Dr Jon Phelan


College position:

Director of Studies in Philosophy

Dr Jon Phelan
Dr Jon Phelan

Jon’s research interests are in the philosophy of literature and relate to the many philosophical questions that can be asked about literature. Some examples include:  What is literature? What is a literary canon? What separates literature from fiction? Does a literary work’s moral value affect its literary value? Where does literature stand in relation to truth, knowledge or understanding? What is the nature of metaphor and other literary devices?

His main pursuit in recent years has been to develop an epistemology of the study of literature and defend such a study as a sophisticated affair that is too often overlooked or diminished. A lot of his research comes close to literary criticism. At present, he is interested in the fallacious nature of pathetic fallacy, and in types of juxtaposition.

Research Interests

In addition to his work on the epistemology of reading literature, Jon is wondering whether engaging in literary criticism can make us a better person by cultivating intellectual virtues that may be exercised in ethical deliberation and decision making. At the same time, he is working on a philosophical account of ‘abuse’ that may be of use in the public sphere.

Teaching And Professional Interests

Jon has supervised on the Cambridge Philosophy Tripos for over a decade during which time he has taught most of the non-technical papers. At the moment, he limits himself to supervising aesthetics. As someone who works both in philosophy and in education, he is also interested in the philosophy of education.

Links to online publications, articles or other work

Phelan, J. 2021 Literature and Understanding: the value of a close reading of literary texts. London: Routledge.

Phelan, J. “A. I. Richards”: Can Artificial Intelligence Appreciate Poetry? Philosophy and Literature, 2021, 25: 71-87.