I am a PhD candidate in Philosophy at the University of Miami.
My main areas of research include: Metaphysics (especially feminist metaphysics, social ontology and metaontology), Aesthetics (particularly art ontology and metaontology, aesthetic disagreement, and issues related to parody, subversion, and appropriation), Philosophy of Language (primarily conceptual engineering/ethics, metalinguistic negotiation, and verbal disputes), the philosophy of race, gender, and disability (especially with regard to metaphysics and language) and metaphilosophy (as it pertains to the aforementioned topics).
I also have interests in Social Philosophy, Disability Studies, Philosophy of Law (specifically the nature of Fair Use and Copyright Law), Ancient Philosophy, Feminist Philosophy, the Philosophy of Sex and Love, Philosophy of Science, and 19th-20th century Existentialism.
Here's a little something I wrote for the blog Aesthetics For Birds.
My last name looks much harder to pronounce than it is. "Can't" "a-la" "mess-a"
I grew up in Houston, Texas. I started my academic career at San Jacinto Community College and I received my B.A. and M.A. in Philosophy at the University of Wyoming.
In my spare time I like to read continental philosophy, run, travel, hang out with my cat, play classic video games, and follow Bob Dylan around on tour.
Please email me if you would like a copy of any of these papers.
APPROPRIATION ART, FAIR USE, AND METALINGUISTIC NEGOTIATION (FORTHCOMING, BRITISH JOURNAL OF AESTHETICS)
Appropriation art (AA) involves the use of pre-existing works of art with little to no transformation. Works of AA (often) fail to satisfy established criteria for originality, such as creative labor and transformative use. As such, appropriation artists are often subject to copyright lawsuits and defend their work under the fair use doctrine of US copyright law. In legal cases regarding AA and fair use, judges lack a general principle whereby they can determine whether or not the offending party has ‘transformed’ the original work in order to qualify as creating a new work. Further, it is not the case that there is some antecedent fact that could determine the outcome one way or another. I diagnose debates surrounding the originality of works of AA as cases of “metalinguistic negotiation” over what concepts we should attach to terms like ‘copy’, ‘transformative’, and ‘work of art’.
DISABILITY STUDIES, CONCEPTUAL ENGINEERING, AND CONCEPTUAL ACTIVISM (FORTHCOMING IN INQUIRY: AN INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY)
In this project I am concerned with the extent to which conceptual engineering happens in domains outside of philosophy, and if so, what that might look like. Specifically, I’ll argue that practitioners working in the interdisciplinary field of “disability studies” as well as disability rights activists have been engineering the concept DISABILITY. Claims made by theorists working in disability studies appear to contradict both common sense and academic beliefs about disability. I provide a framework for understanding the methodology and practices of theorists working in disability studies that pays attention to what theorists are doing when they make seemingly paradoxical claims. I’ll argue that such claims are not describing what it’s like to have a disability, but pragmatically advocating against biased conceptions of disability and are best understood as a form of conceptual activism. I then argue that debates about the proper model of disability from within disability studies exhibit the markers of conceptual engineering and are better understood as “advocating” for certain conceptual schemata rather than merely reporting quasi-scientific discoveries about disability. I conclude by suggesting that normative analyses from disability studies provide a useful example for philosophers interested in conceptual engineering.
INNOVATIVE ART AND AESTHETIC DISAGREEMENT
I argue that the presentation of innovative and subversive artworks functions as a type of non-linguistic stipulation, whereby objects are ‘stipulated’ as possible candidates for art-hood. I’ll argue that because innovative artworks aim to establish themselves as art worthy they bring with them pervasive and, to a certain degree, irresolvable disagreement. Disagreements incited by innovative works are best understood as a type of “conceptual negotiation” because the conceptual problems raised by such works enable audiences to draw out their implicit metaphysical, aesthetic, and ethical commitments regarding some art kind or concept such that no one agent has the “final” say.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT: THE ROLE OF PUBLICS IN ART AND SCIENCE (WITH TY BRANCH)
Evolving expectations of publics have impacted how art experts conceptualize aesthetic features and aesthetic value. In a shift from envisioning publics as passive appreciators of aesthetic value, within the last half-century, publics have come to be seen as active and capable, taking on a contributory role in art. We draw attention to a parallel shift in science with regard to how publics were once perceived as passive but have increasingly become active contributors of epistemic value and show this using an example in contemporary art. We conclude that an increased role for publics in denying aesthetic features can help publics understand aesthetic value, ultimately improving aesthetic literacy.
ON THE METAONTOLOGY OF SOCIAL KINDS: WHAT WE'RE DOING WRONG WHEN WE ARGUE ABOUT SOCIAL KINDS
In this project I diagnose disputes in social ontology regarding the nature of social kinds (focusing on gender and race) as suffering from a defect in self understanding. Specifically, I suggest that theorists have been led by methodological constraints stemming from natural kind metaphysics to unduly focus on the referents of social kind terms and concepts. I’ll argue that metaphysicians ought to shift their primary focus from giving a general account of reference to the values that inform their methodological commitments, and show how that such considerations have been their concern all along.
INNOVATION IN ART AND CONCEPTUAL ENGINEERING
Conceptual engineering is often framed as the introduction of new concepts (e.g., Scharp 2013, Haslanger 2010). Due to the constraints of metasemantic externalism, deliberate conceptual innovation seems to be a near-impossible task (Cappelen 2018). In this paper I draw an analogy between innovation in the arts, including the instantiation of new art kinds, and conceptual innovation, such as that proposed by canonical conceptual engineers. I’ll first show what sorts of metasemantic and metaontological features enable innovation in the arts, while acknowledging that no one agent is in control of those features. I’ll then draw on insights from my analysis to better understand how conceptual innovation can obtain. Conceptual engineering understood in this way does not entail that the activity is impossible, however, it not something done by individual agents. I conclude that some kinds (particularly social and artifactual kinds) are historical traditions (Evnine 2015) and are better suited for a “metaphysics-first” model of conceptual engineering.
AFFORDANCES AND IDEOLOGY: TOWARD AN ECOLOGICAL APPROACH TO GENDER
Recent debates in epistemology of perception over whether or not agents can directly perceive the environment as soliciting actions have reanimated J.J. Gibson’s theory of “affordances.” Affordances are properties of objects that agents perceive and which are a function of the possibilities for action for that agent. In this paper I focus on how affordances emerge in the relation between an agent and her environment, and can have normative or prescriptive features. My goal in this paper is to explore in further detail the social dimension of affordances and their relation to Sally Haslanger’s (2012) theory of social structures and ideology. I conclude by suggesting ways my account of affordances can provide a novel explanation of the nature of gender and oppressive social structures more broadly.
"WHO IS (REALLY) DISABLED?" VERBAL DISPUTES AND CONCEPTUAL ENGINEERING
In this paper I compare the subscript gambit method of elimination with metalinguistic negotiation on debates about the proper model of disability from disability studies. Doing so enables us to see the cluster of functions and properties that are expressed by different conceptions of disability. These are the properties or functions that theorists aim at engineering or evaluating. As it turns out, there is no one conception of disability all things considered. Consequently, metalinguistic negotiation can explain the pragmatic significance of debates in disability studies (which is engaged in conceptual ethics/engineering) that doesn’t force us to interpret theorists as making assertions about the nature of ‘disability’ simpliciter.
AN INFERENTIALIST APPROACH TO CONCEPTUAL ENGINEERING (WITH JARED RIGGS)
In this paper, we introduce and motivate an inferentialist approach to conceptual engineering. Lots of philosophers have recently turned their attention to questions regarding which concepts we ought to use and how our current concepts could be improved (see Burgess and Plunkett (2013a, 2013b), Thomasson (forthcoming), Haslanger (2010), Cappelen (2018)). But relatively little attention has been paid to how foundational questions about the nature of concepts and discursive practice themselves should shape our view of conceptual engineering. Indeed, we think that most existing work on conceptual engineering assumes a representationalist picture of concepts, where their main job is to allow us to represent different carvings of logical space. It’s our view that bringing the literature on conceptual engineering into conversation with the inferentialist understanding of our concepts and discursive practices articulated by Brandom (1994, 2000) will give us a better picture than is currently available of what conceptual engineers are up to, what is worthwhile about their work, and how conceptual engineering relates to ordinary discursive activity.
REWRITING THE PREFACE PARADOX AS EPISTEMIC ABSURDITY
In this paper I consider an alternative solution to the preface paradox that employs insights from epistemic modal logic. I propose that the preface author is in fact expressing that, while she is justified in each individual claim in her book, she knows that she may in fact be wrong about at least one claim. She cannot, on the basis of this realization, revise her beliefs. The doxastic situation illustrated by the preface paradox emerges when an agent takes an “external” perspective on her beliefs. In taking this evaluative external perspective on her beliefs an agent still retains her “internal” justifications for those beliefs. As such, her epistemic situation should be described as absurd but not irrational. By rephrasing the paradox in this way we can vindicate the paradoxical element in the preface case while illustrating why it is a valuable and rational (para)consistency. Consequently, my approach retains the upshot of unifying the preface paradox with other rational paradoxes, like the lottery paradox.
Contact me for Syllabi
MEANING OF LIFE (ONLINE)
In this course we will explore how various philosophers in the so-called Western tradition have approached questions concerning the meaning and purpose of life. We will also use critical thinking skills to analyze and evaluate philosophical texts, ideas, and arguments.
Some questions we will investigate: What features are necessary for having a meaningful life? What does it mean to be authentic? Does life need to have a purpose in order to have meaning? Is happiness merely subjective? Can there be meaning in life without God? What is the significance of death?
CONTEMPORARY MORAL ISSUES (ONLINE)
Introductory ethics course cover topics in: metaethics, normative theory, applied ethics; at the University of Houston-Downtown
INTRO TO PHILOSOPHY (2)
Introduction class covering topics in: ancient philosophy, social epistemology, social ontology, philosophy of race, metaphysics, existentialism, and aesthetics; at the University of Houston-Downtown
THE PHILOSOPHY OF RICK AND MORTY (ONLINE)
In this class we will use the animated Sci-Fi show “Rick and Morty” as a vehicle to explore core philosophical themes, ideas, and arguments. On our journey we’ll explore some of the following sci-fi topics through a philosophical lens: virtual reality, space and time travel, multiverses, artificial intelligence, immortality, morality, the technological enhancement of human nature (e.g., cloning, genetic engineering, cyborgs), posthumanism, and more; at the University of Wyoming
THE PHILOSOPHY OF LOVE (ONLINE)
In this course, we will look at love from different ethical, psychological and neuroscientific perspectives. Among other things we will look at what distinguishes different kinds of love from each other, how love is manifested psychologically and neuro-physiologically, what chemicals drive feelings of love and obsession and why it can be so difficult to recover from a breakup. The course can satisfy the Introduction to Philosophy cognate and the Ethics in Society cognate, if you use a cognate substitution form. This is a writing course.
Summer 2019 at the University of Miami
Survey of canonical texts from 19-20th century existentialism. Spring 2019, University of Miami
Survey of canonical texts in modern philosophy.
Spring 2019 at the University of Miami
GET IN TOUCH
Contact me if you have any questions or interests regarding my in work in progress, course offerings, or any other inquires.
ecantalamessa86 [at] gmail [dot] com