About Me

I teach Philosophy at the University of York and my Erdős number is 6. I teach and research on the arts and cognition. I have finished (perhaps nearly finished) a book on fiction and knowledge, and started a new one: Aesthetics: A Naturalistic Theory. I am executive editor of Mind & Language.

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New Papers

My most recent paper, Pictures and their surfaces is now out in a volume of essays on the aesthetics of painting. See a copy of this here here.

Learning from Fiction

Our Leverhulme-funded project on "learning from fiction" started in September 2018. Go to the Research page for more detail.

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Stefan Banach and Otton Nikodym discuss the Lebesgue integral, Planty Gardens, Kraków, 1916

Because of a debate about books with few (in this case no) female characters, we were reminded last week that Lord of the Flies has shaped the view of power enjoyed by several generations of English-speaking children. They would have got a different perspective from Ballantyne’s Coral Island had they read it. Ballantyne’s didactic expression of colonial hope would hardly get on the syllabus these days but Golding’s novel seems to have been there forever; preferred originally, I presume, because it seemed to offer a morally bracing opportunity to look at the darkness of reality.

How real is it? Very real thinks Lucy Kellaway (FT 28 May 2016); she cites it as ‘evidence” (along with “fiction” in general) against the argument of Dacher Keltner’s The Paradox of Power which argues that power goes typically to those best able to use it for the common good. Is Lord of the Flies a good source of evidence here? I don’t think that the vast body of mystery novels enjoyed over the last century and a half are evidence that murders are usually committed by fiendishly intelligent people whose crimes are detected by amateur sleuths of equally amazing capacity.

Kellaway also cites as evidence “the world as commonly observed”. I suspect that this will turn out to be, in good measure, the world understood in the light of Lord of the Flies. We can all, it is true, cite cases from real life that contradict Keltner’s thesis, but that may be because acquisitions of power by the wrong people are so much more available to memory than the unremarkable cases when things went well.

I don’t say Keltner is right. But Lord of the Flies is no better evidence than Coral Island would be.

Research

My current big research project is a book, Signs of Agency, under contract with Oxford University Press. My book Imagining and Knowing: the Cognitive Power of Fiction, will appear with Oxford University Press shortly.

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Talks

I regularly speak at academic and public events. In 2019 I am giving a number of public lectures, colloquium talks, conference and workshop papers.

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Books

I have published books dealing with fiction, film, imagination, and the arts. My most recent book is Narratives and Narrators: A Philosophy of Stories, published by Oxford University Press.

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