I am a philosophy adjunct at the University of Houston-Downtown and the University of Wyoming as well as a PhD candidate in Philosophy at the University of Miami.
My main areas of research include: Metaphysics, especially metametaphysics, feminist metaphysics, social ontology, phenomenology, and metaontology. Aesthetics, particularly aesthetic normativity, art meta/ontology, aesthetic disagreement, and issues related to humor, parody, subversion, and appropriation. Philosophy of Language, primarily nonrepresentationalism, humor, conceptual engineering and ethics, metalinguistic negotiation, conceptual content, and disagreement. The Philosophy of Race, Gender, and Disability, especially with regard to metaphysics and language. Meta-philosophy, as it pertains to the aforementioned topics.
I have additional interests in Social Philosophy, Disability Studies, Philosophy of Law (specifically the nature of Fair Use and US Copyright Law, as well as disability policies and laws), Ancient Philosophy, Feminist Philosophy, the Philosophy of Sex and Love, Philosophy of Science, German Idealism, and 19th-20th century Existentialism.
I also enjoy writing philosophy for a general audience.
Here's a piece I wrote for Psyche about the significance of aesthetic disagreement for enriching our lives.
I grew up in Houston, Texas. I began my academic journey 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 camp, hike, and take road trips in my 1978 Dodge Tradesman with my cat Chrundle the Great.
My last name looks much harder to pronounce than it is:
"can't" "a-la" "mess" "ah".
Here we are out camping in north Wyoming.
PUBLIC PHILOSOPHY, ARTICLES, AND DRAFTS
Please email me if you'd like a draft or pre-print.
DEBATING BON JOVI'S CHEESINESS WILL ENRICH YOUR CONCEPTUAL LIFE
In this piece for Psyche I argue that aesthetic terms do not function to represent properties in the world but as proposals for how we should treat valuable items in the world. Because of this, disagreements involving aesthetic terms are inevitable. However, this inevitability is a virtue because it enables us to draw out ways the world might or should be, thus freeing us from the way the world is. Also, communities that debate the quality of speedruns are doing the same sort of thing as academic philosophers.
APPROPRIATION ART, FAIR USE, AND METALINGUISTIC NEGOTIATION 2020
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 2021
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.
IS THIS (REALLY) ART? AESTHETIC DISAGREEMENT AND CONCEPTUAL NEGOTIATION
For the online blog Aesthetics for Birds
In this piece I argue that disagreements involving the term 'art' exhibit the markers of conceptual negotiation. Conceptual negotiations are debates over how we should think and talk using some term, and as such are not settled by antecedent facts (such as how we have used the term in the past).
ART AS CONCEPTUAL ENGINEERING
Here's a version I presented for the ARCHÉ Webinar Series on Conceptual Engineering
In this paper I argue that our engagement in debates about art can be fruitfully understood along the same lines as debates in conceptual engineering. Proposals in conceptual engineering are not to be evaluated on the basis of their ability to track empirical essences but on the basis of a concept’s epistemic, pragmatic, or political merits. In the same way, we should view membership in the category ‘work of art’ as well as subcategories such as ‘folk art’ and ‘sculpture’ not as a fact to be discovered but a decision to be made. speakers to convey, endorse, and negotiate semantic and behavioral norms. I conclude by showing how this parallel understanding of art and conceptual engineering sheds light on more general issues for conceptual engineers, such as the role of authority in the legitimization of new concepts and philosophical questions.
INVERTING THE IMPLEMENTATION CHALLENGE FOR CONCEPTUAL ENGINEERS:
LESSONS FROM THE DISABILITY RIGHTS MOVEMENT
In this paper I survey some empirical and theoretical work on the “Implementation Gap” that arose between the design and adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act, touted as an important component in combatting the attitudinal and structural barriers that impact people with disabilities. I then provide a new set of challenges for conceptual engineers interested in successful implementation.
CONCEPTUAL ENGINEERING FOR ANTI-REPRESENTATIONALISTS (WITH JARED RIGGS)
Our aim in this paper is to offer a characterization of conceptual engineering that does not restrict it to representational devices. We argue that such an account both does a better job of making sense of concepts that are obviously not representational, provides an illuminating new way to understand communicative devices that also play some representational role. This account makes it clearer why conceptual engineering matters, what conceptual deficiency amounts to, and how it relates to everyday discourse and disagreement.
PRAGMATIST FEMINIST METAPHYSICS
In this paper I introduce and defend a pragmatist methodology for projects in feminist metaphysics, drawing on pluralism about disability concepts.
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.
MOCKUMENTARY AS REVISIONISM:
THE CASE OF MARTIN SCORSESE’S ROLLING THUNDER REVIEW: A BOB DYLAN STORY
What does it mean for an artist to use historical footage of their own past to rewrite their history? In this paper I analyze Martin Scorsese’s recent film Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story (RTR) in relation to the fiction/non-fiction divide in the philosophy of documentary film. I’ll argue that Scorsese’s film poses problems for the three dominant theoretical frameworks in the philosophy of documentary film (Currie (1999), Nichols (2010), and Carroll (1997)). RTR uses historical footage (or traces) of its primary subject in order to rewrite that subject’s history while simultaneously painting a contemporary portrait of one of the most influential and enigmatic artists of the past century. Further, and perhaps most crucially, the main subject in the narrative is himself privy to and part of the revisionist process. I'll argue that the "fiction/nonfiction dichotomy brings more problems than it solves and should be replaced by Nguyen's notion of aesthetic trust.
AFFORDANCES AND IDEOLOGY: TOWARD AN ECOLOGICAL APPROACH TO GENDER
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.
A NORMATIVIST MODEL OF AESTHETIC DISAGREEMENT
In this paper I propose a normativist treatment of aesthetic disagreement. I’ll argue that authored works play certain roles in rule-based social practices of aesthetic classification and appreciation. Art works function like thought-experiments in philosophy: both involve hypothetical scenarios that enable us to assess whether a given aesthetic category or term should or should not apply. This is why artworks bring with them pervasive, and to a certain extent irresolvable, disagreements. I’ll argue that the point of these disputes lies not in amassing true beliefs about the aesthetic properties of the requisite works or compelling one's interlocutor to agree, but in improving one's competency with the rules governing our thought, talk, and behavior. Further, disputants enact their aesthetic agency in attempting to “spell out” how their reasons “hang together” when debating with others. Disagreement, then, is an essential aspect of our discursive and evaluative practices.
REWRITING THE PREFACE PARADOX AS EPISTEMIC ABSURDITY
In this paper I argue that 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. Consequently, my approach retains the upshot of unifying the preface paradox with other rational paradoxes, like the lottery paradox.
MEANING AS GENRE
In this paper I propose a diachronic model of meaning that draws on insights from the metaphysics of genres and artistic traditions. I also discuss some upshots of this view of meaning for projects in conceptual engineering.
BRANDOM AND KIERKEGAARD ON THE LIMITS OF FORGIVENESS
Paper exploring how Kierkegaard's meta-ethics reveals the limitations of Robert Brandom's theory of forgiveness and reconciliation.
ON AESTHETIC DISAGREEMENT
In this paper I introduce and motivate a pragmatist method for philosophizing about aesthetic disagreement. I argue that disagreement should be modeled as a practical activity or process, and show how this conception of disagreement avoids many of the puzzles faced by views that prioritize semantics.
I am also working on a series of essays that blend together cultural critique, continental philosophy, and analytic philosophy of language. Some topics include: Post-Truth Irony, Alcoholism and Cultural Malaise, Existentialism as Expressivism, Phenomenology as Metaethics, Humor and Camusian Defiance, and The Unbearable Weight of Externalist Metasemantics.
Please Contact Me for Syllabi
Summer 2021 Summer course exploring the relationship between comedy and authority. Topics to be explored include: the political significance of satire, the nature of parody, ethics and jokes, Copyright law, speech acts, and genres; at the University of Wyoming.
According to Simi Linton, disability is a linchpin in our social, personal, and institutional systems. Likewise, Tobin Siebers has argued that disability functions as a "critical concept" because it raises problems for many of the concepts and values we take for granted as natural or normal. In this class we will use disability as the theoretical lens through which we'll explore canonical issues and texts in analytic philosophy including: conceptual holism, externalist metasemantics, metametaphysics, philosophy of language, autonomy, personhood, and testimony. Upper-division philosophy seminar exploring the intersection of disability studies and analytic philosophy. Cross-listed with Disability Studies 4990. University of Wyoming Fall 2021
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 BLACK MIRROR (ONLINE)
In this class we will use the Netflix Dystopian Sci-Fi show Black Mirror as a vehicle to explore core philosophical themes, ideas, and arguments. On our journey we’ll investigate various sci-fi topics through a philosophical lens: what it means to be human, privacy, artificial intelligence, free will, human enhancement, and simulated reality. Reflection on these topics will connect us with important philosophical questions about the nature of reality, meaning in life, love, the relationship between mind and body, the permissibility of paternalism, notions of personhood and personal identity, and the significance of death.
An upper-division philosophy and science fiction course taught using the Netflix series Black Mirror. University of Wyoming, Summer 2020.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF RICK AND MORTY (ONLINE)
In this class we will explore some of the philosophical themes and problems illustrated by the show “Rick and Morty”. We'll tackle some of the following topics through a philosophical lens: multiverses, absurdism, virtual reality, nihilism, time travel, artificial intelligence, immortality, post-humanism (e.g., cloning, genetic engineering, cyborgs), 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
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?
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
Humor and Authority
My dissertation introduces, motivates, and defends a social pragmatist account of humor, arguing that humor occupies a special relationship to normativity (understood as socially-instituted). I will provide a transcendental argument that shows how the capacity to recognize and perform humorous acts arises alongside the capacity for discursiveness, because both are products of the social-perspectival nature of self-consciousness. Humor arises in discursive communities and invokes distinctly meta-normative attitudes in its audience. We can use humor to can indicate, without explaining, problems with first-order social, political, or ethical practices. I contrast my account of humor with the dominant, representationalist, views to show that the permissibility of a joke is a matter of socially-conferred and acknowledged entitlements, rather than the content of the expression, the meaning of the terms, or the intentions of the jokester. I also argue that humor is a cultural technology that can transmit morally and politically transformative truths that cannot be expressed or justified propositionally.
GET IN TOUCH
Contact me if you have any questions or interests regarding my work in progress, course offerings, or any other inquires.
ecantalamessa86 [at] gmail [dot] com