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Michael Morris
Professor of Philosophy (Philosophy)
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T: +44 (0)1273 678247


Research

My principal current research interests are in metaphysics, philosophy of language, aesthetics, and Wittgenstein (especially the Tractatus). I also have an interest in Kant, who raises a lot of the questions I’m interested in elsewhere.

If you’d like to see me in action, my inaugural lecture, which addresses a Kantian problem, can be viewed here.

If you’re interested in doing a PhD here, I have supervised doctoral dissertations on realism, rationality, the content of states of mind, the nature of experience, transcendental arguments, and Wittgenstein's Tractatus, as well as on Plato and Aristotle; I would also be happy to supervise projects in aesthetics, particularly those on representation or art and understanding.

The principal focus of my own research is on the question of the relation between the real world and our representations of it.  I aim to defend a thoroughgoing realism (you might call it transcendental realism – this is a rejection of one major theme of my first book, The Good and the True (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)).

One place where I’ve worked this out in part is in ‘Realism and Representation: The Case of Rembrandt’s Hat’ (forthcoming in the European Journal of Philosophy). Here I argue that a certain puzzle about pictorial representation has a structure similar to the problem Kantians pose for traditional forms of realism; but a parallel to the Kantian solution is quite implausible in the pictorial case, which suggests that the Kantian response to traditional realism is not as inevitable as it initially seems.

My main current project is extending this kind of defence of realism to the relation between language and the world.  My work on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (see my Routledge GuideBook to Wittgenstein and the Tractatus, London: Routledge, 2008) led me to see that the central problem lies in the principal assumption of that work’s ‘picture theory’ of language, that language and the world have the same form.  My aim is to see what happens if this assumption, which is much more widespread than might be thought, is denied.  First steps in that project are made in ‘The Idea of Words as Signs’ (in P. Stalmaszcyk, ed., Philosophy of Language and Linguistics, Vol II: The Philosophical Turn (Heusenstamm: Ontos Verlag, 2010)).  Some of the significance of the issues here can be seen in John McDowell’s claim that the content of experience is conceptual. I criticize McDowell’s position in ‘The Question of Idealism in McDowell’ (Philosophical Topics 37 (2009)).

In addition to this central project, I have three further broad areas of interest.  The first is a wider interest in the philosophy of art: I aim to defend the view that the point of art is to enable us to understand the world.  Part of that defence appears in ‘The Meaning of Music’ (Monist 95 (2012), but I have a longer-term project called Art and Understanding, including a treatment of fiction, as well as music and pictorial representation.

(You can see me trying to make sense of something about a favourite painting here.)

I also have a long-standing interest in issues of norms and values, and connections between meta-ethics and non-ethical values.  (This was another major theme of The Good and the True.)

And I’ve always loved Plato.