Me and Elsie, one of my cats
Previously, I did my MPhil Stud in Philosophy at UCL, and my BA in Classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Before starting my MPhil, I spent two years on the Civil Service Fast Stream. You can email me at alice.harberd.19[at]ucl.ac.uk
My research is about art and aesthetic objects, and how they help and hinder us in coming to understand the world better. By 'art' I don't just mean visual art - I'm interested in music, TV, literature, theatre, dance, etc.
I am also interested in Value Theory, Normativity, Social Epistemology, Virtue theory in Ethics and Epistemology, Wittgenstein, Iris Murdoch, and Plato.
I teach courses in the UCL Philosophy Department on topics in Social Epistemology, Ethics, Aesthetics, and Ancient Philosophy.
I am also a singer - I sing soprano (high voice), mostly classical music, mostly in choirs.
My full CV can be downloaded here.
Our human ability to see the world in an aesthetic light is a wonderful thing. I am interested in how this ability interacts with our understanding.
One of my projects is about the idea that art is able to advance our understanding in distinctive ways, and that this makes art valuable. This is a version of a view called aesthetic cognitivism. Most of us have had experiences with art and aesthetic objects which we feel have helped us understand the things that matter to us. Some philosophers think this is an illusion, because when we try to put into words what we think we've learned from an experience with art, what we say often sounds a bit rubbish. But I don't think it is an illusion! Instead, I think the way we tend to speak when we summarise what we've learned is tricking us - I think it makes non-rubbish things sound rubbish.
However, I also worry that our experiences with art and the aesthetic can mislead us. In particular, I think that they can make us more vulnerable to being influenced by stereotypes, including racist and sexist stereotypes. Another of my projects investigates how our aesthetic judgements of other people can make it all too easy for us to judge them stereotypically, even if we don't want to and don't believe that the stereotypes in question are accurate.
At the moment the question I'm working on most intensely is whether there is anything about the aesthetic itself which helps us understand the world. In particular, I'm interested in whether the aesthetic moods developed in artworks can help us understand ourselves. I am thinking about things like atmospheres of romance, tragedy, confusion, and irony. I'm looking at examples like the novels of Philip Roth and Virginia Woolf, and music by Francis Poulenc and PinkPantheress. My suspicion is that these kinds of aesthetic qualities might help us understand things in our own lives by structuring them like narratives. This might support so-called "narrative" theories of the self, like those advanced by Schechtman, Dennett, MacIntyre, and others.
I am also interested in snobbery. I think that many snobbish judgements are rooted in the idea that artworks and other things we appreciate aesthetically are better if they are either complicated or difficult in some way. I'm interested in whether there is any grain of truth in this idea. Some theories of aesthetic value suggest there might be. Then, on the other hand, perhaps this means we should throw those theories out...
I teach a range of courses in the UCL Philosophy Department:
2023-4: Epistemology and Contemporary Society (guest lecture on Democracy); Ethics
I have been lucky enough to perform and record with groups including the Taverner Consort, Instruments of Time and Truth, The Marian Consort, London Choral Sinfonia, St. Martin's Voices, Sansara and Eleutherios. I also sing with the choirs at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the Tower of London Chapel, and St Brides Church.
Alongside classical singing, I enjoy Javanese Gamelan - an Indonesian percussion orchestra. I am a very rusty pesindhen (female vocal soloist) and sometimes play with Siswa Sukra at the Indonesian Embassy in London.
Some music I like: this by renaissance composer John Sheppard, this by Poulenc, this Scottish folk song, this by The Smiths, this by Ariel Pink, this by Taylor Swift, this by Tchaikovsky, this by contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan, this Javanese Gamelan piece, this American Songbook classic... I could go on!