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Functional Beauty, Perception, and Aesthetic Judgements

AndreaSauchelli
The concept of functional beauty is analysed in terms of the role played by beliefs, in particular expectations, in our perceptions. After finding various theories of functional beauty unsatisfying, Iintroduce a novel approach which explains how aesthetic judgements on a variety of different kinds of functional objects (chairs, buildings, cars, etc.) can be grounded in perceptions influenced by beliefs. Cognitively rich accounts of aesthetic appreciation, particularly in art, are popular among contemporary aestheticians. This fertile background has allowed a new resurgence of theories focused on a kind of beauty called functional beauty (FB).1 Despite this renewed interest, concerns about functionality have been difficult to reconcile with the idea that the aesthetic value of an object is grounded in a form of disinterested perception. However, even in theoretical accounts, such as Kants analysis of beauty, which have been taken as cornerstones of formalist approaches to aesthetic appreciation and judgements, the concept of function does not disappear completely.2 Leaving aside historical accounts of the concept of FB, in this essay Iwill explore recent theories on the connection between beauty and function in relation to everyday functional objects. After finding some of these theories unsatisfying, Ipropose my own explanation of the concept of FB. In particular, Ishow that by introducing the concept of expectation, we can obtain a theory that has the same explanatory power as the best theories in the field but that fares better against criticisms. In addition, Idiscuss the connection of my theory of FB with recent developments in the philosophy of perception. Finally, I address some possible criticisms.
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Internalist, Externalist, and Relative Accounts of FunctionalBeauty


We can distinguish at least two ways in which function can be related to beauty: external and internal. Externalist accounts of FB usually establish the connection between function and beauty in the following way. They start with the idea that there are objects which
1 2 See Glenn Parsons and Allen Carlson, Functional Beauty (Oxford: OUP, 2008). Of course, this is not true in all cases. For instance, Edmund Burke and more recently Roger Fry and Jerome Stolnitz maintained that aesthetic appreciation, and thus also attributions of beauty, are not related to considerations of the functionality of the object at issue. For a historical overview of the debate, see Parsons and Carlson, Functional Beauty, 130; Wladyslaw Tatarkiewicz, History of Aesthetics, vol. I (London: Continuum, [1970/4] 2005); and Paul Guyer, Beauty and Utility in Eighteen-Century Aesthetics, Eighteenth-Century Studies 35 (2002), 43953.

British Journal of Aesthetics Vol. 53 | Number 1 | January 2013 | pp. 4153 DOI:10.1093/aesthj/ays057 British Society of Aesthetics 2013. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society of Aesthetics. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com

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are clearly functional (i.e. buildings, cars, or furniture) and clearly possess aesthetic value (i.e. the Pantheon in Rome, the Ferrari 250 LM Berlinetta (1964), or Alberto Medas Berenice lamp). They also usually maintain that if we were to know that one of these objects was not able to perform its function, then we would refrain from attributing beauty to it. For instance, if we knew that the Ferrari 250 LM Berlinetta was impossible to drive and incredibly unsafe (which is not true), we would not say that this object is beautiful as a car. Similarly, the Berenice lamp would not be classified as beautiful if we knew that it provided poor illumination (which is not true). More generally, according to externalist theories of FB, considerations of function do not contribute directly to a positive aesthetic judgement; rather, they constrain possible applications of the term beautiful when ascribed to functional objects. It is in this sense that function is external to judgements of beauty: the functional appropriateness of an object is a necessary but not sufficient condition for such an object to be considered beautiful. Kants theory of adherent (or dependent) beauty is an example of this type of approach. More specifically, Paul Guyer has suggested that in various passages of his Critique of the Power of Judgement, Kant suggests that in judging an object with a function, the fact that the object is well-adapted to its function is a necessary condition for the eventual aesthetic pleasure we may obtain from it (which is, in his account, a necessary basis for our aesthetic judgements).3 How this is possible within Kants framework is controversial and does not directly concern us here. To sum up, an FB externalist maintains that functional considerations are relevant for judging an object aesthetically, because in cases where the object at issue has a specific function, it is necessary for such an object to fulfil its function in order to be judged as beautiful. There is also another way of reading the externalist constraint on the aesthetic value of a functional object. For instance, it can be argued that aesthetic appreciation, as it is usually understood, need not require that the object really fulfil its function, but only that it appear to be able to perform such a function. Given that aesthetic appreciation usually concerns the appearance of objects we may further clarify this approach by saying that an externalist theory of FB can just require that an object appear to be able to perform a function, for judging it as beautiful. An internalist theory of FB, however, denies that functional considerations contribute to aesthetic judgements only negatively or indirectly. More specifically, theories of this type suggest that an object can also be judged as beautiful by virtue of the way it looks in relation to its function. It would follow that when we judge a functional object, the appearance of a kind of interaction between our (even implicit) knowledge that such an object has a purpose and our perception that the function is relevant to its form would ground a positive (or negative) attribution of beauty. Obviously, this is just the sketch of a theory and many points need to be better clarified.
3 See Guyer, Beauty and Utility in Eighteen-Century Aesthetics, 122. The issue is much more complicated than that. In a subsequent paper, in fact, Guyer also claims that Kants concept of adherent beauty can be reconciled with internalist accounts of functional beauty. See his Free and Adherent Beauty, BJA 42 (2002), 35766. Among others, Rachel Zuckert, Kant on Beauty and Biology (Cambridge: CUP, 2007), and Larry Shiner, On Aesthetics and Function in Architecture, JAAC 69 (2011), 3141, argue for an internalist reading of Kants concept of adherent beauty.

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It has to be noted that an internalist theory of FB does not entail that: (1) beauty is always a relative concept, or a concept that can only be meaningfully applied under the condition that we know the kind of object we are judging; or (2) FB is the only possible kind of beauty (or relative beauty). Ageneral internalist theory of FB does not entail that functionality (or its perception) is a necessary condition for beauty (in general) to emerge, or that functionality (or its perception) is a necessary condition for all the other ways of making the concept of beauty relative to a category. In other words, an internalist theory of FB is not committed to the strong thesis that beauty is to be explained solely in terms of utility. There is another important distinction to be made within the family of internalist theories of FB. Within this family, there are approaches where we make justified ascriptions of FB when the elements composing the object concur with the fulfilment of its function in virtue of their aesthetic merits. In other words, x is functionally beautiful when one or more of its (positive) aesthetic properties contributes to the fulfilment of its function. According to this kind of theory, the concept of FB can be understood as a case in which beauty is literally functional. Stephen Davies has argued in favour of such a theory.4 Internalist theories of this kind suggest that x is functionally beautiful when the beauty of the parts of x contributes to its functionality. However, this is not the only way we can explain the idea that function can be internally related to beauty. In fact, according to another family of internalist theories, our perception of beauty related to function may also occur if we perceive that the non-aesthetic properties of an object contribute to the fulfilment of its function in a certain way. According to these other theories, we perceive FB in x when x functions beautifully or when x appears to function beautifully. The aforementioned types of internalist theories are not in contrast and can be taken as specifying two separate genres of FB. In this essay, however, Iwill focus on the view that a judgement of FB is grounded in a perception of the connection between non-aesthetic elements and their function: that is, a theory of FB of the x functions beautifully-type.

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Varieties ofFB
Glenn Parsons and Allen Carlson have proposed an elegant internalist theory of the x functions beautifully-type. Their basic idea is to apply Kendall Waltons theory of the structure of proper aesthetic judgements of works of art to the case of functional objects. In particular, Parsons and Carlson claim that our recognition of the aesthetic properties of an object is influenced by our knowledge of its function. We will see more in detail how this idea has been worked out, but first we need to point out another peculiarity of their approach: that is, the suggestion that FB has a richer phenomenology than so far recognized. From at least Xenophons Socrates to the continental rationalists and the British empiricists, the aesthetic concept that specified the general idea of the relation between utility and aesthetic value was the property of looking fit or, in other words, the property of
4 See Stephen Davies, Aesthetic Judgments, Artworks and Functional Beauty, Philosophical Quarterly 56 (2006), 22441.

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looking apt for a function.5 More specifically, the role of function in aesthetic judgements was supposed to be related solely to the intuition that an object perceived as looking fit (or appropriate) for its function may be judged beautiful in virtue of such a perception. However, this is not the only way in which a judgement of beauty can be informed by our knowledge (or belief) about the function of an object. Parsons and Carlson in fact argue that we should also include under the label of FB of the functioning beautifully-type two other aesthetic features: (1) visual tension and (2) elegance, gracefulness, and simplicity.6 These three components of the concept of FBlooking fit, visual tension, and eleganceare explained, in Parsons and Carlsons account, by elaborating on Waltons theory of the appreciation of art.7 More specifically, Walton claimed that the aesthetic properties possessed by a work of art depend not only on its non-aesthetic features but also on which non-aesthetic features are standard, variable, or contra-standard, relative to certain categories of art. These categories may include horror movies, impressionist paintings, Gothic cathedrals, and so on. According to Walton, a feature is standard with respect to a specific category of art when the feature is essential to a work of art belonging to that category. For example, having three dimensions is a standard feature of a work belonging to the category of Gothic architecture. On the other hand, a variable feature is not essential to the work belonging to a specific artistic category: for example, the property of having a certain tonality of red for a painting. Awork having a contra-standard feature relative to a category tends to disqualify such a work from that category: for example, representational features in abstract paintings. Walton further suggests that the perception of a feature as standard does not involve being able to specify in all circumstances which feature makes us judge that a work belongs to a certain category. For instance, he says that someone familiar with Brahms, and thus able to recognize a musical piece in the style of Brahms, hears certain qualities in the piece that make it possible to perceive the music as an example of the category music in the style of Brahms, but this does not entail that the perceiver be able to point out explicitly the properties that grounded this recognition. Walton claims that our capacity to perceive works of art under certain categories depends on our past experiences, including familiarity with similar works, and possibly knowledge of art critics judgements. Given this account, Walton further claims that a complete ignorance of the categories under which a work is to be judged would entail the incapacity of judging its aesthetic properties, because of the absence of categories relative to which aesthetic properties of the work were supposed to be perceived. We would not be disturbed by Yves Kleins monochromatic paintings if we were not acquainted with the more general categories of coloured and classical paintings; the disquieting properties of Kleins paintings would not emerge if we did not perceive their non-aesthetic properties as contra-standard to the category of classical paintings. Even though Waltons claim that perception mediated by categorical knowledge is a necessary condition for correct
5 6 7 See Parsons and Carlson, Functional Beauty, 130. These last three terms are understood as denoting the same concept. See Kendall Walton, Categories of Art, Philosophical Review 79 (1970), 33467. Stephen Davies is critical of Parsons and Carlsons application of Walton s theory; see, for instance, Functional Beauty Examined, CanadianJournal of Philosophy 40 (2010), 31532.

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aesthetic judgements on artworks may be too strict, there is general consensus regarding the importance of such knowledge for the appreciation of many of the aesthetic properties of works ofart. Parsons and Carlson, elaborating on Waltons theory, claim that among the categories by which we can judge objects (not only works of art) there are those specified by functional purposes. Everyday objects such as forks, knives, and chopsticks function as tools for eating properly, and we commonly perceive them as objects that belong to such a functional category. Parsons and Carlson maintain that perceiving objects under functional categories influences our perception of the objects aesthetic properties. More specifically, if we perceive an objects non-aesthetic features as not being contra-standard but as indicative of functionality relative to a functional category, then we may perceive the object as looking fit. When the functional category used to perceive the object causes it to appear as having few contra-standard or variable features but only standard ones, then the object may appear elegant and graceful. The content and the distinctive aesthetic properties are given to a work through its variable features. We may perceive visual tension if the object still looks functional but also appears to have some contra-standard features relative to a specific functional category. Akatana may look fit if we perceive the nonaesthetic properties of its blade as being suitable to its function of killing people, and as not having any contra-standard feature, such as a plastic blade. That same katana may also look elegantly simple when it is perceived as having only those non-aesthetic properties necessary to kill somebody (a sharp blade and a good handle). Viktor Schreckengosts lawn chairs, on the other hand, may be perceived as having a vibrant, surprising look, that is, as having an aesthetically pleasing visual tension. The perception of this aesthetic property would be based on the idea that a chair should provide a comfortable and stable place to sit (the proper function of a chair); in contrast, the peculiar shape of Schreckengosts chairs suggests a lack of stability (as they have no rear legs) that may cause us to perceive a surprising and vibrantlook. This approach is elegant and seems to accommodate various intuitions about, for example, the source of attributions of visual tension to various functional objects. However, Larry Shiner has recently advanced a compelling objection to Parsons and Carlsons theory.8 Although the problem he raises can be extended to other domains, Shiner focuses his attention on architecture. In particular, he points out that in the case of the exterior appearance of museums, there does not seem to be any standard form associated with the relative functional category of these buildings. Referring to functional categories would not solve the problem of providing a means to ground our perceptions of the non-aesthetic properties of such buildings as standard, variable, or contra-standard, because there is no strict connection between functional categories and forms. Functions can be realized in multiple ways, and thus a specific form need not be seen as standard in relation to a certain purpose. For example, it is not clear how we could determine whether Frank Gehrys titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or the Uffizi Gallery in Florence had the standard shape for the functional

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Larry Shiner, On Aesthetics and Function in Architecture, JAAC 69 (2011), 3141.

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category associated with museums. It seems that both can fulfil their function, so we do not seem to have a specific ground for deciding which forms are variable, standard, or contra-standard in relation to the functional category to which the two buildings belong. Even though there are cases in which Parsons and Carlsons approach may be useful (e.g. cases of everyday objects such as knives and forks in which their shapes are all very similar), in this essay Ioffer an internalist theory of FB that can counter Shiners objections.

An Expectation-Based Account ofFB


One important aspect of Parsons and Carlsons theory that must be noted is that the phenomenology of FB includes not only the aesthetic property of looking fit, but also visual tension and simplicity, elegance and gracefulness. Abetter theory of our perception of aesthetic properties should provide an analysis of what lies behind the connection between functional categories and the perception of these properties. In other words, we need a deeper explanation of how such categories are used in our perceptual systems. If we intend to argue that non-aesthetic categories somehow set standards that are relevant for our aesthetic evaluations, we need an account of how this happens and its eventual philosophical consequences. For this reason, my theory is based on the idea that our knowledge (or beliefs) concerning the proper function of an object operates on our perception by creating expectations concerning how such an object will be shaped (or how its parts will be arranged). In other words, our perception of those aesthetic properties that belong to the phenomenology of FB is based on our expectations. The concept of expectation that Ihave in mind is to be understood in terms of beliefs, that is, dispositions to take something as being the case. More particularly, expectations relevant to our analysis are beliefs concerning how a certain function should or will be realized in a form in order for the resulting object to be suited to its function. These beliefs are the result of our previous experiences with objects appearing to have the same (or similar) functions.9 Therefore, the central idea is that instead of fixed functional categories, it is more fruitful to use (or start with) the notion of expectation in explaining the perception of various aesthetic properties classified as types ofFB. If we assume that the proper functions of a pair of football shoes are to allow us to run on the pitch and have good control of the ball, our knowledge of these functions when viewing a pair of football shoes would trigger an expectation of how the shoes will be shaped. Such an expectation is grounded in what we have experienced thus far, either by a previous use of this kind of shoe or by simply observing a football match on our (functional) sofa. If the shape of the shoe is similar to our expectations, this may trigger in us the perception of the aesthetic property of lookingfit. Some theoretical clarifications are necessary at this point, and such clarifications require a brief, preliminary discussion of the concept of the cognitive penetrability of
9 My theory is neutral with respect to any specification of the concept of belief. It seems to me that in many cases our expectations about how an object will be shaped determine also how we think that an object should be realized for it to fulfil a certain purpose.

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perception.10 In the contemporary debate on this concept, we can distinguish at least two different positions. Philosophers such as Zenon Pylyshyn and Athanassios Raftopoulos deny that the information processed by the visual system is generally affected by higherorder processes, such as those usually related to cognition. Despite this, Raftopoulos admits that, at a certain stage (possibly when attention is also involved in the visual process), higher-order processes are involved in perception, such as when the visual indices attributed to the individuation of objects in the visual scene appear to be independent of what the thinker has in mind conceptually. Raftopoulos maintains that the competition between visual stimuli may be regulated by processes of attention which are, in turn, probably biased by expectations, among other processes.11 Other philosophers argue, on the other hand, that perception can be biased by topdown processes. Assessing the arguments for or against these various positions would go beyond the scope of this essay; however, some brief remarks are of vital importance for the whole project and for clarifying certain points that have been frequently overlooked. There appears to be empirical evidence suggesting that expectations and experiences influence our perceptions. It is a well-known phenomenon in studies of human perception that we can acquire perceptual skills through experience in various domains, such as face recognition or distinguishing birds.12 Expectations can modify not only our vision but also our perception of pain.13 In the domain of art, it is well known that art critics and artists help us recognize and appreciate patterns of colour or shapes that they have learnt to recognize and distinguish through perception. For example, music theorists are able to discern sophisticated non-aesthetic properties in musical performances that those with an untrained ear would never perceive at first hearing. However, our capacity to discern more properties in compositions (or paintings, movies, or any other art)which usually falls under the general concept of tastecan be continuously refined through experience. Experience influences and modifies our perceptions. Taste enriches our perceptions through expectations that can be related, in turn, to an experience-based view of how a certain object should be shaped to perform a specific set of functions. The general point is that expectations, based on our previous experience regarding how objects

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10 For recent discussions of this concept, see Zenon Pylyshyn, Is Vision Continuous with Cognition?, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (1999), 341423; Athanassios Raftopoulos, Cognition and Perception: How Do Psychology and Neural Science Inform Philosophy? (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009); Susanna Siegel, Do Visual Experiences Have Content, in Bence Nanay (ed.), Perceiving the World (Oxford: OUP, 2010), 33368, and Cognitive Penetrability and Perceptual Justification, Nus (forthcoming); Dustin Stokes, Perceiving and Desiring: ANew Look at the Cognitive Penetrability of Experience, Philosophical Studies (forthcoming); and Fiona Macpherson, Cognitive Penetration of Colour Experience, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (forthcoming). 11 Raftopoulos, Cognition and Perception,15. 12 See, for instance, C.M. Bukach, I.Gauthier, and M.J. Tarr, Beyond Faces and Modularity: The Power of an Expertise Framework, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10 (2006), 15966; or J.W. Tanaka, T.Curran, and D.L. Sheinberg, The Training and Transfer of Real-World Perceptual Expertise, Psychological Science 16 (2005), 14551. See also I.Gautier, Perceptual Expertise, in Bruce Goldstein (ed.), Encyclopedia of Perception (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2010), 77780. 13 Bruce Goldstein, Sensation and Perception, eighth edition (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2010), 345.

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with a particular function have been shaped, influence our perception of the objects nonaesthetic properties. In particular, these expectations or beliefs can be either met or not met in differentways. If this is not convincing, the thesis of the cognitive penetrability of perception can be interpreted as affirming that cognitive processes can at least influence the phenomenological character of our experiences of these processes, even if they are unable to influence our visualization of objects.14 In fact, the thesis according to which perception can be penetrated by cognitive processes is not, strictly speaking, a necessary requirement for a general theory of FB and the connection between standards and aesthetic judgements. We can argue that knowledge of functional categories may operate at various levels: perceptual, experiential, and judgemental. More specifically, we can claim that the knowledge of categories may influence (1) the perception of what we see (thus, the discernment, through various senses, of different aesthetic properties), (2) the experience and phenomenological character of the objects in question (what it feels like to experience a certain object), and (3) proper aesthetic judgements concerning functional objects. If we maintain, with sceptics about the cognitive penetrability of perception, that the knowledge of categories cannot influence what we perceive, then we may still claim that our knowledge of certain categories may influence the character of our experience of a certain object. This latter claim, in its general form, appears to be extremely plausible. Think again about the process of becoming an expert in a certain musical genre. Even if we do not admit that musical experts are really able to perceive more qualities in the musical pieces they listen to, compared with untrained amateur, it still seems hard to deny that experts in this field have richer and better aesthetic experiences in virtue of their improved expertise. This may be explained in terms of an improved capacity to focus their attention on more relevant details or simply in terms of having an improved pleasant experience due to the recognition of certain previously studied patterns.15 In addition to this, the phenomenon of the cognitive penetrability of the phenomenological character of experience can be demonstrated by episodes in which emotions and moods influence our experiences of what surrounds us. For example, it has been convincingly argued that moods deeply influence the character of our experiences of our surroundings.16 Therefore, at least the phenomenological character of our experiences can be modified by higher-order cognitive processes. If this is the case, we can argue that the knowledge of categories can influence how we experience certain objects. Even if this latter point is denied, we can still argue that when we make proper aesthetic judgements concerning a functional object, we should take into account the type of object we are judging, if only because certain

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14 This aspect of the thesis has been emphasized by various authors such as Susanna Siegel. See her Cognitive Penetrability and Perceptual Justification. 15 For discussion, see Michael Luntley, Understanding Expertise, Journal of Applied Philosophy 43 (2009), 4156; Expectations without Content, Mind & Language 25 (2010), 21736; and Richard Carlson, Experienced Cognition (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997). 16 See Laura Sizer, Towards a Computational Theory of Mood, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 51 (2000), 74370.

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aesthetic terms appear to be dependent for their proper application on standards dictated by the types of objects being judged.17 Now that the foundations for the account have been laid, Ican introduce its details; in general, if the expectations triggered by our knowledge of an objects purpose are perceived as being satisfied, possibly in a clever way, then the object may be perceived as looking fit. We may perceive simplicity, elegance, and gracefulness when we perceive the arrangement of the parts of an object to conform to our expectations, to contribute to the fulfilment of the function of the object in a clever and ingenious way (similarly to looking fit), and to avoid any unnecessary element in the arrangement of the parts of the object. We may perceive visual tension (1) when the object fails to meet expectations regarding how certain elements should be arranged, given its expected function, but (2) the object is still able to perform its function. The details of the theory can be rephrased in terms of the influence of categories, understood as including sets of expectations, on experience and aesthetic judgements. If our expectations are somehow satisfied, the resulting experience may trigger the recognition of the property of looking fit in the object in question, and this would also hold true for all the other categories. Let us take Ludwig Mies van der Rohes Barcelona chairs as an example. It is usually said that their design, inspired by the curule chairs used during the Roman Republic, is rather elegant and simple. We may explain such an attribution by saying that, in looking at the Barcelona chairs, we perceive forms and shapes (non-aesthetic properties) that are easily associated with what we have experienced as satisfying a chairs function (usually that of providing a stable, raised surface used to sit on by one person). In addition, we do not perceive anything not aimed at this function. This perception may justify an ascription of elegance and simplicity to the chairs. My theory does not predict that we ascribe an aesthetic property to an object in every case where it is fit for its function or displays any positive or negative relation to its function. Rather, Itake for granted that such attributions may occur, and Ioffer an explanation for them. Ithink that, in many cases, considerations of utility are not always sufficient to arouse an aesthetic interest in an object and that there are objects that, to arouse in us an aesthetic interest, require other features. For example, certain objects of everyday use (forks, chopsticks, etc.), even if perceived as functional and fit for their function, seldom arouse an aesthetic interest. Objects of everyday use displaying visual tension are more inclined to catch our attention, owing to the fact that they display forms and shapes that are perceived as unusual. Similarly, for attributions of elegance, it is not sufficient for an object simply to appear to have all and only the expected functional properties to be perceived or experienced or judged as elegant. Rather, the composition of its parts should be perceived as clever and ingenious to stimulate aesthetic interest. The functional categories mentioned in Parsons and Carlsons theory and mentioned in my account of FB can thus be understood as including codifications of expectations
17 For discussion, see Frank Sibley, Adjectives, Predicative and Attributive, Aesthetic Judgements: Pebbles, Faces, and Fields of Litter, and Some Notes on Ugliness, all collected in John Benson, Betty Redfern, and Jeremy Roxbee Cox (eds), Approach to Aesthetics (Oxford: OUP, 2001); and Rafael De Clercq, Aesthetic Ideals, in Kathleen Stock and Katherine Thomson-Jones (eds), New Waves in Aesthetics (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 188202.

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regarding specific functions. Ido not mean to suggest that functional categories, intended as explicit sets of conditions, should be eliminated altogether from an explanation of attributions of FB; what is suggested is rather that we would better understand functional categories as not fixed and crystalline but as including codified expectations too. For example, certain scholars in design studies, each with a common or similar education (including a set of standardized samples), may start to classify a set of objects as apt for a certain function (perhaps in virtue of rational considerations regarding technical aspects). The shape of a certain chair may be codified as standard in relation to its specific function. Consequently, a tendency will eventually emerge to codify structures with a similar shape as standard for a certain function. This, in turn, generates expectations regarding how certain groups of functional objects should be designed to perform certain functions. If an object displays such a design, it may be perceived as looking fit (or as any other type of FB). Functional categories can thus be understood, in certain cases, as codifications of expectations. In this way, we can provide a better explanation of the connection between the perception of aesthetic properties and background knowledge, an aspect not completely addressed in previous theories. In addition, my approach is immune to Shiners objections to Parsons and Carlsons theory. Specifically, even if functions can be realized in various designs, it can be maintained that various aesthetic properties may be perceived in different objects by virtue of the relationship between our expectations and their design. For instance, if we find Gehrys museum to display visual tension, we can explain this by noting that our perception is probably grounded in our experiences with more classical designs for museums (e.g. the Galleria degli Uffizi). We are not forced to say that Gehrys museum in Bilbao has features that go against its function to accommodate the intuition that it has a shocking appearance. We can say, rather, that it looks shocking because of what we have experienced before. Finally, Iwill specify another theoretical requirement of the internalist theory of FB that Ihave proposed. We may say that my internalist theory of FB requires that the concept of beauty depends for its meaning, in specific cases, on the specification of the category of the object thought of as beautiful.18 For instance, in certain cases, an attribution of beauty to an object can be seen as relative to a certain set of items. Let us consider the case of aesthetic judgements about horses. We can judge that Varenne, a famous harness racing horse, is a beautiful horse, in the sense that Varenne is beautiful as a horse. Specifying the category at issue makes it possible to understand the way the concept of beauty has been employed in the aesthetic judgement. From this, however, it does not follow that my theory of FB implies that all attributions of aesthetic value to an object should be necessarily seen as based on or grounded in the concepts through which we have perceived the object. We can maintain, for example, that attributions of visual tension are aesthetic judgements that rely on expectations regarding the shape of certain objects and that, at the same time, when we perceive a rose, we do not have to be interested in its functional category (the reproductive organ of a plant) to perceive its beauty. My theory does not

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18 Similar ideas can be found in Sibleys discussion of attributive uses of the adjective beautiful. See Adjectives, Predicative and Attributive, 154175, n.18 for references.

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imply that the concept of beauty should be explained solely in terms of function or that ascriptions of beauty should always be grounded in conceptualizations or expectations of the object of our aesthetic judgements. In fact, my thesis simply explains the application of a certain range of aesthetic judgements, that is, aesthetic judgements somehow related to functional considerations.

Objections and Replies


It may be argued that in relying on the concept of expectation, we exclude the possibility of sensible disagreement between people ascribing to objects different kinds of properties belonging to the phenomenology of FB. For instance, it can be maintained that our perception of visual tension would assume an irremediably temporal aspect; only people in the past (and thus having certain expectations) would perceive Viktor Schreckengosts lawn chairs as having a vibrant look. Now that we are somehow familiar with chairs lacking rear legs, seeing chairs with such a feature would not be based on expectations that would ground a perception of visual tension. If this is the case, there would be no basis for a rational disagreement between a past critic saying that the chair has the aesthetic property of having a vibrant look and a contemporary critic who denies such an attribution. More generally, our perception of certain kinds of FB would be grounded in related features solely on the basis of the perceptual history of the perceiver (that is, a certain subjects set of perceptual experiences), and thus aesthetic judgements of FB would be too subjective to be a matter of serious dispute. There are many ways to reply to this critique. For example, we may claim that there are certain recurring features of our perceptual systems that justify the objectivity of certain aesthetic judgements.19 Even though our perception of certain features is moulded and informed by our acquired capacity of distinguishing features, this does not mean that the cognitive system can be influenced without limits. In particular, there is a range of variability in specific cognitive abilities, determined by individual differences, but this variability is still within a specific range.20 From this, it may be argued that the perception of certain aesthetic properties can be grounded in features of our minds which are stable to a degree that may justify beliefs expressed through aesthetic judgements. Unless we change the cognitive system of human beings, it is likely that, within certain specific ranges, we all have similar cognitive and perceptual systems. Therefore, it is likely that, even if our perception of aesthetic properties is based on expectations, it does not follow that aesthetic judgements based on different perceptual histories are doomed to be completely beyond rational dispute. Another possible strategy to counter the objection that appealing to expectations would make aesthetic judgements unquestionable is to focus our attention on the structure of
19 See, for instance, Colin Ware, Information Visualization: Perception for Design, second edition (Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2004), which is a study dedicated to, among other things, how to optimize the display of information, taking into account general features of our cognitive systems. 20 See, for instance, Goldstein, Sensation and Perception, 138, for an introduction to various methodologies of the measurement of variation in the recognition of perceptual stimuli. Downloaded from http://bjaesthetics.oxfordjournals.org/ at Univ of Southern California on January 8, 2013

52 | AndreA SAuchelli

aesthetic judgements and, in particular, proper aesthetic judgements. Suppose that we are somehow interested in determining whether a certain object of design possesses the aesthetic property of visual tension, and we wish to express an aesthetic judgement about it. In order to be able to express a proper aesthetic judgement that can be debated, we need to adjust ourselves to the conditions within which such an object was conceptually located. As a consequence, we can say that a proper aesthetic judgement regarding the vibrant look of an object should make reference to the conditions in which the object was produced. This may require an imaginative exercise, an attempt to picture oneself in a situation where perhaps it is not completely possible to imagine ourselves. For example, in judging Schreckengosts lawn chair, we may try to imagine ourselves in a situation where we have never before experienced the design of a chair without rear legs. Or, let us take the example of Antonio SantElias architectural projects. To see or perceive the novelty and originality of his drawings, we may need to imagine ourselves as living in Italy at the beginning of the twentieth century. This imaginative exercise, Iadmit, may not be completely possible in all cases, but it can be maintained that if we are interested in expressing a proper aesthetic judgement about an object we may need to re-create as much as possible the perceptual conditions under which such an object was first introduced. For instance, we may read about the reactions to the object by the people who lived at that time in order to understand how that object was perceived and eventually assessed. Again, from the fact that judgements of FB are based on expectations, it does not seem to follow that such judgements are irremediably outside the field of reasonable disagreement. Why should we appeal to codified sets of expectations to make a correct or proper aesthetic judgement on the FB of an object? I believe that the reason has to do with the requirement that correct attributions of FB need to be grounded in a proper aesthetic understanding of the object. In turn, such an understanding is connected to an informed experience of the object.21 For instance, designers have particular problems in mind and a specific public that is supposed to find their solutions functional and appropriate. In order to understand their work, we need to understand what the various designers intend to achieve. Among the conditions of success for their projects, in fact, we should count the way in which they address the expectations shared by whoever is expected to experience their work. Given that designers have in mind a specific public, we may expect that the resulting experience of the work will be enhanced if we are able to determine what they are trying to achieve. The reason is that the resulting design has been optimized to achieve that specific result. Ideally, if the object is really worth our attention, the aesthetic experience augmented by awareness of the sets of expectations that the designer wants to address is enriched. For this reason Ibelieve that an ascription of FB should appeal to expectations and that judgements of FB based on such knowledge are more appropriate than those ignoring them.

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21 See Roger Scruton, The Aesthetic of Architecture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979/80), ch. 4, for the idea that informed experience can be a crucial component of the aesthetic understanding of an object.

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Conclusions
I have argued here that aesthetic value can be related to function. More specifically, Ihave proposed a theory that explains ascriptions of various kinds of FB in terms of expectations. Instead of employing the notion of functional categories, Ihave maintained that we should focus our attention on the concept of expectation. My theory can be seen as an attempt to clarify the basis for certain kinds of aesthetic judgements: in particular, positive aesthetic evaluations of objects grounded in the relationship between these objects and their function(s). The relevance of this approach is crucial if we want to expand contemporary aesthetics domain of interest to, among other things, objects of design and, more generally, objects of everyday use. Ihave not here taken a stance on the proper appreciation of nature and whether specifications of the concept of FB can be applied to this domain as well. Despite not having addressed these issues explicitly, the concept of FB is an extremely useful tool that can be employed in a variety of different cases in environmental aesthetics if we understand this field as including the study of the built environment (architecture or urban design) or, more generally, an appreciation of objects of design. It must be remembered that this category is incredibly vast and can include graphic design (such as the specification and organization of systems of information), and the design of particular identities of large corporations (from their logos to their advertising strategies). By expanding our aesthetic interest to the field of objects of use (using a broad sense of object) and providing a solid philosophical and psychological foundation upon which to construct theoretical frameworks, we may better understood the aesthetic appreciation of what surrounds us. AndreaSauchelli Department of Philosophy, Lingnan University andrea.sauchelli@gmail.com andreasauchelli@ln.edu.hk

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