Dr Jon Phelan

Dr Jon Phelan


Jon’s research interests focus primarily on the philosophy of literature. He defends the practice of close reading in literary criticism on both cognitive and moral grounds. He is a Bye-Fellow at Wolfson and Director of Studies in Philosophy.

Dr Jon Phelan

Jon helps to support the academic and personal growth of students at Wolfson as Director of Studies in Philosophy. He is also Director of Studies in Philosophy and Theology at Homerton where he is an undergraduate tutor. Jon is a course director on the University of Cambridge’s International Summer School for several short courses in philosophy. He has taught philosophy to a variety of audiences and ages, from primary school pupils to postgraduates, but focuses now on undergraduate teaching and supervises a number of papers on the Philosophy Tripos. He received his PhD from The Open University in 2017 having studied at the University of Cambridge and at The Centre for Jewish Christian Relations where he remained as a research student. His current research area is in the philosophy of literature and he is interested in any philosophical question about literature. For example, when does a piece of writing become literature? What does it mean to view literature as art? What makes effective literary criticism? He is also interested in the history of philosophy, particularly in ordinary language philosophy. Jon is a member of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, Oxford University’s Department of Continuing Education, and the Wittgenstein Society.

Jon works mainly on the literary cognitivist debate in the philosophy of literature which concerns how a reader can gain cognitively from reading literary fiction and whether this gain is relevant aesthetically. Jon’s focus is on the cognitive gain from a close reading of literary fictional texts in terms of ‘understanding’ rather than propositional knowledge. And how understanding may be developed from a reader’s engagement with the literariness of a text rather than its fictional status. His monograph Literature and Understanding was published in 2021 as part of the Routledge Literature and Education series. In recent papers, he has explored whether artificial intelligence can write literary criticism. And how the close reading of literary texts differs from the close reading of philosophical texts. He is currently working on a moral defence of reading literature based not on the moral content of a text but on the approach taken in close reading. The idea is that the reader can cultivate intellectual virtues and related skills in practical moral reasoning through a proficiency in close reading. He is also working on a philosophical account of ‘abuse’ which is a common term in 21st century moral discourse but one that has not received much critical attention.

What's on

Inger Mewburn

Kicking the can down the road: How to create research impact in seven (not so easy) steps

06/06/2023 at 17.30

We hear terms like ‘research impact’ and ‘engagement’ all the time, but what does ‘impact’ and ‘engagement’ actually look like in practice?

selection of books written by Professor Inger Mewburn

Productivity workshops for researchers with Prof. Inger Mewburn aka The Thesis Whisperer

10/06/2023 at 10.00

Join Professor Inger Mewburn, also known online as the Thesis Whisperer, for one or both workshops to help increase your productivity: Getting sh!t done and Building a second brain (for writing)

'You' by Gavin Fry

Art Exhibition: 'Things Put Differently'

10/06/2023 at 10.00

Visit Wolfson's latest exhibition 'Things Put Differently' featuring Gavin Fry and works by Anthony Green and Mary Cozens-Walker.

Photo of artist Gurpran Rau holding a piece of her artwork

Art Exhibition: 'Patterns of Renewal'

10/06/2023 at 10.00

We're delighted to be the first to display Gurpran Rau's latest exhibition 'Patterns of Renewal', featuring a series of paintings created during lockdown inspired by her walks in the woods of Cambridgeshire.