research in this area has deepened my sense of this strangeness and appreciation of the complex puzzles it gives rise to. My publications in this area on the whole engage with the ideas of realist thinking about photography, of the sort represented by the authors listed above, but differ from most of them in understanding the origin of realism in the attitudes and responses of spectators to pictures with the properties of photographs. In this respect my approach to photography owes much to Andre Bazin, an often misunderstood but formative writer on the medium.
My second main area of research activity is the history of aesthetics, particularly 18th Century British aesthetics. My interests here are relatively eclectic, but include the discussion of the standard of taste by Hume and Gerard, the evolution of the concept of the sublime, and most recently the close relationship drawn between aesthetics and ethics in British philosophy of this period.
Work in progress
A monograph tracing the close relationship drawn between aesthetics and morality in the thought of the Earl of Shaftsbury, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Thomas Reid.
A monograph on the philosophy of photography, focusing on a series of issues outside of the aesthetics of photography properly conceived. In particular, I am developing chapters on the ontology of the digital photograph, the nature of photographic evidence and various issues related to stillness, motion and time (and their representation) in photography.
- Member of the AHRC Peer Review College (2004-7)
- Board Member, Lievan Gevaert Research Centre for Photography
I would be interested supervising research students in any area in the philosophy of photography (including the aesthetics of photography and photographic theory) and in the relationship between the history of the medium and theoretical writing about it. Research students pursuing topics in 18th Century British aesthetics, or contemporary aesthetics, would be welcome.
Current and recent research students:
- Anja Karina Nydal - “'Repertoires of Architects and Mountaineers: A Study of Two Professions 1567-1920.”
- Jonathan Law – A Visual History and Aesthetics of the Invisible (Ph.D)
- Cruelty and the Photographic Portrait (MA)
- Laura Smart – ‘Official’ War Art (MA)