The following organizes my papers and books topically, and provides abstracts and links where appropriate. If you can’t access an article, send me a note and I will make it available to you. I follow Tamar Gendler’s practice and star (*) articles that are my personal favorites.
The big picture
We cannot understand the varieties of representation, and their significance, without understanding their syntactic and semantic structure. In philosophy of art, philosophers tend to focus on the psychological responses viewers have to representations in relation to their contents. Philosophers of mind tend to focus on semantic content and problems with naturalizing it. Neither finds a place for syntactic structure. I develop tools for talking about syntax and try to demonstrate their value by putting them to use. Not everything I write fits into this frame, but it captures a lot. My work on philosophy of art is most influenced by Nelson Goodman, while my philosophy of mind is sourced in John Locke and Fred Dretske.
Modeling the Meanings of Pictures, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. oup
Offers an account of the many ways in which pictures can be meaningful which is inspired by the philosophy of language. Pictures are important parts of communicative acts, along with language, gesture, facial expressions, and props. They express wide ranges of thoughts, make assertions, offer warnings, instructions, and commands. Pictures are also representations. They have meanings, which help explain the range of communicative uses to which they can be put. Modelling the meanings of pictures is accounting for the ways in which pictures manage to be meaningful, with an eye toward how those meanings let us use them as we do. By framing pictures with the philosophy of language, we acquire new perspectives on the many things we can do with them. Sometimes, pictures are used as descriptions–he looks like this!–while sometimes they are used more like singular terms–find him!, while showing a mug shot. Most picture-making cultures also have iconographies, but this is usually put to one side in discussions of pictures, if it is mentioned at all. Likewise, some uses of pictures, especially in advertising, are metaphorical, and very little has been said about metaphor in pictures. Pictures are also related in important ways to other kinds of representations like maps, and this book provides a new way of understanding what makes them alike and different. By showing that pictures are very different from languages, this book also shows that the tools developed with language in mind are not actually specific to linguistic phenomena.
Images. London: Routledge, 2014 (New Problems of Philosophy Series). routledge
This book does three things. First, it provides a critical overview of philosophical theories of depiction based on experiences, recognition, resemblance, pretense, and syntactic-semantic structure. Second, it suggests that the study of pictorial representation gets more interesting, and relevant to other sub-disciplines of philosophy, if its scope expands to cover what I call the images, generally speaking. This class includes diagrams, graphs, and things like radar images as well as pictures. Third, it shows how to develop the kind of view I advocate in my earlier book to address the more general class, and thus problems in philosophy of mind and science. It works as a text for classes that deal with representation in the visual arts: experiences with pictures, the nature of depiction, pictorial realism, etc. It’s also a sustained attempt to develop and extend my own approach to these problems.
On Images: Their Structure and Content. Oxford: Clarendon Press 2006. oso oup
My first book provides an account of pictorial representation in terms of syntactic and semantic structure. Nelson Goodman tried to do this, but the results were unsatisfying, and his most polemical remarks in favor of the view managed to convince everyone else that the approach was a non-starter. I show this was a mistake. A structural approach like mine captures what makes pictures such a distinctive kind of representation. It suggests how pictures relate to other kinds of representation, like linguistic inscriptions, diagrams, and graphs. It deepens the questions about picture perception that are the focus on most other accounts of depiction, it expands our sense of what pictures are to include auditory representations, and it offers a new perspective on pictorial realism.
Maps, pictures, and predication. Ergo 2(7) (Out soon!)
Failing to indicate the presence of something in a map is tantamount to indicating its absence. Blue indicates water, and a lack of blue suggests a lack of water. No lines for highways on part of a map, which can otherwise indicate highways, indicates a lack of highways in that area. Michael Rescorla (2009) calls this the absence intuition, and claims it shows that maps cannot employ predication as languages do. This paper offers a new account of maps that respects the absence intuition without abandoning predication. Maps, pictures, and diagrams differ from language not in whether involve predication, but in how they organize predicates. Maps introduce predicates holistically, in groups, as degrees of freedom to which any location on a map must commit. This proposal uncovers norms for mapmaking, leads to the first new semantics for maps since Roberto Casati and Achille Varzi (1999), and offers a new perspective on how maps relate to pictures. Maps and pictures are alike not just in the way they represent space, but also in that they both introduce predicates holistically. This proposal relates in interesting ways to John Haugeland’s (1991) attempt to understand representational kinds in terms of features of their contents.
Analog representation and the parts principle. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 6(1): 165-180. Springer.
Analog representation is often cast in terms of an engineering distinction between smooth and discrete systems. The engineering notion cuts across interesting representational categories, however, so it is poorly suited to thinking about kinds of representation. This paper suggests that analog representations support a pattern of interaction, specifically open-ended searches for content across levels of abstraction. They support the pattern by sharing a structure with what they represent. Continuous systems that satisfy the engineering notion are exemplars of this kind because they are uninterpretable unless they are structure-preserving. Analog representations, so understood, include pictures, images, diagrams, and most graphs. This conception of analogicity also fits well with a line of thought about what makes perceptual states distinctive: they satisfy a “parts principle
Beholders’ shares and the languages of art. Meditations on a Heritage, P. Taylor, ed. London: Paul Holberton: 2014, 127 – 138. php
Nelson Goodman’s conventionalism about depiction—“anything can depict anything else”—has been caricatured by his critics, which has led to a general dismissal of his approach to understanding representation. This paper corrects the caricature by considering the debate between Goodman and Ernst Gombrich over the conventionality of linear perspective.
Twofoldness and visual awareness. Bilder – Sehen – Denken, K. Sachs-Hombach & R. Totzke, eds. Cologne: H. von Halem Verlag, 2011: 66 – 92. halem
What, if anything, makes experiences of pictures distinctive? This paper sets up a decision tree that captures the range of extant options for understanding this and suggests some others which have not been unpacked. It defends the account I suggest in my 2009 paper on Heavenly Sight. Material from this paper made its way, in significantly altered form, into Chapter 1 of my new book (2014).
Pictorial diversity. Philosophical Perspectives on Depiction. C. Abell & K. Bantinaki, eds. Oxford UP, 2010: 25 – 51. oso oup
There are many ways of depicting any given thing, and any reasonable account of depiction should accommodate this pictorial diversity. But there are also many ways of understanding ‘way of depicting’. This paper disambiguates the ways, and focuses on the most important way of understanding the platitude. It then claims that, in contrast to languages, graphs, and diagrams, the many ways of depicting things do not compete with one another, syntactically or semantically. This places an interesting constraint on accounts of pictorial representation, one which is a bigger worry for some accounts than others.
*Knowing with images: medium and message. Philosophy of Science 77(2) 2010: 295 – 313. jstor
What epistemological goals are images well-suited to pursuing, and why? This paper suggests that images are epistemically valuable not because they represent very specific states of affairs, or because they carry vast amounts of information about their subjects. What makes images valuable is that they make information about their subjects readily available across levels of abstraction. Investigating images is an excellent substitute for investigating what they represent: they are tools for thought in a way that other representations are not. My 2007 APQ paper makes a similar point about the contents of perceptual states. These two papers constitute the bridge between my work on artifacts and my work on perception.
*Heavenly sight and the nature of seeing-in. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 67(4) 2009: 387 – 397. jstor
Richard Wollheim, and many more following him, suggested that experiences of pictures are twofold, in that they involve simultaneous awareness of both the picture surface and the depicted scene. I offer a model for this “seeing-in” inspired by Renaissance discussions of sight after death. More prosaically, I suggest that we can have perceptual states that represent more than one object—the picture surface and the scene depicted—simultaneously, one in front of the other. This is interesting because both the scene and the picture are seen as being opaque. I suggest this is a reasonable way to conceive of the experience, and that this way of doing so has advantages over other approaches.
Pictorial realism as verity. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 64(3) 2006: 343 – 354. jstor
Image structure. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 61(4) 2003: 323 – 340. jstor
The material in these two papers made its way into my first book (2006). The paper on realism makes a rather simple suggestion. A picture is realistic to the extent that it represents things in a way that fits with the way we conceive of them as being, and it is unrealistic to the extent that it depicts them as being some way distinct from how we conceive them as being. This simple proposal is surprisingly helpful.
Pictorial representation. Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, 2nd ed., M. Kelly, ed. 2014, Vol. 2, 322-326. oup
Visual arts. Continuum Companion to Aesthetics. Anna Christina Ribeiro, ed., 2012: 171- 83. bloomsbury
Pictorial representation. Philosophy Compass 1(6) 2006: 535 – 546. wiley
These short pieces give opinionated overviews of the topic. They don’t repeat any other material, not even material from my new book. In each case, I’ve made an effort to frame the problems differently. I am happiest with the most recent one.
Analog representation and the parts principle. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, online first, print forthcoming.
See abstract above under the Images section.
*Perceptual content is vertically articulate. American Philosophical Quarterly 44(4) 2007: 357 – 369. jstor
How do the contents of perceptual states differ from the contents of concepts, or thoughts? I suggest that perceptual states have vertically articulate contents: they span levels of abstraction. So, a state that represents a specific shade of crimson also represents crimson, dark red, red, warm-colored, and so on. A state that represents a square shape also represents a quadrilateral shape, a cornered shape, and so on. Lexemes like ‘crimson’ represent a color that is red, but they do not represent red. This feature is not reducible to other claims made about perceptual content, for example, that it is rich and fine-grained. I make a similar point about the contents of artifact images in my 2010 Phil Science article, and together these constitute the bridge between my work on perception and my work on artifacts.
Perceptual content, information, and the primary/secondary quality distinction. Philosophical Studies 122(2) 2005: 103 – 132. jstor
This paper draws an epistemological distinction between primary qualities like shapes and secondary qualities like colors. Primary qualities are perceptually represented in a way that gives us perceptual access to their constituent structure, while secondary qualities are not. This is, I suggest, very much in line with the epistemological aspects of Locke’s primary/secondary distinction, as articulated in his Essay.
Isomorphism in information-carrying systems. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 85(4) 2004: 380 – 395. wiley
What role does syntactic structure play in understanding perceptual representation? This paper argues that perceptual states share a structure with what they represent. Specifically, I show this for perceptual states modeled by Dretske’s (1981) information theory. An information theorist cannot explain the uses to which perceptual states are put without making such a claim. This is a new argument for why perceptual states are image-like, and it is surprising because information theory, at least on the surface, requires no such thing.
Information theory. Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception, M. Matthen, ed. online 2013, print 2014.
An opinionated overview of how information theory can help us understand perception.
What is what it’s like? Introducing perceptual modes of presentation. Synthese 156(2) 2007: 205 – 229. jstor
*The nature of noise. Philosophers’ Imprint, 8(11) 2008: 1 – 16. imprint
Most accounts of sounds suggest that they are the objects of audition. They have qualities like pitch, timbre, and loudness. I suggest that sounds are qualities (dispositions, actually) of ordinary objects. Specifically, they are dispositions to vibrate in response to being mechanically stimulated. This claim is surprisingly robust, and it brings the study of sound into line with primary-quality views of color. This proposal complicates our picture of audition in a productive manner.
Sound stimulants. Perception and its Modalities, D. Stokes, S. Biggs, M. Matthen, eds, Oxford: OUP: 2014, 205 – 221. oup
This paper defends the quality view of sounds I offer in my 2008 by focusing on what some suggest is the biggest problem with the view. Specifically, sounds seem to have durations. Since qualities do not have durations, sounds are not qualities. It turns out that there is no strongly intuitive or well-defended claim that sounds have durations. Once one recognizes the role that mechanical stimulants play in the view of sounds I offer, objections from the intuition that sounds have durations become even weaker. Other objections to my view become weaker in light of the role such stimulants are meant to play.
*Artifact expression. New Waves in Aesthetics. K. Stock and K. Thomson-Jones, eds. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008: 84 – 104. palgrave connect
Imaging performance. Imagens de Uma Ausência. M. Brilhante, F. Figueiredo, & P. Magalhães, eds. Lisbon: Colibri, 2012.