My philosophical research focuses primarily on the field of transcendental phenomenology in the Husserlian tradition, broadly interpreted. That is, I focus on the essential correlations between reality as such and the ways in which that reality is given to conscious subjects. By carrying out rigorous investigations into the diverse ways in which we can encounter objects and situations in the world, we phenomenologists are able to make lucid claims about the world of experience as a whole. In this vein, I have published on the theoretical underpinnings of phenomenological philosophy, including a 2019 article on the identity of the so-called “transcendental ego” in dialogue between Husserl and Fink in the Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology. In particular, however, my main area of research lies in the application of these phenomenological insights to what Husserl called the lifeworld, the world of our everyday experiences and concerns.
Much of my current research, particularly my book Towards a Phenomenology of Values: Investigations of Worth (forthcoming Routledge), inquires into our experiences of values, such as beauty or virtue. Towards a Phenomenology of Values develops a novel account of values as lying on the phenomenological “horizons” of experience. This interpretation enables us to explain how notions like beauty or unpleasantness play such dramatic roles in our lives without committing us to any unwarranted ontological claims or reducing values to mere opinion. As I argue, values influence how we experience objects and situations in the world as valuable, causing these experiences to be given to the subject in certain distinctive manners and leading him onward to corresponding acts of volition. Nevertheless, such values are never themselves the direct objects of our experience.
Throughout the book, I analyze the transcendental structures governing our valuative experiences as a means of developing a phenomenological account of what all these experiences have in common. Thereby, following a brief historical introduction to the topic, the first chapter uncovers the fact that values stand as a wholly sui generis region of our experience. While valuative consciousness bears important connections to other such regions, it remains governed by unique experiential structures of its own. The second chapter delves into those structures to determine what qualities make values such a unique part of our experiential lives, focusing particularly on the way in which they lie on the horizons of valuative experience. The third chapter elaborates on that theme by distinguishing what I call pure values as meaningful structures of experience from the valuable things on which they confer meaning and by investigating the various different types of values that we experience (i.e., aesthetic values, moral values, sensory values, etc.). The fourth chapter addresses the connection between values and subjectivity; I argue that the ways in which different individuals can encounter values may differ in certain ways due to subjective characteristics without ever giving up the claim that we can also investigate (at a different level) the genuinely universal structures of values as such or invoking any sort of thoroughgoing relativism. Finally, the fifth chapter investigates the essential links between acts of valuation and acts of volition or the will, particularly with the aim of positioning values as the motivating force behind our volitional action.
My aim is to make clear the basic role that values play in the conscious life of the experiencing subject. As such, my book carries out significant systematic work in its own right and prepares the way for further investigations into specific regions of valuative experience: a phenomenology of visual art, for instance, or a phenomenological ethics. This field of phenomenological investigation is ripe for such projects, especially given the contemporary resurgence of interest in the topic due to the recent publication of some of Husserl’s late work on the subject, which my book consults in making its systematic arguments. Towards a Phenomenology of Values thus stands as, in the words of one reviewer, an “indispensable” resource “for anyone interested in the experience of values.”
The possibilities opened up by the arguments contained in my book also inform my ongoing research. I am currently researching and composing a series of articles examining the unique structures of each of the particular varieties of values that we experience. I anticipate this task in the book and have begun to carry it out in greater detail with the presentation of my paper “‘Ought-to-Be’ and ‘Ought-to-Do’: Phenomenology and the Specifically Moral Values” at the Towards a Phenomenological Ethics conference at Université Laval in September 2018. Beyond that, I intend to expand my phenomenological research to encompass other aspects of the lifeworld as well. I have recently focused on the intersections between phenomenology and the philosophy of culture. My translation of Arno Schubbach’s book on the cultural philosophy of Ernst Cassirer, The Genesis of the Symbolic, is forthcoming with de Gruyter. In addition, I am presenting a paper on the objective manifestation of values in culture, “Values, Purposeful Ideas, and Human Culture in Husserl’s Kaizō Articles,” at the upcoming Social Ontology and Objective Spirit conference, with plans to revise this paper for publication.
Although I consider myself first and foremost a phenomenologist, my philosophical work as a whole remains wide-ranging. In particular, I have a strong background in the hermeneutic tradition of philosophy, especially as it has developed in dialogue with phenomenology through the work of thinkers like Heidegger, Gadamer, and Ricœur. If phenomenology is to study the various modes of conscious experience, an equally important task is that of interpreting those experiences and their objects in meaningful ways. Accordingly, I have particular research aims at this time in pursuing a hermeneutics of indirect communication. I am in the early stages of gathering research materials for a potential manuscript on that subject. I intend for the first half of this project to trace a historical account of indirect communication running from Kierkegaard to Ricœur, which will then serve as the basis for my own systematic treatment of the topic. This hermeneutics of indirect communication can, I argue, provide an important counterpart to phenomenological investigation of our intersubjective experiences, and it will be of particular help in the task of examining how many of the values that I discuss in my current research can be shared at the level of intersubjective experience or even objective culture.
In closing, I note that I do not see myself primarily as a historian of philosophy or as an exegete of philosophers like Husserl or Ricœur. While I am deeply influenced by the great thinkers of tradition, and while I believe that a solid background in the history of philosophy is indispensable for the modern-day philosopher (see my statement on pedagogy in the Teaching section of this website), my philosophical work is, first and foremost, systematic. I carry out my own philosophical inquiries by investigating reality as it is actually experienced, using whatever methods are best fit to achieve that purpose. Naturally, this task involves paying close, rigorous attention to all the specific regions of that reality, from our experiences of value to how those experiences are conditioned by the surrounding culture. Each such investigation must take care both to analyze each set of experiences on its own terms (through what Husserl called the project of regional ontologies) as well as to preserve the essential connections that those regions bear to others within our experience. As phenomenologists have always remarked, we must return to the things themselves if we want our investigations to get off the ground.