Beyond Resemblance (Philosophical Review 122:2, 2013)
What is it for a picture to depict a scene? The most orthodox philosophical theory of pictorial representation holds that depiction is grounded in resemblance. A picture represents a scene in virtue of being similar to that scene in certain ways. I present evidence against this claim: curvilinear perspective is one common style of depiction in which successful pictorial representation depends as much on a picture's systematic differences with the scene depicted as on the similarities; it cannot be analyzed in terms of similarity alone. The same problem arises for many other kinds of depiction. I conclude that depiction in general is not grounded in resemblance, but geometrical transformation.
Varieties of Iconicity (with Valeria Giardino, Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 6:1, 2015)
This introductory essay aims to familiarize readers with basic dimensions of variation among pictorial and diagrammatic representations. We highlight two axes of variation: first, variation among the rules which characterize different systems of representation; and second, variation among the use properties associated with different systems. We illustrate these dimensions of difference first for the case of logical diagrams, and second for the case of perspectival drawing.
Conventions of Viewpoint Coherence in Film (with Sam Cumming and Rory Kelly, Philosopher's Imprint, 17:1, 2017)
This paper examines the interplay of semantics and pragmatics within the domain of film. Films are made up of individual shots strung together in sequences over time. Though each shot is disconnected from the next, combinations of shots still convey coherent stories that take place in continuous space and time. How is this possible? The semantic view of film holds that film coherence is achieved in part through a kind of film language, a set of conventions which govern the relationships between shots. In this paper, we develop and defend a new version of the semantic view. We articulate it for a pair of conventions that govern spatial relations between viewpoints. One such rule is already well-known; sometimes called the "180° Rule," we term it the X-Constraint; to this we add a previously unrecorded rule, the T-Constraint. As we show, both have the effect, in different ways, of limiting the way that viewpoint (or camera position) can shift through space from shot to shot over the course of a film sequence. Such constraints, we contend, are analogous to relations of discourse coherence that are widely recognized in the linguistic domain. If film is to have a language, it is a language made up of rules like these.
Content and Target in Pictorial Representation (forthcoming in Ergo)
This paper argues for a model of pictorial representation which aims to explain the relationship between pictorial content and pictorial accuracy. Focusing on cases where pictures are intended to convey accurate information, the model distinguishes between two fundamental representational relations: on one hand, a picture expresses a content; on the other, it aims at a target scene. Such a picture is accurate when the content it expresses fits the target scene it aims at. In addition, the model follows the traditional division of content into two aspects: singular content specifies the particular individuals which a picture is of, and attributive content specifies the properties and relations which the picture ascribes to those individuals. For a picture to be accurate, both aspects must be matched in the target. I call this the Three-Part Model because it distinguishes between the triad of factors, singular content, attributive content, and target, which together determine pictorial accuracy. While previous work on depiction has not recognized the distinctive role played by target, I will argue that this concept is essential in order to make sense of accuracy judgements across a range of central cases.
Counterfactuals and Modality (under review)
This paper calls attention to linguistic interactions between counterfactual conditionals, on one hand, and possibility modals like could have and might have, on the other. These data, I argue, present a serious challenge to the popular variably strict semantic analysis of counterfactual conditionals. The same evidence instead supports a new version of the strict conditional semantics, which I call the unified strict analysis. According to the unified strict analysis, counterfactuals are analyzed as strict conditionals, that is, as restricted universal quantifiers over worlds; possibility modals are analyzed as existential quantifiers over worlds; and counterfactuals and possibility modals share a single, contextually determined quantificational domain. I'll argue that pragmatic explanations of the same data which support the unified analysis are not available to the variable analysis. And putative counterexamples to the unified analysis, on careful inspection, in fact support it. Ultimately, the semantics of conditionals and modals must be linked together more closely than has been assumed, and, I argue, the unified analysis is the only way to fully achieve this.
The Geometry of Pictorial Representation (under review)
This paper develops the thesis that pictorial representation is grounded in the geometrical transformation of projection from a viewpoint. This idea is articulated as a semantic principle, here termed the Projection Principle. Understanding pictorial contents as viewpoint-centered spaces, the principle holds, roughly, that for a picture to express a space as content, the picture itself must be a geometrical projection of that space. As a corollary, for a picture to accurately depict a given scene, it must be possible to derive the picture by geometrical projection from that scene. I'll argue that the Projection Principle provides the spatial and chromatic foundation for any further elaboration of pictorial content, a level of structure characteristic of all forms of pictorial representation. The thesis of the essay is largely aligned with recent projection-based proposals by Hyman (2006), Kulvick (2006), and Greenberg (2013), but contrasts with standard resemblance and perceptual theories of depiction.
The Structure of Visual Content (under review)
This essay defends a structured theory of visual content, analogous to structured theories of propositions from the philosophy of language. Visual contents take the form of what I call perspectival feature maps. The proposal builds on work in perceptual science and philosophy that analyzes visual representation in terms of feature maps, two-dimensional arrays populated with representations of features in the environment. Perspectival feature maps develop and extend this idea in a novel way, adding a distribution of viewpoint-centered directions into the structure of the array itself, and allowing that regions of the array are linked to objects, properties, and relations. I motivate the structured analysis by showing how unstructured theories of visual content, like those which identify perceptual content with sets of centered-worlds, falter over impossible images and percepts. At the same time, theories which identify visual contents with concrete scenarios are overly committal, unable to capture normal indeterminacy in depth perception. Structured visual content, I argue, gets both phenomena right. The resulting proposal helps to illuminate what is distinctive about the category of visual representation across modalities, including visual perception, mental imagery, perceptual memory, and pictures.
Visual Objects (work in progress)
Introduction to Philosophy of Mind (Phil 7)
Introduction to Theory of Computation (Phil 133)
Philosophy of Visual Representation (Phil 161)