Associate Professor Alison Ross

My research falls in the general area of aesthetics. Within this area I pursue projects that connect with topics from the history of modern philosophy, critical theory and theories of sensation and the image.

I have a background in Kantian aesthetics. I am particularly interested in the relation between the two parts – the critique of aesthetic judgement and the critique of teleological judgment – of Kant’s ambitious 1790 work, the Critique of Judgement. Kant’s aesthetics has its genesis in his attempt to solve technical problems in his moral philosophy. He tries to bridge the chasm between nature and freedom his first two Critiques had installed and in this way to ensure that (moral) freedom has a place in the world.

Many of the problems Kant grapples with in this work have an afterlife in contemporary philosophy that are quite distinct from the highly specific genesis of the 1790 Critique in historical debates about the dangers of moral scepticism.

In my research I focus on how certain concepts from the canon of modern philosophical aesthetics – such as sensuous form (in nature and in art), and aesthetic and moral feeling – get adapted and deployed in other areas of philosophy for treating extra-aesthetic problems. Modern philosophy hived off aesthetics to the field of ‘values’, but its relevance extends well beyond this compartmentalisation. My research projects explore the role that aesthetic concepts play in other areas of contemporary value philosophy, such as politics and ethics, as well as their potential for treating general philosophical problems, like attention, intention, action and meaning.

One of the main threads running through my different projects is the study of what makes an experience meaningful. I think that the different aspects of the Kantian definition of aesthetic experience can help to clarify what the processes and elements involved in emphatic experiences of meaning are. In particular, Kant’s technical definition of the pleasure involved in the presentation of sensuous form in his conception of aesthetic taste opens up a huge variety of ways of conceptualising how it is that the experience of sensuous form successfully communicates emphatic meaning. In a recent book on Walter Benjamin I have used Kant’s aesthetics as a critical frame to analyse and articulate Benjamin’s changing positions on the question of the communicative force of sensuous forms.

In my research projects, I try to bring together a range of perspectives from sociology, scholarship in the history of religions, hermeneutics and art criticism in order to broaden my perspective on philosophical topics and guard against intra-disciplinary insularism. I believe work in intellectual history and the history of philosophy can also be an effective counter to such parochialism.


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