Fabian Dorsch, who has died unexpectedly aged 42, was an inspiring and original philosopher whose warm personality charmed everyone who encountered him. His work deals with central issues at the intersection of philosophy of mind, epistemology and aesthetics, but his legacy also includes important service to the profession, especially in promoting the cause and community of aesthetics across Europe.
Fabian was Associate Research Professor at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), where he also completed his Habilitation. He pursued undergraduate study at the University of Tübingen, before taking the MPhil and PhD at University College London, studying under Malcolm Budd and M.G.F. Martin. As well as spending a good few years at Fribourg, where he held various positions and often worked closely with Gianfranco Soldati, he was at various times Visiting Scholar at Berkeley, Glasgow, Warwick and the Institut Jean Nicod.
Perhaps the central theme of Fabian’s published output is the imagination. That was the topic of his doctoral dissertation (2008), and a subsequent book The Unity of Imagination (De Gruyter: 2012). Fabian’s offers a single account of all imagining, the Agency Account, and defends it against two main rivals, the Epistemological and Dependence Accounts. According to the Agency Account, the varieties of imagining, such as daydreaming, visualizing or supposing, essentially involve mental action, that is, the voluntary formation of mental representations. Distinguishing these different types of imagination both from each other and from other mental attitudes, Fabian describes how imagination contributes to and collaborates with perception, memory and judgment. In a series of important articles, he extends and adapts his position to accommodate other phenomena, such as pictorial representation, our emotional responses to fictions, and perceptual memory. Much of this material was to be integrated in a new book, Imagination (Routledge: forthcoming).
Fabian’s project on imagination makes central the epistemic relevance of imagination, its subjection to reasons, norms and values. In recent years, normativity, together with imagination, was increasingly the focus of his philosophical interest. He was in particular concerned with the relationship between experience and reason. Fabian articulated a position he called Phenomenal Rationalism, giving the phenomenal character of various mental states and episodes a central role in their epistemological import. Thus, for instance, perceptions, unlike imaginings, present their objects as external and as determining the representation itself, but, unlike judgements, are not sensitive to reasons. Phenomenal differences reflect differences in the mode of determination of the states and their epistemic role.
Fabian had just begun work on a new research project, The Normativity of Aesthetic Judgments, aiming to build a rationalist alternative to empiricism about aesthetic judgement. Dorsch had already defended the view that the justification of aesthetic judgments can’t be merely empirical, and that direct perceptual access to works of art is neither sufficient nor necessary for aesthetic judgment, championing instead a role for inferential reasoning in the justification of aesthetic evaluations. This is a minority view, given the empiricism that has dominated modern aesthetics since its foundation, but it is one Fabian elaborated and defended with a vigour, imagination and incisiveness that is typical of all his work..
Important as Fabian’s contributions are to these ongoing debates, he will also be remembered for his profound impact on the wider profession. He was the driving force behind the foundation of the European Society for Aesthetics, organizing its first conference in Fribourg in 2008 and acting as its first Secretary (2008-14). Even after stepping down from his official role, he remained actively engaged with the Society, and was preparing its 10th Anniversary Conference, again in Fribourg, at his death. Profoundly committed to the promotion of European philosophical aesthetics, he worked to this end not only through the ESA, but also, since 2012, as Editor in Chief of Estetika: the Central European Journal of Aesthetics.
Fabian was married to Evgenia Grekova, opera singer, with whom he had a son, Maxim.
We will sorely miss Fabian’s affectionate presence, his profound and original thinking, his infectious enthusiasm for everything he did, his warm sense of humour, and the open and generous spirit that made every interaction with him pleasurable in the moment and resonant in the memory.
Rob Hopkins and Francisca Pérez Carreño