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Research Interests

My primary philosophical interests lie in the field of transcendental phenomenology in the Husserlian tradition, broadly interpreted. That is to say, I am interested in the essential correlations between reality as such and the ways in which that reality is given to conscious subjects. By carrying out a detailed series of scientific investigations into the various modes of our experience, the diverse ways in which we can become aware of objects and situations in the world, phenomenologists are able to make lucid claims about the world of experience as a whole.

In particular, I am interested in the application of these phenomenological insights to what Husserl called the lifeworld, the world of our everyday experiences and concerns. In the phenomenological tradition, philosophy is by no means to be thought of as an abstract or purely theoretical enterprise, disconnected from our everyday lives. Rather, philosophy is intended to help us better our understanding of the various structures that govern these commonplace experiences. My own current research interests run in this vein. At present, I am particularly interested in exploring the valuative character of our lives, the affective or passionate elements of consciousness that stand in contrast to our experiences of merely dispassionate perception. I carry out the foundations of that task in my dissertation, but furthering this investigation continues to be a major aim of my research – both in my reading of other philosophers and for my own projects. I believe, along with Husserl and his successors, that all of these aspects of our lives are eminently worthy of rigorous philosophical investigation.

Of course, although I consider myself first and foremost to be a phenomenologist, my philosophical interests as a whole remain quite wide-ranging. In particular, I have a strong interest 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. From Gadamer’s focus on tradition to Ricœur’s investigations into the ideas of memory or translation, I find a great deal of value in incorporating the insights of these hermeneutic philosophers into my overall study of the lifeworld. I have particular research interests at this time in pursuing a hermeneutics of indirect communication, and I am currently gathering materials for a potential manuscript project on that subject.

Overall, however, I am interested in the contributions of philosophers of many different varieties to these questions of everyday experience. To give just a few examples, I hold that ideas as wide-ranging as Hegel’s notion of the self-development of thought and P. F. Strawson’s focus on the role of social practices and reactive attitudes in moral responsibility shed important light on our experiences of the world. I am interested in the arguments of any philosopher or tradition of thought that can be of assistance in understanding our everyday experiences, and so my areas of research remain, in some ways, quite broad despite my generally phenomenological focus.

In closing, I also want to note that I do not see myself primarily as a historian of philosophy or as an exegete of philosophers like Husserl or Hegel. 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 interests are, first and foremost, systematic ones. I want to carry out my philosophical inquiries in the form of a rigorous investigation into reality as it is actually experienced, using whatever methods are best fit to achieve that purpose. As phenomenologists have always remarked, we must return to the things themselves if we want our investigations to get off the ground!

Dissertation

My dissertation, successfully defended in May 2017 and soon to appear in publication, is entitled Investigations of Worth: Towards a Phenomenology of Values and stands as a work of phenomenological axiology. In this dissertation, I attempt to carry out a rigorous inquiry into our experiences of values such as beauty or virtue. These values are certainly a major part of our experiential lives; who, after all, could go even an entire day without finding some object or situation to be beautiful, or tiresome, or pleasant? Nevertheless, understanding what these values are on their own terms is a rather difficult task.

In the dissertation, I argue that a phenomenological approach to experience enables us to give a solid account of the existence and nature of such values, one that goes beyond, in many ways, the limitations of other philosophical approaches. Working in dialogue with Edmund Husserl and other phenomenologists and related thinkers (especially Max Scheler and Nicolai Hartmann), as well as with recent commentary, I develop my own account of values as lying on the phenomenological “horizons” of experience. This interpretation of values, I argue, enables us to explain how notions like beauty or unpleasantness play such a dramatic role in our everyday lives without committing us to any unwarranted ontological claims or reducing values to the level of mere opinion. As I discuss, values influence the ways in which we experience certain objects and situations in the world as valuable, causing these experiences to be given to the experiencing subject in certain distinctive manners and leading him onward to corresponding acts of volition, but are never themselves the direct objects of our experience.

Throughout my dissertation, I analyze the transcendental structures governing our valuative experiences as a means of developing a rigorous theoretical account of what all of these experiences have in common. Thereby, I uncover the fact that values stand as a wholly sui generis region of our experience, bearing important connections to other such regions, but remaining governed by unique experiential structures of their own. My project in the dissertation, accordingly, is to examine those structures rigorously, in order to determine what qualities make values such a unique part of our experiential lives. As part of this task, I investigate the various different types of values (for example, aesthetic values, moral values, sensory values, etc.), the connection between values and subjectivity, and the link between acts of valuation and acts of the will. My ultimate aim in the dissertation is to make clear – aided by the phenomenological methods developed by Edmund Husserl, as well as by insights drawn from Husserl and related philosophers – the basic role that values play in the conscious life of the experiencing subject. Thereby, I hope to prepare the way for further investigations to be made into specific regions: a phenomenology of visual art, for instance, or a phenomenological ethics.

As such, my dissertation lies clearly in line with my overarching research interests. It is concerned primarily with one quite important aspect of our daily lives: our experiences of valuable objects and situations in the world around us. By clarifying some of the difficult issues surrounding this sort of experience, I hope to prepare the way for our experiences of aesthetics, of morals, of sensual pleasures and displeasures, and so on, to be understood in a more coherent manner. After all, the ultimate goal of phenomenology is to return to “the things themselves,” i.e., to the world of ordinary experience. My dissertation, if successful, should clarify and expand on one of the more difficult to understand regions of that experience, but one which nevertheless plays an absolutely central role in our daily lives.

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