I work on socially-engaged cognitive science. Photo of Shen-yi LiaoI look like the person in this photo. You can learn more about me by reading my CV or a note about my name. The latter is more fun.

I am an associate professor at University of Puget Sound. Before, I was a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow at University of Leeds, an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University, a visiting assistant professor at Kansas State University, a graduate student at University of Michigan, and an undergraduate student at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. I am from Taiwan.

I am on research sabbatical for Spring 2019. During the 2018-2019 academic year, I will be giving talks at American Society of Aesthetics, Santa Clara University, National Chung Cheng University, Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology, University of Victoria, University of Leeds, and North American Taiwan Studies Association.

Academic Philosophy

Broadly, I am interested in how minds interact with social reality. In practice, this broad interest gets me to explore connections between imagination, cognitive architecture, values, art, and more. These explorations are even more fun when I get to do it with others. Indeed, most of the research described below resulted from collaborations. My collaborators include James Andow, Florian Cova, Maggie Dalecki, Monique Deveaux, Tyler Doggett, Amanda Garcia, Tamar Szabó Gendler, Anna Ichino, Joshua Knobe, Meena Krishnamurthy, Louise McNally, Aaron Meskin, Kengo Miyazono, Sven Nyholm, Jonathan Phillips, Sara Protasi, Chandra Sekhar Sripada, and Nina Strohminger.


Humans are imaginative creatures. Imagination is central to human activities like pretense, engagement with art, and moral education. We use imagination to represent perspectives other than our own, to represent times other than the present, and to represent possibilities other than actuality (“Imagination”).

We can learn more about imagination via its role in pretense (“Pretense and Imagination”). Specifically, the best explanation of immersive pretense posits imagination as a distinctive attitude that can capture our attention (“The Imagination Box”; “Immersion is Attention”).

We can also learn more about imagination via its role in engagement with art. Consider the phenomenon of imaginative resistance, which shows that sometimes imagination can be constrained by normative judgments (“The Problem of Imaginative Resistance”; “The Cognitive Architecture of Imaginative Resistance”). For example, it is difficult to imagine that the transatlantic slave trade is morally good, even if a story says so. However, as theoretical arguments and empirical results show, contextual factors can moderate normative judgments’ constraint on imaginings (“Imaginative Resistance, Narrative Engagement, Genre”; “Empirically Investigating Imaginative Resistance”).

Finally, we can learn more about imagination via its role in moral education. Imaginative engagements with different kinds of stories can differently influence readers’ moral perspectives (“Moral Persuasion and the Diversity of Fictions”). As such, feminist criticisms of pornography should be sensitive to different types of pornography and their different effects on viewers’ attitudes (“The Fictional Character of Pornography”).

Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics

Experimental philosophy is a relatively new methodological approach that uses tools from empirical cognitive sciences to make progress in philosophy. I am particularly interested in using this approach to address questions and concerns from philosophical aesthetics (“Experimental Philosophy of Aesthetics”).

Consider how people communicate their aesthetic judgments with each other. Aesthetic adjectives like ‘beautiful’ and ‘elegant’ are central to this social enterprise. However, they are also theoretically puzzling—behavioral experiments and corpus study show that they do not fit neatly into the established linguistics paradigm on gradable adjectives (“Aesthetic Adjectives: Experimental Semantics and Context-Sensitivity”; “Aesthetic Adjectives Lack Uniform Behavior”).

Other topics investigated include the folk theory of aesthetic testimony, the structure of art concepts, the genre-sensitivity of imaginative resistance (“Empirically Investigating Imaginative Resistance”), and the relationship between morality and aesthetics (“Genre Moderates Morality’s Influence on Aesthetics”). Moreover, practicing experimental philosophy can be a fun way to bring philosophical discussions to the public (“Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics as Public Philosophy”).

Participants and materials from one of our experiments with coffee events, in collaboration with Food&_ and Laynes Espresso. One group of participants (“describers”) tasted three distinct brews of coffee and wrote down tasting notes. Another group of participants (“identifiers”) attempted to use those tasting notes to reverse-identify the three distinct brews. Photos by Justin Slee. Images of participants and materials from one of the experiments with coffee events


A cognitive architecture specifies the representational medium of thought. One popular approach to model representational content is as sets of possible worlds. However, surprising metaphysical problems arise with a variant of this approach that uses centered worlds (“What Are Centered Worlds?”; “Collective De Se Thoughts and Centered Worlds”).

My work on experimental philosophy goes beyond aesthetics. It turns out that the ordinary concept of happiness includes a moral component (“The Good in Happiness”). And it turns out that gender disparity in professional philosophy can be found with journal publications (“The Underrepresentation of Women in Prestigious Ethics Journals”). In defending the legitimacy of the methodological approach, I have argued against critics who say that experimental philosophy is practically superfluous (“Are Philosophers Good Intuition Predictors?”) and contributed to a many-labs investigation of the replicability of experimental philosophy results (“Estimating the Reproducibility of Experimental Philosophy”).

My work on aesthetics also goes beyond experimental philosophy. Insights from contemporary philosophy of science suggest that we should be pragmatists and pluralists regarding aesthetic explanations (“Explanations: Aesthetic and Scientific”). And, contra Morrissey, some things taste more delicious because of their moral flaws (“Morality and Aesthetics of Food”).

Public Philosophy

I truly believe that philosophical concepts and tools are practically useful for understanding the world around us. So I try to practice that not only in my teaching, but also in reaching out to audiences outside of academia.

I try to connect theory and practice. I want the philosophical aestheticians to work more with museum professionals. And I was very lucky to be able to join futurists, designers, and industry professionals at University of Michigan’s Design Salon on design, happiness, and futures.

My most recent essays for a general audience are centered on oppressive systems in our social reality. I have written down some thoughts about the word ‘racist’, Western media coverage of Taiwan, redecoration of Chiang Kai-shek statues, practical accessiblity of public spaces, the art of morally troubling artists, cultural appropriation, and selling out. In many cases, these public essays are also opportunities for me to think out loud about ongoing academic research projects.

Photos of redecorated Chiang Kai-shek statues are documented at this Facebook group. Photos of public installation art on Chiang Kai-shek statues in Taiwan


For me, teaching is an opportunity to co-learn with students. Since I like learning new things, I often try to teach what I don’t know. I am working toward ungrading.

I am an active participant in ongoing conversations about teaching philosophy and diversifying philosophy. For example, I have tried to explain one of the ways I teach an intro course, and the various considerations behind the design of such a course.

I have experience teaching courses that range widely from business ethics to the metaphysics of identity. At University of Puget Sound, I teach the following courses. (More information about the individual courses to come, hopefully soon.)

Introduction to Philosophy

Language, Knowledge, and Power

Basics of Bioethics

Formal Logic

Classical Chinese Philosophy

Philosophy of Language

Race and Philosophy

Topics in Knowledge and Reality: Philosophical Methods


I am a strong supporter of open science. I am honored to have the chance to contribute to the editorial process for two open access journals in philosophy, Philosopher’s Imprint and Ergo. I am also a fan of other open access journals in philosophy and adjacent disciplines, such as: Aesthetic Investigations; Comparative Philosophy; Contemporary Aesthetics; Disputatio; Feminist Philosophy Quarterly; Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy; Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy; Journal of Modern Philosophy; Journal of Social Ontology; Journal of Sociotechnical Critique, Logos and Episteme; Metaphysics; Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology; Semantics and Pragmatics; and Snippets.

I regularly perform peer review. Due to the number of requests, I prioritize refereeing for open access journals and journals published by non-profit publishers. I do not review for or submit to Elsevier and Springer journals because—even compared to other for-profit publishers—they charge libraries way too much for access. On average, I referee one paper every month. The egregiousness of Elsevier has been extensively documented by the Cost of Knowledge campaign. The egregiousness of Springer has been documented in an old discussion thread on the cost of philosophy journals. Taylor & Francis and Wiley-Blackwell are not much better, but regrettably, the incentive structure of academia means I still have to publish somewhere. And, also regrettably, I am a minor co-author amongst forty-plus people in an article in a Springer journal. For more on the problems that are created by for-profit publishers, see “In Solidarity with Library Genesis and Sci-Hub”.

I strive to be an active member of campus communities. At University of Puget Sound, I serve on the faculty advisory board for Asian Studies and Bioethics; I chair the committee for Brown & Haley Lectures and help out with the Race and Pedagogy conference; and I am the founding advisor to the Asian Pacific Islander Collective student group. At University of Leeds, I co-organized a large conference on race and aesthetics; and I co-organized a series of workshops and public events for the Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics project. At Nanyang Technological University, I assisted with developing an introductory online course on ethical reasoning. At Kansas State University, I advised the philosophy club. At University of Michigan, I started Go Grue.