James Young

James Young

James O. Young, a professor in the Department of Philosophy, received UVic’s Humanities Award for Research Excellence in 2016, one year after he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. When asked about these distinctions, he remarked that he was “pretty bloody pleased.”

Throughout his career, Young has published several monographs and over sixty articles on philosophy of language and philosophy of art, including work on theories of truth, realism vs. anti-realism, and philosophy of music.

Looking back on his publications, Young predicts that his book Cultural Appropriation and the Arts (2008) might end up being his most widely read work. The book takes the controversial stance that the cultural appropriation of art—that is, an artist’s appropriation of a motif or style originating from another culture—is not as objectionable as it seems on first glance. “Artists from many cultures,” the first chapter begins, “are constantly engaging in cultural appropriation,” including artists from Indigenous and minority cultures. And the chapter goes on to name well-known appropriators from Goethe to Picasso to Eric Clapton.

Young cautions, however, that “there are some forms of cultural appropriation that are inappropriate—indeed, morally wrong”—such as the derogatory misrepresentation of another culture. But he believes that condemning all forms of cultural appropriation is a mistake. “It distracts people from the important issues,” he explains. “What’s an issue is that corporations are controlling the arts, that inequality is rampant.”

He hopes that if people allow for a more nuanced understanding of cultural appropriation, those deeper issues can be more easily addressed: “I guess the conclusion of that book was to try to get us to stress our common humanity.”