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Aesthetics may be defined narrowly as the theory of beauty, or more broadly as that together with the philosophy of art. The
traditional interest in beauty itself broadened, in the eighteenth century, to include the sublime, and since 1950 or so the number of
pure aesthetic concepts discussed in the literature has expanded even more. Traditionally, the philosophy of art concentrated on its
definition, but recently this has not been the focus, with careful analyses of aspects of art largely replacing it. Philosophical
aesthetics is here considered to center on these latter-day developments. Thus, after a survey of ideas about beauty and related
concepts, questions about the value of aesthetic experience and the variety of aesthetic attitudes will be addressed, before turning to
matters which separate art from pure aesthetics, notably the presence of intention. That will lead to a survey of some of the main
definitions of art which have been proposed, together with an account of the recent de-definition period. The concepts of
expression, representation, and the nature of art objects will then be covered.
1. Introduction
The full field of what might be called aesthetics is a very large one. There is even now a four-volume encyclopedia devoted to
the full range of possible topics. The core issues in Philosophical Aesthetics, however, are nowadays fairly settled (see the book
edited by Dickie, Sclafani, and Roblin, and the monograph by Sheppard, among many others).
Aesthetics in this central sense has been said to start in the early eighteenth century, with the series of articles on The Pleasures of
the Imagination which the journalist Joseph Addison wrote in the early issues of the magazine The Spectator in 1712. Before this
time, thoughts by notable figures made some forays into this ground, for instance in the formulation of general theories of
proportion and harmony, detailed most specifically in architecture and music. But the full development of extended, philosophical
reflection on Aesthetics did not begin to emerge until the widening of leisure activities in the eighteenth century.
By far the most thoroughgoing and influential of the early theorists was Immanuel Kant, towards the end of the eighteenth century.
Therefore it is important, first of all, to have some sense of how Kant approached the subject. Criticisms of his ideas, and
alternatives to them, will be presented later in this entry, but through him we can meet some of the key concepts in the subject by
way of introduction.
Kant is sometimes thought of as a formalist in art theory; that is to say, someone who thinks the content of a work of art is not of
aesthetic interest. But this is only part of the story. Certainly he was a formalist about the pure enjoyment of nature, but for Kant
most of the arts were impure, because they involved a concept. Even the enjoyment of parts of nature was impure, namely when
a concept was involved as when we admire the perfection of an animal body or a human torso. But our enjoyment of, for
instance, the arbitrary abstract patterns in some foliage, or a color field (as with wild poppies, or a sunset) was, according to Kant,
absent of such concepts; in such cases, the cognitive powers were in free play. By design, art may sometimes obtain the appearance
of this freedom: it was then Fine Artbut for Kant not all art had this quality.
In all, Kants theory of pure beauty had four aspects: its freedom from concepts, its objectivity, the disinterest of the spectator, and
its obligatoriness. By concept, Kant meant end, or purpose, that is, what the cognitive powers of human understanding and
imagination judge applies to an object, such as with it is a pebble, to take an instance. But when no definite concept is involved,
as with the scattered pebbles on a beach, the cognitive powers are held to be in free play; and it is when this play is harmonious that
there is the experience of pure beauty. There is also objectivity and universality in the judgment then, according to Kant, since the
cognitive powers are common to all who can judge that the individual objects are pebbles. These powers function alike whether
they come to such a definite judgment or are left suspended in free play, as when appreciating the pattern along the shoreline. This
was not the basis on which the apprehension of pure beauty was obligatory, however. According to Kant, that derived from the
selflessness of such an apprehension, what was called in the eighteenth century its disinterest. This arises because pure beauty
does not gratify us sensuously; nor does it induce any desire to possess the object. It pleases, certainly, but in a distinctive
intellectual way. Pure beauty, in other words, simply holds our minds attention: we have no further concern than contemplating the
object itself. Perceiving the object in such cases is an end in itself; it is not a means to a further end, and is enjoyed for its own sake
It is because Morality requires we rise above ourselves that such an exercise in selfless attention becomes obligatory. Judgments of
pure beauty, being selfless, initiate one into the moral point of view. Beauty is a symbol of Morality, and The enjoyment of
nature is the mark of a good soul are key sayings of Kant. The shared enjoyment of a sunset or a beach shows there is harmony
between us all, and the world.
Among these ideas, the notion of disinterest has had much the widest currency. Indeed, Kant took it from eighteenth century
theorists before him, such as the moral philosopher, Lord Shaftesbury, and it has attracted much attention since: recently by the
French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, for instance. Clearly, in this context disinterested does not mean uninterested, and
paradoxically it is closest to what we now call our interests, that is, such things as hobbies, travel, and sport, as we shall see
below. But in earlier centuries, ones interest was what was to ones advantage, that is, it was self-interest, and so it was the
negation of that which closely related aesthetics to ethics.
2. Aesthetic Concepts
The eighteenth century was a surprisingly peaceful time, but this turned out to be the lull before the storm, since out of its orderly
classicism there developed a wild romanticism in art and literature, and even revolution in politics. The aesthetic concept which
came to be more appreciated in this period was associated with this, namely sublimity, which Edmund Burke theorized about in his
A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. The sublime was connected more with pain
than pure pleasure, according to Burke, since threats to self-preservation were involved, as on the high seas, and lonely moors, with
the devilish humans and dramatic passions that artists and writers were about to portray. But in these circumstances, of course, it is
still delightful horror, as Burke appreciated, since one is insulated by the fictionality of the work in question from any real
Sublime and beautiful are only two amongst the many terms which may be used to describe our aesthetic experiences. Clearly
there are ridiculous and ugly, for a start, as well. But the more discriminating will have no difficulty also finding something
maybe fine, or lovely rather than awful or hideous, and exquisite or superb rather than gross or foul. Frank Sibley
wrote a notable series of articles, starting in 1959, defending a view of aesthetic concepts as a whole. He said that they were not
rule- or condition-governed, but required a heightened form of perception, which one might call taste, sensitivity, or judgment. His
full analysis, however, contained another aspect, since he was not only concerned with the sorts of concepts mentioned above, but
also with a set of others which had a rather different character. For one can describe works of art, often enough, in terms which
relate primarily to the emotional and mental life of human beings. One can call them joyful, melancholy, serene, witty,
vulgar, and humble, for instance. These are evidently not purely aesthetic terms, because of their further uses, but they are still
very relevant to many aesthetic experiences.
Sibleys claim about these concepts was that there were no sufficient conditions for their application. For many concepts
sometimes called closed concepts, as a resultboth necessary and sufficient conditions for their application can be given. To be
a bachelor, for instance, it is necessary to be male and unmarried, though of marriageable age, and together these three conditions
are sufficient. For other concepts, however, the so-called open ones, no such definitions can be given although for aesthetic
concepts Sibley pointed out there were still some necessary conditions, since certain facts can rule out the application of, for
example, garish, gaudy, or flamboyant.
The question therefore arises: how do we make aesthetic judgments if not by checking sufficient conditions? Sibleys account was
that, when the concepts were not purely perceptual they were mostly metaphoric. Thus, we call artworks dynamic, or sad, as
before, by comparison with the behaviors of humans with those qualities. Other theorists, such as Rudolph Arnheim and Roger
Scruton, have held similar views. Scruton, in fact, discriminated eight types of aesthetic concept, and we shall look at some of the
others below.
3. Aesthetic Value
We have noted Kants views about the objectivity and universality of judgments of pure beauty, and there are several ways that
these notions have been further defended. There is a famous curve, for instance, obtained by the nineteenth century psychologist
Wilhelm Wundt, which shows how human arousal is quite generally related to complexity of stimulus. We are bored by the simple,
become sated, even over-anxious, by the increasingly complex, while in between there is a region of greatest pleasure. The
dimension of complexity is only one objective measure of worth which has been proposed in this way. Thus it is now known, for
instance, that judgments of facial beauty in humans are a matter of averageness and symmetry. Traditionally, unity was taken to be
central, notably by Aristotle in connection with Drama, and when added to complexity it formed a general account of aesthetic
value. Thus Francis Hutcheson, in the eighteenth century, asserted that Uniformity in variety always makes an object beautiful.
Monroe Beardsley, more recently, has introduced a third criterionintensityto produce his three General Canons of objective
worth. He also detailed some Special Canons.
Beardsley called the objective criteria within styles of Art Special Canons. These were not a matter of something being good of
its kind and so involving perfection of a concept in the sense of Kant. They involved defeasible good-making and bad-making
features, more in the manner Hume explained in his major essay in this area, Of the Standard of Taste (1757). To say a work of
art had a positive quality like humor, for instance, was to praise it to some degree, but this could be offset by other qualities which
made the work not good as a whole. Beardsley defended all of his canons in a much more detailed way than his eighteenth century
predecessor however: through a lengthy, fine-grained, historical analysis of what critics have actually appealed to in the evaluation
of artworks. Also, he explicitly made the disclaimer that his canons were the only criteria of value, by separating these objective
reasons from what he called affective and genetic reasons. These two other sorts of reasons were to do with audience
response, and the originating artist and his times, respectively, and either The Affective Fallacy or The Intentional Fallacy, he
maintained, was involved if these were considered. The discrimination enabled Beardsley to focus on the artwork and its
representational relations, if any, to objects in the public world.
Against Beardsley, over many years, Joseph Margolis maintained a Robust Relativism. Thus he wanted to say that aptness,
partiality, and non-cognitivism characterize art appreciation, rather than truth, universality, and knowledge. He defended
this with respect to aesthetic concepts, critical judgments of value, and literary interpretations in particular, saying, more generally,
that works of art were culturally emergent entities not directly accessible, because of this, to any faculty resembling sense
perception. The main debate over aesthetic value, indeed, concerns social and political matters, and the seemingly inevitable
partiality of different points of view. The central question concerns whether there is a privileged class, namely those with aesthetic
interests, or whether their set of interests has no distinguished place, since, from a sociological perspective, that taste is just one
amongst all other tastes in the democratic economy. The sociologist Arnold Hauser preferred a non-relativistic point of view, and
was prepared to give a ranking of tastes. High art beat popular art, Hauser said, because of two things: the significance of its
content, and the more creative nature of its forms. Roger Taylor, by contrast, set out very fully the levellers point of view,
declaring that "Aida" and "The Sound of Music" have equal value for their respective audiences. He defended this with a thorough
philosophical analysis, rejecting the idea that there is such a thing as truth corresponding to an external reality, with the people
capable of accessing that truth having some special value. Instead, according to Taylor, there are just different conceptual schemes,
in which truth is measured merely by coherence internal to the scheme itself. Janet Wolff looked at this debate more
disinterestedly, in particular studying the details of the opposition between Kant and Bourdieu.
4. Aesthetic Attitudes
Jerome Stolnitz, in the middle of the last century, was a Kantian, and promoted the need for a disinterested, objective attitude to art
objects. It is debatable, as we saw before, whether this represents Kants total view of art, but the disinterested treatment of art
objects which Stolnitz recommended was very commonly pursued in his period.
Edward Bullough, writing in 1912, would have called disinterested attention a distanced attitude, but he used this latter term to
generate a much fuller and more detailed appreciation of the whole spectrum of attitudes which might be taken to artworks. The
spectrum stretched from people who over-distance to people who under-distance. People who over-distance are, for instance,
critics who merely look at the technicalities and craftwork of a production, missing any emotional involvement with what it is
about. Bullough contrasted this attitude with what he called under-distancing, where one might get too gripped by the content.
The country yokel who jumps upon the stage to save the heroine, and the jealous husband who sees himself as Othello smothering
his wife, are missing the fact that the play is an illusion, a fiction, just make-believe. Bullough thought there was, instead, an ideal
mid-point between his two extremes, thereby solving his antinomy of distance by deciding there should be the least possible
distance without its disappearance.
George Dickie later argued against both disinterest and distance in a famous 1964 paper, The Myth of the Aesthetic Attitude.
He argued that we should be able to enjoy all objects of awareness, whether pure aesthetic or moral. In fact, he thought the term
aesthetic could be used in all cases, rejecting the idea that there was some authorized way of using the word just to apply to
surface or formal features the artwork as a thing in itself. As a result, Dickie concluded that the aesthetic attitude, when properly
understood, reduced to just close attention to whatever holds ones mind in an artwork, against the tradition which believed it had a
certain psychological quality, or else involved attention just to certain objects.
Art is not the only object to draw interest of this pleasurable kind: hobbies and travel are further examples, and sport yet another, as
was mentioned briefly above. In particular, the broadening of the aesthetic tradition in recent years has led theorists to give more
attention to sport. David Best, for instance, writing on sport and its likeness to art, highlighted how close sport is to the purely
aesthetic. But he wanted to limit sport to this, and insisted it had no relevance to ethics. Best saw art forms as distinguished
expressly by their having the capacity to comment on life situations, and hence bring in moral considerations. No sport had this
further capacity, he thought, although the enjoyment of many sports may undoubtedly be aesthetic. But many art formsperhaps
more clearly called craft-forms as a result also do not comment on life situations overmuch, for example, dcor, abstract
painting, and non-narrative ballet. And there are many sports which are pre-eminently seen in moral, character-building terms,
for example, mountaineering, and the various combat sports (like boxing and wrestling). Perhaps the resolution comes through
noting the division Best himself provides within sport-forms, between, on the one hand, task or non-purposive sports like
gymnastics, diving, and synchronized swimming, which are the ones he claims are aesthetic, and on the other hand the
achievement, or purposive sports, like those combat sports above. Task sports have less art in them, since they are not as
creative as the purposive ones.
5. Intentions
The traditional form of art criticism was biographical and sociological, taking into account the conceptions of the artist and the
history of the traditions within which the artist worked. But in the twentieth century a different, more scientific and ahistorical form
of literary criticism grew up in the United States and Britain: The New Criticism. Like the Russian Formalists and French
Structuralists in the same period, the New Critics regarded what could be gleaned from the work of art alone as relevant to its
assessment, but their specific position received a much-discussed philosophical defense by William Wimsatt and Monroe
Beardsley in 1946. Beardsley saw the position as an extension of The Aesthetic Point of View; Wimsatt was a practical critic
personally engaged in the new line of approach. In their essay The Intentional Fallacy, Wimsatt and Beardsley claimed the
design or intention of the artist is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art. It
was not always available, since it was often difficult to obtain, but, in any case, it was not appropriately available, according to
them, unless there was evidence for it internal to the finished work of art. Wimsatt and Beardsley allowed such forms of evidence
for a writers intentions, but would allow nothing external to the given text.
This debate over intention in the literary arts has raged with full force into more recent times. A contemporary of Wimsatt and
Beardsley, E.D. Hirsch, has continued to maintain his intentionalist point of view. Against him, Steven Knapp and Walter Benn
Michaels have taken up an ahistorical position. Frank Cioffi, one of the original writers who wrote a forceful reply to Wimsatt and
Beardsley, aligned himself with neither camp, believing different cases were best read sometimes just as, sometimes other than
as, the artist knowingly intended them. One reason he rejected intention, at times, was because he believed the artist might be
unconscious of the full significance of the artwork.
A similar debate arises in other art forms besides Literature, for instance Architecture, Theater, and Music, although it has caused
less professional comment in these arts, occurring more at the practical level in terms of argument between purists and
modernizers. Purists want to maintain a historical orientation to these art forms, while modernizers want to make things more
available for contemporary use. The debate also has a more practical aspect in connection with the visual arts. For it arises in the
question of what devalues fakes and forgeries, and by contrast puts a special value on originality. There have been several notable
frauds perpetrated by forgers of artworks and their associates. The question is: if the surface appearance is much the same, what
especial value is there in the first object? Nelson Goodman was inclined to think that one can always locate a sufficient difference
by looking closely at the visual appearance. But even if one cannot, there remain the different histories of the original and the copy,
and also the different intentions behind them.
The relevance of such intentions in visual art has entered very prominently into philosophical discussion. Arthur Danto, in his 1964
discussion of The Artworld, was concerned with the question of how the atmosphere of theory can alter how we see artworks.
This situation has arisen in fact with respect to two notable paintings which look the same, as Timothy Binkley has explained,
namely Leonardos original Mona Lisa and Duchamps joke about it, called L.H.O.O.Q. Shaved. The two works look
ostensibly the same, but Duchamp, one needs to know, had also produced a third work, L.H.O.O.Q., which was a reproduction of
the "Mona Lisa," with some graffiti on it: a goatee and moustache. He was alluding in that work to the possibility that the sitter for
the "Mona Lisa" might have been a young male, given the stories about Leonardos homosexuality. With the graffiti removed the
otherwise visually similar works are still different, since Duchamps title, and the history of its production, alters what we think
about his piece.
6. Definitions of Art
Up to the de-definition period, definitions of art fell broadly into three types, relating to representation, expression, and form. The
dominance of representation as a central concept in art lasted from before Platos time to around the end of the eighteenth century.
Of course, representational art is still to be found to this day, but it is no longer pre-eminent in the way it once was. Plato first
formulated the idea by saying that art is mimesis, and, for instance, Bateaux in the eighteenth century followed him, when saying:
Poetry exists only by imitation. It is the same thing with painting, dance and music; nothing is real in their works, everything is
imagined, painted, copied, artificial. It is what makes their essential character as opposed to nature.
In the same century and the following one, with the advent of Romanticism, the concept of expression became more prominent.
Even around Platos time, his pupil Aristotle preferred an expression theory: art as catharsis of the emotions. And Burke,
Hutcheson, and Hume also promoted the idea that what was crucial in art were audience responses: pleasure in Art was a matter of
taste and sentiment. But the full flowering of the theory of Expression, in the twentieth century, has shown that this is only one side
of the picture.
In the taxonomy of art terms Scruton provided, Response theories concentrate on affective qualities such as moving, exciting,
nauseous, tedious, and so forth. But theories of art may be called expression theories even though they focus on the
embodied, emotional, and mental qualities discussed before, like joyful, melancholy, humble, vulgar, and intelligent. As
we shall see below, when recent studies of expression are covered in more detail, it has been writers like John Hospers and O.K.
Bouwsma who have preferred such theories. But there are other types of theory which might, even more appropriately, be called
expression theories. What an artist is personally expressing is the focus of self-expression theories of art, but more universal
themes are often expressed by individuals, and art-historical theories see the artist as merely the channel for broader social
R. G. Collingwood in the 1930s took art to be a matter of self-expression: By creating for ourselves an imaginary experience or
activity, we express our emotions; and this is what we call art. And the noteworthy feature of Marxs theory of art, in the
nineteenth century, and those of the many different Marxists who followed him into the twentieth century, was that they were
expression theories in the art-Historical sense. The arts were taken, by people of this persuasion, to be part of the superstructure
of society, whose forms were determined by the economic base, and so art came to be seen as expressing, or reflecting those
material conditions. Social theories of art, however, need not be based on materialism. One of the major social theorists of the late
nineteenth century was the novelist Leo Tolstoy, who had a more spiritual point of view. He said: Art is a human activity
consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through,
and that others are infected by these feelings and also experience them.
Coming into the twentieth century, the main focus shifted towards abstraction and the appreciation of form. The aesthetic, and the
arts and crafts movements, in the latter part of the nineteenth century drew people towards the appropriate qualities. The central
concepts in aesthetics are here the pure aesthetic ones mentioned before, like graceful, elegant, exquisite, glorious, and
nice. But formalist qualities, such as organization, unity, and harmony, as well as variety and complexity, are closely related, as
are technical judgments like well-made, skilful, and professionally written. The latter might be separated out as the focus of
Craft theories of art, as in the idea of art as Techne in ancient Greece, but Formalist theories commonly focus on all of these
qualities, and aesthetes generally find them all of central concern. Eduard Hanslick was a major late nineteenth century musical
formalist; the Russian Formalists in the early years of the revolution, and the French Structuralists later, promoted the same interest
in Literature. Clive Bell and Roger Fry, members of the influential Bloomsbury Group in the first decades of the twentieth century,
were the most noted early promoters of this aspect of Visual art.
Bells famous Aesthetic Hypothesis was: What quality is shared by all objects that provoke our aesthetic emotions? Only one
answer seems possible significant form. In each, lines and colors combined in a particular way; certain forms and relations of
forms, stir our aesthetic emotions. These relations and combinations of lines and colors, these aesthetically moving forms, I call
Significant Form; and Significant Form is the one quality common to all works of visual art. Clement Greenberg, in the years
of the Abstract Expressionists, from the 1940s to the 1970s, also defended a version of this Formalism.
Abstraction was a major drive in early twentieth century art, but the later decades largely abandoned the idea of any tight definition
of art. The de-definition of art was formulated in academic philosophy by Morris Weitz, who derived his views from some work
of Wittgenstein on the notion of games. Wittgenstein claimed that there is nothing which all games have in common, and so the
historical development of them has come about through an analogical process of generation, from paradigmatic examples merely
by way of family resemblances.
There are, however, ways of providing a kind of definition of art which respects its open texture. The Institutional definition of art,
formulated by George Dickie, is in this class: a work of art is an artefact which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate
for appreciation by the artworld. This leaves the content of art open, since it is left up to museum directors, festival organizers, and
so forth, to decide what is presented. Also, as we saw before, Dickie left the notion of appreciation open, since he allowed that all
aspects of a work of art could be attended to aesthetically. But the notion of artefact, too, in this definition is not as restricted as it
might seem, since anything brought into an art space as a candidate for appreciation becomes thereby artefactualized, according
to Dickie and so he allowed as art what are otherwise called (natural) "Found Objects," and (previously manufactured)
"Readymades." Less emphasis on power brokers was found in Monroe Beardsleys slightly earlier aesthetic definition of art: an
artwork is something produced with the intention of giving it the capacity to satisfy the aesthetic interest where production
and aesthetic have their normal, restricted content. But this suggests that these two contemporary definitions, like the others,
merely reflect the historical way that art developed in the associated period. Certainly traditional objective aesthetic standards, in
the earlier twentieth century, have largely given way to free choices in all manner of things by the mandarins of the public art world
more recently.
7. Expression
Response theories of art were particularly popular during the Logical Positivist period in philosophy, that is, around the 1920s and
1930s. Science was then contrasted sharply with Poetry, for instance, the former being supposedly concerned with our rational
mind, the latter with our irrational emotions. Thus the noted English critic I. A. Richards tested responses to poems scientifically in
an attempt to judge their value, and unsurprisingly found no uniformity. Out of this kind of study comes the common idea that art
is all subjective: if one concentrates on whether people do or do not like a particular work of art then, naturally, there can easily
seem to be no reason to it.
We are now more used to thinking that the emotions are rational, partly because we now distinguish the cause of an emotion from
its target. If one looks at what emotions are caused by an artwork, not all of these need target the artwork itself, but instead what is
merely associated with it. So what the subjective approach centrally overlooks are questions to do with attention, relevance, and
understanding. With those as controlling features we get a basis for normalizing the expected audiences emotions in connection
with the artwork, and so move away from purely personal judgments such as Well, it saddened me to more universal assessments
like it was sad.
And with the it more focused on the artwork we also start to see the significance of the objective emotional features it
metaphorically possesses, which were what Embodiment theorists like Hospers settled on as central. Hospers, following Bouwsma,
claimed that the sadness of some music, for instance, concerns not what is evoked in us, nor any feeling experienced by the
composer, but simply its physiognomic similarity to humans when sad: it will be slow not tripping; it will be low not tinkling.
People who are sad move more slowly, and when they speak they speak softly and low. This was also a point of view developed at
length by the gestalt psychologist Rudolph Arnheim.
The discriminations do not stop there, however. Guy Sircello, against Hospers, pointed out first that there are two ways emotions
may be embodied in artworks: because of their form (which is what Hospers chiefly had in mind), and because of their content.
Thus, a picture may be sad not because of its mood or color, but because its subject matter or topic is pathetic or miserable. That
point was only a prelude, however, to an even more radical criticism of Embodiment theories by Sircello. For emotion words can
also be applied, he said, on account of the artistic acts performed by the artists in presenting their attitude to their subject. If we
look upon an artwork from this perspective, we are seeing it as a symptom in Suzanne Langers terms; however, Langer believed
one should see it as a symbol holding some meaning which can be communicated to others.
Communication theorists all combine the three elements above, namely the audience, the artwork, and the artist, but they come in a
variety of stamps. Thus, while Clive Bell and Roger Fry were Formalists, they were also Communication Theorists. They supposed
that an artwork transmitted aesthetic emotion from the artist to the audience on account of its significant form. Leo Tolstoi was
also a communication theorist but of almost the opposite sort. What had to be transmitted, for Tolstoi, was expressly what was
excluded by Bell and (to a lesser extent) Fry, namely the emotions of life. Tolstoi wanted art to serve a moral purpose: helping to
bind communities together in their fellowship and common humanity under God. Bell and Fry saw no such social purpose in art,
and related to this difference were their opposing views regarding the value of aesthetic properties and pleasure. These were
anathema to Tolstoi, who, like Plato, thought they led to waste; but the exalted feelings coming from the appreciation of pure
form were celebrated by Bell and Fry, since their metaphysical hypothesis claimed it put one in touch with ultimate reality.
Bell said, What is that which is left when we have stripped a thing of all sensations, of all its significance as a means? What but
that which philosophers used to call the thing in itself and now call ultimate reality.
This debate between moralists and aesthetes continues to this day with, for instance, Nol Carroll supporting a Moderate
Moralism while Anderson and Dean support Moderate Autonomism. Autonomism wants aesthetic value to be isolated from
ethical value, whereas Moralism sees them as more intimately related.
Communication theorists generally compare art to a form of Language. Langer was less interested than the above theorists in
legislating what may be communicated, and was instead concerned to discriminate different art languages, and the differences
between art languages generally and verbal languages. She said, in brief, that art conveyed emotions of various kinds, while verbal
language conveyed thoughts, which was a point made by Tolstoy too. But Langer spelled out the matter in far finer detail. Thus,
she held that art languages were presentational forms of expression, while verbal languages were discursive with Poetry, an
art form using verbal language, combining both aspects, of course. Somewhat like Hospers and Bouwsma, Langer said that art
forms presented feelings because they were morphologically similar to them: an artwork, she held, shared the same form as the
feeling it symbolizes. This gave rise to the main differences between presentational and discursive modes of communication: verbal
languages had a vocabulary, a syntax, determinate meanings, and the possibility of translation, but none of these were guaranteed
for art languages, according to Langer. Art languages revealed what it is like to experience something they created virtual
The detailed ways in which this arises with different art forms Langer explained in her 1953 book Feeling and Form. Scruton
followed Langer in several ways, notably by remarking that the experience of each art form is sui generis, that is, each of its own
kind. He also spelled out the characteristics of a symbol in even more detail. Discussions of questions specific to each art form
have been pursued by many other writers; see, for instance, Dickie, Sclafani, and Roblin, and the recent book by Gordon Graham.
8. Representation
Like the concept of Expression, the concept of Representation has been very thoroughly examined since the professionalization of
Philosophy in the twentieth century.
Isnt representation just a matter of copying? If representation could be understood simply in terms of copying, that would require
the innocent eye, that is, one which did not incorporate any interpretation. E. H. Gombrich was the first to point out that modes of
representation are, by contrast, conventional, and therefore have a cultural, socio-historical base. Thus perspective, which one
might view as merely mechanical, is only a recent way of representing space, and many photographs distort what we take to be
reality for instance, those from the ground of tall buildings, which seem to make them incline inwards at the top.
Goodman, too, recognized that depiction was conventional; he likened it to denotation, that is, the relation between a word and
what it stands for. He also gave a more conclusive argument against copying being the basis of representation. For that would make
resemblance a type of representation, whereas if a resembles b, then b resembles a yet a dog does not represent its picture. In
other words, Goodman is saying that resemblance implies a symmetric relationship, but representation does not. As a result,
Goodman made the point that representation is not a craft but an art: we create pictures of things, achieving a view of those things
by representing them as this or as that. As a result, while one sees the objects depicted, the artists thoughts about those objects may
also be discerned, as with Sircellos artistic arts. The plain idea that just objects are represented in a picture was behind Richard
Wollheims account of representational art in the first edition of his book Art and Its Objects (1968). There, the paint in a picture
was said to be seen as an object. But in the books second edition, Wollheim augmented this account to allow for what is also
seen in the work, which includes such things as the thoughts of the artist.
There are philosophical questions of another kind, however, with respect to the representation of objects, because of the
problematic nature of fictions. There are three broad categories of object which might be represented: individuals which exist, like
Napoleon; types of thing which exist, like kangaroos; and things which do not exist, like Mr. Pickwick, and unicorns. Goodmans
account of representation easily allowed for the first two categories, since, if depictions are like names, the first two categories of
painting compare, respectively, with the relations between the proper name Napoleon and the person Napoleon, and the common
name kangaroo and the various kangaroos. Some philosophers would think that the third category was as easily accommodated,
but Goodman, being an Empiricist (and so concerned with the extensional world), was only prepared to countenance existent
objects. So for him pictures of fictions did not denote or represent anything; instead, they were just patterns of various sorts.
Pictures of unicorns were just shapes, for Goodman, which meant that he saw the description picture of a unicorn as unarticulated
into parts. What he preferred to call a unicorn-picture was merely a design with certain named shapes within it. One needs to
allow there are intensional objects as well as extensional ones before one can construe picture of a unicorn as parallel to
picture of a kangaroo. By contrast with Goodman, Scruton is one philosopher more happy with this kind of construal. It is a
construal generally more congenial to Idealists, and to Realists of various persuasions, than to Empiricists.
The contrast between Empiricists and other types of philosopher also bears on other central matters to do with fictions. Is a fictional
story a lie about this world, or a truth about some other? Only if one believes there are other worlds, in some kind of way, will one
be able to see much beyond untruths in stories. A Realist will settle for there being fictional characters, often enough, about
which we know there are some determinate truths wasnt Mr. Pickwick fat? But one difficulty then is knowing things about Mr.
Pickwick other than what Dickens tells us was Mr. Pickwick fond of grapes, for instance? An Idealist will be more prepared to
consider fictions as just creatures of our imaginations. This style of analysis has been particularly prominent recently, with Scruton
essaying a general theory of the imagination in which statements like Mr. Pickwick was fat are entertained in an unasserted
fashion. One problem with this style of analysis is explaining how we can have emotional relations with, and responses to, fictional
entities. We noticed this kind of problem before, in Burkes description delightful horror: how can audiences get pleasure from
tragedies and horror stories when, if those same events were encountered in real life, they would surely be anything but
pleasurable? On the other hand, unless we believe that fictions are real, how can we, for instance, be moved by the fate of Anna
Karenina? Colin Radford, in 1975, wrote a celebrated paper on this matter which concluded that the paradox of emotional
response to fiction was unsolvable: adult emotional responses to fictions were brute facts, but they were still incoherent and
irrational, he said. Radford defended this conclusion in a series of further papers in what became an extensive debate. Kendall
Walton, in his 1990 book Mimesis and Make-Believe, pursued at length an Idealists answer to Radford. At a play, for instance,
Walton said the audience enters into a form of pretence with the actors, not believing, but making believe that the portrayed events
and emotions are real.
9. Art Objects
What kind of thing is a work of art? Goodman, Wollheim, Wolterstorff, and Margolis have been notable contributors to the
contemporary debate.
We must first distinguish the artwork from its notation or recipe, and from its various physical realizations. Examples would be:
some music, its score, and its performances; a drama, its script, and its performances; an etching, its plate, and its prints; and a
photograph, its negative, and its positives. The notations here are digital in the first two cases, and analogue in the second two,
since they involve discrete elements like notes and words in the one case, and continuous elements like lines and color patches in
the other. Realizations can also be divided into two broad types, as these same examples illustrate: there are those that arise in time
(performance works) and those that arise in space (object works). Realizations are always physical entities. Sometimes there is only
one realization, as with architect-designed houses, couturier-designed dresses, and many paintings, and Wollheim concluded that in
these cases the artwork is entirely physical, consisting of that one, unique realization. However, a number a copies were commonly
made of paintings in the middle ages, and it is theoretically possible to replicate even expensive clothing and houses.
Philosophical questions in this area arise mainly with respect to the ontological status of the idea which gets executed. Wollheim
brought in Charles Peirces distinction between types and tokens, as an answer to this: the number of different tokens of letters (7),
and different types of letter (5), in the string ABACDEC, indicates the difference. Realizations are tokens, but ideas are types,
that is, categories of objects. There is a normative connection between them as Margolis and Nicholas Wolterstorff have explained,
since the execution of ideas is an essentially social enterprise.
That also explains how the need for a notation arises: one which would link not only the idea with its execution, but also the
various functionaries. Broadly, there are the creative persons who generate the ideas, which are transmitted by means of a recipe to
manufacturers who generate the material objects and performances. Types are created, particulars are made it has been said, but
the link is through the recipe. Schematically, two main figures are associated with the production of many artworks: the architect
and the builder, the couturier and the dressmaker, the composer and the performer, the choreographer and the dancer, the script-
writer and the actor, and so forth. But a much fuller list of operatives is usually involved, as is very evident with the production of
films, and other similar large entertainments. Sometimes the director of a film is concerned to control all its aspects, when we get
the notion of an auteur who can be said to be the author of the work, but normally, creativity and craft thread through the whole
production process, since even those designated originators still work within certain traditions, and no recipe can limit entirely
the end product.
The associated philosophical question concerns the nature of any creativity. There is not much mystery about the making of
particulars from some recipe, but much more needs to be said about the process of originating some new idea. For creation is not
just a matter of getting into an excited mental state as in a brainstorming session, for instance. That is a central part of the
creative process theory, a form of which is to be found in the work of Collingwood. It was in these terms that Collingwood
distinguished the artist from the craftsperson, namely with reference to what the artist was capable of generating just in his or her
mind. But the major difficulty with this kind of theory is that any novelty has to be judged externally in terms of the artists social
place amongst other workers in the field, as Jack Glickman has shown. Certainly, if it is to be an original idea, the artist cannot
know beforehand what the outcome of the creative process will be. But others might have had the same idea before, and if the
outcome was known already, then the idea thought up was not original in the appropriate sense. Thus the artist will not be credited
with ownership in such cases. Creation is not a process, but a public achievement: it is a matter of breaking the tape ahead of others
in a certain race.

The Concept of the Aesthetic

First published Fri Sep 11, 2009; substantive revision Thu Sep 12, 2013
Introduced into the philosophical lexicon during the Eighteenth Century, the term aesthetic has come to be used to designate,
among other things, a kind of object, a kind of judgment, a kind of attitude, a kind of experience, and a kind of value. For the most
part, aesthetic theories have divided over questions particular to one or another of these designations: whether artworks are
necessarily aesthetic objects; how to square the allegedly perceptual basis of aesthetic judgments with the fact that we give reasons
in support of them; how best to capture the elusive contrast between an aesthetic attitude and a practical one; whether to define
aesthetic experience according to its phenomenological or representational content; how best to understand the relation between
aesthetic value and aesthetic experience. But questions of more general nature have lately arisen, and these have tended to have a
skeptical cast: whether any use of aesthetic may be explicated without appeal to some other; whether agreement respecting any
use is sufficient to ground meaningful theoretical agreement or disagreement; whether the term ultimately answers to any
legitimate philosophical purpose that justifies its inclusion in the lexicon. The skepticism expressed by such general questions did
not begin to take hold until the later part of the 20th century, and this fact prompts the question whether (a) the concept of the
aesthetic is inherently problematic and it is only recently that we have managed to see that it is, or (b) the concept is fine and it is
only recently that we have become muddled enough to imagine otherwise. Adjudicating between these possibilities requires a
vantage from which to take in both early and late theorizing on aesthetic matters.

1. The Concept of Taste

The concept of the aest+hetic descends from the concept of taste. Why the concept of taste commanded so much philosophical
attention during the 18th century is a complicated matter, but this much is clear: the eighteenth-century theory of taste emerged, in
part, as a corrective to the rise of rationalism, particularly as applied to beauty, and to the rise of egoism, particularly as applied to
virtue. Against rationalism about beauty, the eighteenth-century theory of taste held the judgment of beauty to be immediate;
against egoism about virtue, it held the pleasure of beauty to be disinterested.
1.1 Immediacy
Rationalism about beauty is the view that judgments of beauty are judgments of reason, i.e., that we judge things to be beautiful by
reasoning it out, where reasoning it out typically involves inferring from principles or applying concepts. At the beginning of the
18th century, rationalism about beauty had achieved dominance on the continent, and was being pushed to new extremes by les
gomtres, a group of literary theorists who aimed to bring to literary criticism the mathematical rigor that Descartes had brought
to physics. As one such theorist put it:
The way to think about a literary problem is that pointed out by Descartes for problems of physical science. A critic who tries any
other way is not worthy to be living in the present century. There is nothing better than mathematics as propaedeutic for literary
criticism. (Terrasson 1715, Preface, 65; quoted in Wimsatt and Brooks 1957, 258)
It was against this, and against more moderate forms of rationalism about beauty, that mainly British philosophers working mainly
within an empiricist framework began to develop theories of taste. The fundamental idea behind any such theorywhich we may
call the immediacy thesisis that judgments of beauty are not (or at least not primarily) mediated by inferences from principles or
applications of concepts, but rather have all the immediacy of straightforwardly sensory judgments. It is the idea, in other words,
that we do not reason to the conclusion that things are beautiful, but rather taste that they are. Here is an early expression of the
thesis, from Jean-Baptiste Dubos's Critical Reflections on Poetry, Painting, and Music, which first appeared in 1719:
Do we ever reason, in order to know whether a ragoo be good or bad; and has it ever entered into any body's head, after having
settled the geometrical principles of taste, and defined the qualities of each ingredient that enters into the composition of those
messes, to examine into the proportion observed in their mixture, in order to decide whether it be good or bad? No, this is never
practiced. We have a sense given us by nature to distinguish whether the cook acted according to the rules of his art. People taste
the ragoo, and tho' unacquainted with those rules, they are able to tell whether it be good or no. The same may be said in some
respect of the productions of the mind, and of pictures made to please and move us. (Dubos 1748, vol. II, 238239)
And here is a late expression, from Kant's 1790 Critique of the Power of Judgment:
If someone reads me his poem or takes me to a play that in the end fails to please my taste, then he can adduce Batteux or Lessing,
or even older and more famous critics of taste, and adduce all the rules they established as proofs that his poem is beautiful . I
will stop my ears, listen to no reasons and arguments, and would rather believe that those rules of the critics are false than allow
that my judgment should be determined by means of a priori grounds of proof, since it is supposed to be a judgment of taste and
not of the understanding of reason. (Kant 1790, 165)
But the theory of taste would not have enjoyed its eighteenth-century run, nor would it continue now to exert its influence, had it
been without resources to counter an obvious rationalist objection. There is a wide differenceso goes the objectionbetween
judging the excellence of a ragout and judging the excellence of a poem or a play. More often than not, poems and plays are objects
of great complication. But taking in all that complication requires a lot of cognitive work, including the application of concepts and
the drawing of inferences. Judging the beauty of poems and plays, then, is evidently not immediate and so evidently not a matter of
The chief way of meeting this objection was first to distinguish between the act of grasping the object preparatory to judging it and
the act of judging the object once grasped, and then to allow the former, but not the latter, to be as concept- and inference-mediated
as any rationalist might wish. Here is Hume, with characteristic clarity:
[I]n order to pave the way for [a judgment of taste], and give a proper discernment of its object, it is often necessary, we find, that
much reasoning should precede, that nice distinctions be made, just conclusions drawn, distant comparisons formed, complicated
relations examined, and general facts fixed and ascertained. Some species of beauty, especially the natural kinds, on their first
appearance command our affection and approbation; and where they fail of this effect, it is impossible for any reasoning to redress
their influence, or adapt them better to our taste and sentiment. But in many orders of beauty, particularly those of the fine arts, it is
requisite to employ much reasoning, in order to feel the proper sentiment. (Hume, 1751, Section I)
Humelike Shaftesbury and Hutcheson before him, and Reid after him (Cooper 1711, 17, 231; Hutcheson 1725, 1624; Reid
1785, 760761)regarded the faculty of taste as a kind of internal sense. Unlike the five external or direct senses, an
internal (or reflex or secondary) sense is one that depends for its objects on the antecedent operation of some other mental
faculty or faculties. Reid characterizes it as follows:
Beauty or deformity in an object, results from its nature or structure. To perceive the beauty therefore, we must perceive the nature
or structure from which it results. In this the internal sense differs from the external. Our external senses may discover qualities
which do not depend upon any antecedent perception . But it is impossible to perceive the beauty of an object, without
perceiving the object, or at least conceiving it. (Reid 1785, 760761)
Because of the highly complex natures or structures of many beautiful objects, there will have to be a role for reason in their
perception. But perceiving the nature or structure of an object is one thing. Perceiving its beauty is another.
1.2 Disinterest
Egoism about virtue is the view that to judge an action or trait virtuous is to take pleasure in it because you believe it to serve some
interest of yours. Its central instance is the Hobbesian viewstill very much on early eighteenth-century mindsthat to judge an
action or trait virtuous is to take pleasure in it because you believe it to promote your safety. Against Hobbesian egoism a number
of British moralistspreeminently Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Humeargued that, while a judgment of virtue is a matter of
taking pleasure in response to an action or trait, the pleasure is disinterested, by which they meant that it is not self-interested
(Cooper 1711, 220223; Hutcheson 1725, 9, 2526; Hume 1751, 218232, 295302). One argument went roughly as follows. That
we judge virtue by means of an immediate sensation of pleasure means that judgments of virtue are judgments of taste, no less than
judgments of beauty. But pleasure in the beautiful is not self-interested: we judge objects to be beautiful whether or not we believe
them to serve our interests. But if pleasure in the beautiful is disinterested, there is no reason to think that pleasure in the virtuous
cannot also be (Hutcheson 1725, 910).
The eighteenth-century view that judgments of virtue are judgments of taste highlights a discontinuity between the eighteenth-
century concept of taste and our concept of the aesthetic, since for us the concepts aesthetic and moral tend oppose one another
such that a judgment's falling under one typically precludes its falling under the other. Kant is chiefly responsible for removing this
discontinuity. He brought the moral and the aesthetic into opposition by re-interpreting what we might call the disinterest thesis
the thesis that pleasure in the beautiful is disinterested (though see Cooper 1711, 222 and Home 2005, 3638 for anticipations of
Kant's re-interpretation).
According to Kant, to say that a pleasure is interested is not to say that it is self-interested in the Hobbesian sense, but rather that it
stands in a certain relation to the faculty of desire. The pleasure involved in judging an action to be morally good is interested
because such a judgment issues in a desire to bring the action into existence, i.e., to perform it. To judge an action to be morally
good is to become aware that one has a duty to perform the action, and to become so aware is to gain a desire to perform it. By
contrast, the pleasure involved in judging an object to be beautiful is disinterested because such a judgment issues in no desire to do
anything in particular. If we can be said to have a duty with regard to beautiful things, it appears to be exhausted in our judging
them aesthetically to be beautiful. That is what Kant means when he says that the judgment of taste is not practical but rather
merely contemplative (Kant 1790, 95).
By thus re-orienting the notion of disinterest, Kant brought the concept of taste into opposition with the concept of morality, and so
into line, more or less, with the present concept of the aesthetic. But if the Kantian concept of taste is continuous, more or less, with
the present-day concept of the aesthetic, why the terminological discontinuity? Why have we come to prefer the term aesthetic to
the term taste? The not very interesting answer appears to be that we have preferred an adjective to a noun. The term aesthetic
derives from the Greek term for sensory perception, and so preserves the implication of immediacy carried by the term taste. Kant
employed both terms, though not equivalently: according to his usage, aesthetic is broader, picking out a class of judgments that
includes both the normative judgment of taste and the non-normative, though equally immediate, judgment of the agreeable.
Though Kant was not the first modern to use aesthetic (Baumgarten had used it as early as 1735), the term became widespread
only, though quickly, after his employment of it in the third Critique. Yet the employment that became widespread was not exactly
Kant's, but a narrower one according to which aesthetic simply functions as an adjective corresponding to the noun taste. So for
example we find Coleridge, in 1821, expressing the wish that he could find a more familiar word than aesthetic for works of taste
and criticism, before going on to argue:
As our language contains no other useable adjective, to express coincidence of form, feeling, and intellect, that something,
which, confirming the inner and the outward senses, becomes a new sense in itself there is reason to hope, that the
term aesthetic, will be brought into common use. (Coleridge 1821, 254)
The availability of an adjective corresponding to taste has allowed for the retiring of a series of awkward expressions: the
expressions judgment of taste, emotion of taste and quality of taste have given way to the arguably less offensive aesthetic
judgment, aesthetic emotion, and aesthetic quality. However, as the noun taste phased out, we became saddled with other
perhaps equally awkward expressions, including the one that names this entry.

2. The Concept of the Aesthetic

Much of the history of more recent thinking about the concept of the aesthetic can be seen as the history of the development of the
immediacy and disinterest theses.
2.1 Aesthetic Objects
Artistic formalism is the view that the artistically relevant properties of an artworkthe properties in virtue of which it is an
artwork and in virtue of which it is a good or bad oneare formal merely, where formal properties are typically regarded as
properties graspable by sight or by hearing merely. Artistic formalism has been taken to follow from both the immediacy and the
disinterest theses (Binkley 1970, 266267; Carroll 2001, 2040). If you take the immediacy thesis to imply the artistic irrelevance
of all properties whose grasping requires the use of reason, and you include representational properties in that class, then you are
apt to think that the immediacy thesis implies artistic formalism. If you take the disinterest thesis to imply the artistic irrelevance of
all properties capable of practical import, and you include representational properties in that class, then you are apt to think that the
disinterest thesis implies artistic formalism.
This is not to suggest that the popularity enjoyed by artistic formalism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries owed mainly to
its inference from the immediacy or disinterest theses. The most influential advocates of formalism during this period were
professional critics, and their formalism derived, at least in part, from the artistic developments with which they were concerned.
As a critic Eduard Hanslick advocated for the pure music of Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and later Brahms, and against the
dramatically impure music of Wagner; as a theorist he urged that music has no content but tonally moving forms (Hanslick 1986,
29). As a critic Clive Bell was an early champion of the post-Impressionists, especially Cezanne; as a theorist he maintained that
the formal properties of paintingrelations and combinations of lines and coloursalone have artistic relevance (Bell 1958, 17
18). As a critic Clement Greenberg was abstract expressionism's ablest defender; as a theorist he held painting's proper area of
competence to be exhausted by flatness, pigment, and shape (Greenberg 1986, 8687).
Not every influential defender of formalism has also been a professional critic. Monroe Beardsley, who arguably gave formalism
its most sophisticated articulation, was not (Beardsley 1958). Nor is Nick Zangwill, who recently has mounted a spirited and
resourceful defense of a moderate version of formalism (Zangwill 2001). But formalism has always been sufficiently motivated by
art-critical data that once Arthur Danto made the case that the data no longer supported it, and perhaps never really had,
formalism's heyday came to an end. Inspired in particular by Warhol's Brillo Boxes, which are (more or less) perceptually
indistinguishable from the brand-printed cartons in which boxes of Brillo were delivered to supermarkets, Danto observed that for
most any artwork it is possible to imagine both (a) another object that is perceptually indiscernible from it but which is not an
artwork, and (b) another artwork that is perceptually indiscernible from it but which differs in artistic value. From these
observations he concluded that form alone neither makes an artwork nor gives it whatever value it has (Danto 1981, 9495; Danto
1986, 3031; Danto 1997, 91).
But Danto has taken the possibility of such perceptual indiscernibles to show the limitations not merely of form but also of
aesthetics, and he has done so on the grounds, apparently, that the formal and the aesthetic are co-extensive. Regarding the Brillo
boxes that Warhol exhibited in 1964 and those delivered to markets he maintains that
aesthetics could not explain why one was a work of fine art and the other not, since for all practical purposes they were
aesthetically indiscernible: if one was beautiful, the other one had to be beautiful, since they looked just alike. (Danto 2003, 7)
But the inference from the limits of the artistically formal to the limits of the artistically aesthetic is presumably only as strong as
the inferences from the immediacy and disinterest theses to artistic formalism, and these are not beyond question. The inference
from the disinterest thesis appears to go through only if you employ a stronger notion of disinterest than the one Kant understands
himself to be employing: Kant, it is worth recalling, regards poetry as the highest of the fine arts precisely because of its capacity to
employ representational content in the expression of what he calls aesthetic ideas (Kant 1790, 191194; see Costello 2008 and
2013 for extended treatment of the capacity of Kantian aesthetics to accommodate conceptual art). The inference from the
immediacy thesis appears to go through only if you employ a notion of immediacy stronger than the one Hume, for example, takes
himself to be defending when he claims (in a passage quoted in section1.1) that in many orders of beauty, particularly those of the
fine arts, it is requisite to employ much reasoning, in order to feel the proper sentiment (Hume 1751, 173). It may be that artistic
formalism results if you push either of the tendencies embodied in the immediacy and disinterest theses to extremes. It may be that
the history of aesthetics from the 18th century to the mid-Twentieth is largely the history of pushing those two tendencies to
extremes. It does not follow that those tendencies must be so pushed.
Consider Warhol's Brillo Boxes. Danto is right to maintain that the eighteenth-century theorist of taste would not know how to
regard it as an artwork. But this is because the eighteenth-century theorist of taste lives in the 18th century, and so would be unable
to situate that work in its twentieth-century art-historical context, and not because the kind of theory he holds forbids him from
situating a work in its art-historical context. When Hume, for instance, observes that artists address their works to particular,
historically-situated audiences, and that a critic therefore must place himself in the same situation as the audience to whom a
work is addressed (Hume 1757, 239), he is allowing that artworks are cultural products, and that the properties that works have as
the cultural products they are are among the ingredients of the composition that a critic must grasp if she is to feel the proper
sentiment. Nor does there seem to be anything in the celebrated conceptuality of Brillo Boxes, nor of any other conceptual work,
that ought to give the eighteenth-century theorist pause. Francis Hutcheson asserts that mathematical and scientific theorems are
objects of taste (Hutcheson 1725, 3641). Alexander Gerard asserts that scientific discoveries and philosophical theories are objects
of taste (Gerard 1757, 6). Neither argues for his assertion. Both regard it as commonplace that objects of intellect may be objects of
taste as readily as objects of sight and hearing may be. Why should the present-day aesthetic theorist think otherwise? If an object
is conceptual in nature, grasping its nature will require intellectual work. If grasping an object's conceptual nature requires situating
it art-historically, then the intellectual work required to grasp its nature will include situating it art-historically. Butas Hume and
Reid held (see section 1.1)grasping the nature of an object preparatory to aesthetically judging it is one thing; aesthetically
judging the object once grasped is another.
Though Danto has been the most influential and persistent critic of formalism, his criticisms are no more decisive than those
advanced by Kendall Walton in his essay Categories of Art. Walton's anti-formalist argument hinges on two main theses, one
psychological and one philosophical. According to the psychological thesis, which aesthetic properties we perceive a work as
having depends on which category we perceive the work as belonging to. Perceived as belonging to the category of painting,
Picasso's Guernica will be perceived as violent, dynamic, vital, disturbing (Walton 1970, 347). But perceived as belonging to the
category of guernicaswhere guernicas are works with surfaces with the colors and shapes of Picasso's Guernica, but the
surfaces are molded to protrude from the wall like relief maps of different kinds of terrainPicasso's Guernicawill be perceived
not as violent and dynamic, but as cold, stark, lifeless, or serene and restful, or perhaps bland, dull, boring (Walton 1970, 347).
That Picasso's Guernica can be perceived both as violent and dynamic and as not violent and not dynamic might be thought to
imply that there is no fact of the matter whether it is violent and dynamic. But this implication holds only on the assumption that
there is no fact of the matter which category Picasso's Guernica actually belongs to, and this assumption appears to be false given
that Picasso intended that Guernica be a painting and did not intend that it be a Guernica, and that the category of paintings was
well-established in the society in which Picasso painted it while the category of guernicas was not. Hence the philosophical thesis,
according to which the aesthetic properties a work actually has are those it is perceived as having when perceived as belonging to
the category (or categories) it actually belongs to. Since the properties of having been intended to be a painting and having been
created in a society in which painting is well-established category are artistically relevant though not graspable merely by seeing
(or hearing) the work, it seems that artistic formalism cannot be true. I do not deny, Walton concludes, that paintings and
sonatas are to be judged solely on what can be seen or heard in themwhen they are perceived correctly. But examining a work
with the senses can by itself reveal neither how it is correct to perceive it, nor how to perceive it that way (Walton 1970, 367).
But if we cannot judge which aesthetic properties paintings and sonatas have without consulting the intentions and the societies of
the artists who created them, what of the aesthetic properties of natural items? With respect to them it may appear as if there is
nothing to consult except the way they look and sound, so that an aesthetic formalism about nature must be true. Allen Carlson, a
central figure in the burgeoning field of the aesthetics of nature, argues against this appearance. Carlson observes that Walton's
psychological thesis readily transfers from works of art to natural items: that we perceive Shetland ponies as cute and charming and
Clydesdales as lumbering surely owes to our perceiving them as belonging to the category of horses (Carlson 1981, 19). He also
maintains that the philosophical thesis transfers: whales actually have the aesthetic properties we perceive them as having when we
perceive them as mammals, and do not actually have any contrasting aesthetic properties we might perceive them to have when we
perceive them as fish. If we ask what determines which category or categories natural items actually belong to, the answer,
according to Carlson, is their natural histories as discovered by natural science (Carlson 1981, 2122). Inasmuch as a natural item's
natural history will tend not to be graspable by merely seeing or hearing it, formalism is no truer of natural items than it is of works
of art.
The claim that Walton's psychological thesis transfers to natural items has been widely accepted (and was in fact anticipated, as
Carlson acknowledges, by Ronald Hepburn (Hepburn 1966 and 1968)). The claim that Walton's philosophical thesis transfers to
natural items has proven more controversial. Carlson is surely right that aesthetic judgments about natural items are prone to be
mistaken insofar as they result from perceptions of those items as belonging to categories to which they do not belong, and, insofar
as determining which categories natural items actually belong to requires scientific investigation, this point seems sufficient to
undercut the plausibility of any very strong formalism about nature (see Carlson 1979 for independent objections against such
formalism). Carlson, however, also wishes to establish that aesthetic judgments about natural items have whatever objectivity
aesthetic judgments about works of art do, and it is controversial whether Walton's philosophical claim transfers sufficiently to
support such a claim. One difficulty, raised by Malcolm Budd (Budd 2002 and 2003) and Robert Stecker (Stecker1997c), is that
since there are many categories in which a given natural item may correctly be perceived, it is unclear which correct category is the
one in which the item is perceived as having the aesthetic properties it actually has. Perceived as belonging to the category of
Shetland ponies, a large Shetland pony may be perceived as lumbering; perceived as belonging to the category of horses, the same
pony may be perceived as cute and charming but certainly not lumbering. If the Shetland pony were a work of art, we might appeal
to the intentions (or society) of its creator to determine which correct category is the one that fixes its aesthetic character. But as
natural items are not human creations they can give us no basis for deciding between equally correct but aesthetically contrasting
categorizations. It follows, according to Budd, the aesthetic appreciation of nature is endowed with a freedom denied to the
appreciation of art (Budd 2003, 34), though this is perhaps merely another way of saying that the aesthetic appreciation of art is
endowed with an objectivity denied to the appreciation of nature.
2.2 Aesthetic Judgment
The eighteenth-century debate between rationalists and theorists of taste (or sentimentalists) was primarily a debate over the
immediacy thesis, i.e., over whether we judge objects to be beautiful by applying principles of beauty to them. It was not primarily
a debate over the existence of principles of beauty, a matter over which theorists of taste might disagree. Kant denied that there are
any such principles (Kant 1790, 101), but both Hutcheson and Hume affirmed their existence: they maintained that although
judgments of beauty are judgments of taste and not of reason, taste nevertheless operates according to general principles, which
might be discovered through empirical investigation (Hutcheson 1725, 2835; Hume 1757, 231233).
It is tempting to think of recent debate in aesthetics between particularists and generalists as a revival of the eighteenth-century
debate between rationalists and theorists of taste. But the accuracy of this thought is difficult to gauge. One reason is that it is often
unclear whether particularists and generalists take themselves merely to be debating the existence of aesthetic principles or to be
debating their employment in aesthetic judgment. Another is that, to the degree particularists and generalists take themselves to be
debating the employment of aesthetic principles in aesthetic judgment, it is hard to know what they can be meaning by aesthetic
judgment. If aesthetic still carries its eighteenth-century implication of immediacy, then the question under debate is whether
judgment that is immediate is immediate. If aesthetic no longer carries that implication, then it is hard to know what question is
under debate because it is hard to know what aesthetic judgment could be. It may be tempting to think that we can simply re-define
aesthetic judgment such that it refers to any judgment in which an aesthetic property is predicated of an object. But this requires
being able to say what an aesthetic property is without reference to its being immediately graspable, something no one seems to
have done. It may seem that we can simply re-define aesthetic judgment such that it refers to any judgment in which any property
of the class exemplified by beauty is predicated of an object. But which class is this? The classes exemplified by beauty are
presumably endless, and the difficulty is to specify the relevant class without reference to the immediate graspability of its
members, and that is what no one seems to have done.
However we are to sort out the particularist/genealist debate, important contributions to it include, on the side of particularism,
Arnold Isenberg's Critical Communication (1949) Frank Sibley's Aesthetic Concepts (in Sibley 2001) and Mary
Mothersill's Beauty Restored (1984) and, on the side of generalism, Monroe Beardsley's Aesthetics (1958) and On the Generality
of Critical Reasons (1962), Sibley's General Reasons and Criteria in Aesthetics (in Sibley 2001), George Dickie's Evaluating
Art (1987) and John Bender's General but Defeasible Reasons in Aesthetic Evaluation: The Generalist/Particularist Dispute
(1995). Of these, the papers by Isenberg and Sibley have arguably enjoyed the greatest influence.
Isenberg concedes that we often appeal to descriptive features of works in support of our judgments of their value, and he allows
that this may make it seem as if we must be appealing to principles in making those judgments. If in support of a favorable
judgment of some painting a critic appeals to the wavelike contour formed by the figures clustered in its foreground, it may seem as
if his judgment must involve tacit appeal to the principle that any painting having such a contour is so much the better. But
Isenberg argues that this cannot be, since no one agrees to any such principle:
There is not in all the world's criticism a single purely descriptive statement concerning which one is prepared to say beforehand,
If it is true, I shall like that work so much the better (Isenberg 1949, 338).
But if in appealing to the descriptive features of a work we are not acknowledging tacit appeals to principles linking those features
to aesthetic value, what are we doing? Isenberg believes we are offering directions for perceiving the work, i.e., by singling out
certain its features, we are narrow[ing] down the field of possible visual orientations and thereby guiding others in the
discrimination of details, the organization of parts, the grouping of discrete objects into patterns (Isenberg 1949, 336). In this way
we get others to see what we have seen, rather than getting them to infer from principle what we have so inferred.
That Sibley advances a variety of particularism in one paper and a variety of generalism in another will give the appearance of
inconsistency where there is none: Sibley is a particularist of one sort, and with respect to one distinction, and a generalist of
another sort with respect to another distinction. Isenberg, as noted, is a particularist with respect to the distinction between
descriptions and verdicts, i.e., he maintains that there are no principles by which we may infer from value-neutral descriptions of
works to judgments of their overall value. Sibley's particularism and generalism, by contrast, both have to do with judgments
falling in between descriptions and verdicts. With respect to a distinction between descriptions and a set of judgments intermediate
between descriptions and verdicts, Sibley is straightforwardly particularist. With respect to a distinction between a set of judgments
intermediate between descriptions and verdicts and verdicts, Sibley is a kind of generalist and describes himself as such.
Sibley's generalism, as set forth in General Reasons and Criteria in Aesthetics, begins with the observation that the properties to
which we appeal in justification of favorable verdicts are not all descriptive or value-neutral. We also appeal to properties that are
inherently positive, such as grace, balance, dramatic intensity, or comicality. To say that a property is inherently positive is not to
say that any work having it is so much the better, but rather that its tout court attribution implies value. So although a work may be
made worse on account of its comical elements, the simple claim that a work is good because comical is intelligible in a way that
the simple claims that a work is good because yellow, or because it lasts twelve minutes, or because it contains many puns, are not.
But if the simple claim that a work is good because comical is thus intelligible, comicality is a general criterion for aesthetic value,
and the principle that articulates that generality is true. But none of this casts any doubt on the immediacy thesis, as Sibley himself
I have argued elsewhere that there are no sure-fire rules by which, referring to the neutral and non-aesthetic qualities of things, one
can infer that something is balanced, tragic, comic, joyous, and so on. One has to look and see. Here, equally, at a different level, I
am saying that there are no sure-fire mechanical rules or procedures for deciding which qualities are actual defects in the work; one
has to judge for oneself. (Sibley 2001, 107108)
The elsewhere referred to in the first sentence is Sibley's earlier paper, Aesthetic Concepts, which argues that the application of
concepts such as balanced, tragic, comic, or joyous is not a matter of determining whether the descriptive (i.e., non-aesthetic)
conditions for their application are met, but is rather a matter of taste. Hence aesthetic judgments are immediate in something like
the way that judgments of color, or of flavor, are:
We see that a book is red by looking, just as we tell that the tea is sweet by tasting it. So too, it might be said, we just see (or fail to
see) that things are delicate, balanced, and the like. This kind of comparison between the exercise of taste and the use of the five
senses is indeed familiar; our use of the word taste itself shows that the comparison is age-old and very natural.
But Sibley recognizesas his eighteenth-century forebears did and his formalist contemporaries did notthat important
differences remain between the exercise of taste and the use of the five senses. Central among these is that we offer reasons, or
something like them, in support of our aesthetic judgments: by talkingin particular, by appealing to the descriptive properties on
which the aesthetic properties dependwe justify aesthetic judgments by bringing others to see what we have seen.
It is unclear to what degree Sibley, beyond seeking to establish that the application of aesthetic concepts is not condition-governed,
seeks also to define the term aesthetic in terms of their not being so. It is clearer, perhaps, that he does not succeed in defining the
term this way, whatever his intentions. Aesthetic concepts are not alone in being non-condition-governed, as Sibley himself
recognizes in comparing them with color concepts. But there is also no reason to think them alone in being non-condition-governed
while also being reason-supportable, since moral concepts, to give one example, at least arguably also have both these features.
Isolating the aesthetic requires something more than immediacy, as Kant saw. It requires something like the Kantian notion of
disinterest, or at least something to play the role played by that notion in Kant's theory.
2.3 The Aesthetic Attitude
The Kantian notion of disinterest has its most direct recent descendents in the aesthetic-attitude theories that flourished from the
early to mid 20th century. Though Kant followed the British in applying the term disinterested strictly to pleasures, its migration
to attitudes is not difficult to explain. For Kant the pleasure involved in a judgment of taste is disinterested because such a
judgment does not issue in a motive to do anything in particular. For this reason Kant refers to the judgment of taste as
contemplative rather than practical (Kant 1790, 95). But if the judgment of taste is not practical, then the attitude we bear toward its
object is presumably also not practical: when we judge an object aesthetically we are unconcerned with whether and how it may
further our practical aims. Hence it is natural to speak of our attitude toward the object as disinterested.
To say, however, that the migration of disinterest from pleasures to attitudes is natural is not to say that it is inconsequential.
Consider the difference between Kant's aesthetic theory, the last great theory of taste, and Schopenhauer's aesthetic theory, the first
great aesthetic-attitude theory. Whereas for Kant disinterested pleasure is the means by which we discover things to bear aesthetic
value, for Schopenhauer disinterested attention (or will-less contemplation) is itself the locus of aesthetic value. According to
Schopenhauer, we lead our ordinary, practical lives in a kind of bondage to our own desires (Schopenhauer 1819, 196). This
bondage is a source not merely of pain but also of cognitive distortion in that it restricts our attention to those aspects of things
relevant to the fulfilling or thwarting of our desires. Aesthetic contemplation, being will-less, is therefore both epistemically and
hedonically valuable, allowing us a desire-free glimpse into the essences of things as well as a respite from desire-induced pain:
When, however, an external cause or inward disposition suddenly raises us out of the endless stream of willing, and snatches
knowledge from the thralldom of the will, the attention is now no longer directed to the motives of willing, but comprehends things
free from their relation to the will ... Then all at once the peace, always sought but always escaping us ... comes to us of its own
accord, and all is well with us. (Schopenhauer 1819, 196)
The two most influential aesthetic-attitude theories of the 20th century are those of Edward Bullough and Jerome Stolnitz.
According to Stolnitz's theory, which is the more straightforward of the two, bearing an aesthetic attitude toward an object is a
matter of attending to it disinterestedly and sympathetically, where to attend to it disinterestedly is to attend to it with no purpose
beyond that of attending to it, and to attend to it sympathetically is to accept it on its own terms, allowing it, and not one's own
preconceptions, to guide one's attention of it (Stolnitz 1960, 3236). The result of such attention is a comparatively richer
experience of the object, i.e., an experience taking in comparatively many of the object's features. Whereas a practical attitude
limits and fragments the object of our experience, allowing us to see only those of its features which are relevant to our
purposes,. By contrast, the aesthetic attitude isolates the object and focuses upon itthe look of the rocks, the sound of the
ocean, the colors in the painting. (Stolnitz 1960, 33, 35).
Bullough, who prefers to speak of psychical distance rather than disinterest, characterizes aesthetic appreciation as something
achieved by putting the phenomenon, so to speak, out of gear with our actual practical self; by allowing it to stand outside the
context of our personal needs and endsin short, by looking at it objectively by permitting only such reactions on our part as
emphasise the objective features of the experience, and by interpreting even our subjective affections not as modes of our being
but rather as characteristics of the phenomenon. (Bullough 1995, 298299; emphasis in original).
Bullough has been criticized for claiming that aesthetic appreciation requires dispassionate detachment:
Bullough's characterization of the aesthetic attitude is the easiest to attack. When we cry at a tragedy, jump in fear at a horror
movie, or lose ourselves in the plot of a complex novel, we cannot be said to be detached, although we may be appreciating the
aesthetic qualities of these works to the fullest . And we can appreciate the aesthetic properties of the fog or storm while fearing
the dangers they present. (Goldman 2005, 264)
But such a criticism seems to overlook a subtlety of Bullough's view. While Bullough does hold that aesthetic appreciation requires
distance between our own self and its affections (Bullough 1995, 298), he does not take this to require that we not undergo
affections but quite the opposite: only if we undergo affections have we affections from which to be distanced. So, for example, the
properly distanced spectator of a well-constructed tragedy is not the over-distanced spectator who feels no pity or fear, nor the
under-distanced spectator who feels pity and fear as she would to an actual, present catastrophe, but the spectator who interprets
the pity and fear she feels not as modes of [her] being but rather as characteristics of the phenomenon (Bullough 1995, 299). The
properly distanced spectator of a tragedy, we might say, understands her fear and pity to be part of what tragedy is about.
The notion of the aesthetic attitude has been attacked from all corners and has very few remaining sympathizers. George Dickie is
widely regarded as having delivered the decisive blow in his essay The Myth of the Aesthetic Attitude (Dickie 1964) by arguing
that all purported examples of interested or distanced attention are really just examples of inattention. So consider the case of the
spectator at a performance of Othello who becomes increasingly suspicious of his own wife as the action proceeds, or the case of
the impresario who sits gauging the size of the audience, or the case of the father who sits taking pride in his daughter's
performance, or the case of the moralist who sits gauging the moral effects the play is apt to produce in its audience. These and all
such cases will be regarded by the attitude theorist as cases of interested or distanced attention to the performance, when they are
actually nothing but cases of inattention to the performance: the jealous husband is attending to his wife, the impresario to the till,
the father to his daughter, the moralist to the effects of the play. But if none of them is attending to the performance, then none of
them is attending to it disinterestedly or with distance (Dickie 1964, 5759).
The attitude theorist, however, can plausibly resist Dickie's interpretation of such examples. Clearly the impresario is not attending
to the performance, but there is no reason to regard the attitude theorist as committed to thinking otherwise. As for the others, it
might be argued that they are all attending. The jealous husband must be attending to the performance, since it is the action of the
play, as presented by the performance, that is making him suspicious. The proud father must be attending to the performance, since
he is attending to his daughter's performance, which is an element of it. The moralist must be attending to the performance, since he
otherwise would have no basis by which to gauge its moral effects on the audience. It may be that none of these spectators is giving
the performance the attention it demands, but that is precisely the attitude theorist's point.
But perhaps another of Dickie's criticisms, one lesser known, ultimately poses a greater threat to the ambitions of the attitude
theorist. Stolnitz, it will be recalled, distinguishes between disinterested and interested attention according to the purpose governing
the attention: to attend disinterestedly is to attend with no purpose beyond that of attending; to attend interestedly is to attend with
some purpose beyond that of attending. But Dickie objects that a difference in purpose does not imply a difference in attention:
Suppose Jones listens to a piece of music for the purpose of being able to analyze and describe it on an examination the next day
and Smith listens to the same music with no such ulterior purpose. There is certainly a difference in the motives and intentions of
the two men: Jones has an ulterior purpose and Smith does not, but this does not mean Jones's listening differs from Smith's .
There is only one way to listen to (to attend to) music, although there may be a variety of motives, intentions, and reasons for doing
so and a variety of ways of being distracted from the music. (Dickie 1964, 58).
There is again much here that the attitude theorist can resist. The idea that listening is a species of attending can be resisted: the
question at hand, strictly speaking, is not whether Jones and Smithlisten to the music in the same way, but whether they attend in
the same way to the music they are listening to. The contention that Jones and Smith are attending in the same way appears to be
question-begging, as it evidently depends on a principle of individuation that the attitude theorist rejects: if Jones's attention is
governed by some ulterior purpose and Smith's is not, and we individuate attention according to the purpose that governs it, their
attention is not the same. Finally, even if we reject the attitude theorist's principle of individuation, the claim that there is but one
way to attend to music is doubtful: one can seemingly attend to music in myriad waysas historical document, as cultural artifact,
as aural wallpaper, as sonic disturbancedepending on which of the music's features one attends to in listening to it. But Dickie is
nevertheless onto something crucial to the degree he urges that a difference in purpose need not imply a relevantdifference in
attention. Disinterest plausibly figures in the definition of the aesthetic attitude only to the degree that it, and it alone, focuses
attention on the features of the object that matter aesthetically. The possibility that there are interests that focus attention on just
those same features implies that disinterest has no place in such a definition, which in turn implies that neither it nor the notion of
the aesthetic attitude is likely to be of any use in fixing the meaning of the term aesthetic. If to take the aesthetic attitude toward
an object simply is to attend to its aesthetically relevant properties, whether the attention is interested or disinterested, then
determining whether an attitude is aesthetic apparently requires first determining which properties are the aesthetically relevant
ones. And this task seems always to result either in claims about the immediate graspability of aesthetic properties, which are
arguably insufficient to the task, or in claims about the essentially formal nature of aesthetic properties, which are arguably
But that the notions of disinterest and psychical distance prove unhelpful in fixing the meaning of the term aesthetic does not
imply that they are mythic. At times we seem unable to get by without them. Consider the case of The Fall of Miletusa tragedy
written by the Greek dramatist Phrynicus and staged in Athens barely two years after the violent Persian capture of the Greek city
of Miletus in 494 BC. Herodotus records that
[the Athenians] found many ways to express their sorrow at the fall of Miletus, and in particular, when Phrynicus composed and
produced a play called The Fall of Miletus, the audience burst into tears and fined him a thousand drachmas for reminding them of
a disaster that was so close to home; future productions of the play were also banned. (Herodotus, The Histories, 359)
How are we to explain the Athenian reaction to this play without recourse to something like interest or lack of distance? How, in
particular, are we to explain the difference between the sorrow elicited by a successful tragedy and the sorrow elicited in this case?
The distinction between attention and inattention is of no use here. The difference is not that the Athenians could not attend to The
Fallwhereas they could attend to other plays. The difference is that they could not attend to The Fall as they could attend to other
plays, and this because of their too intimate connection to what attending to The Fall required their attending to.
2.4 Aesthetic Experience
Theories of aesthetic experience may be divided into two kinds according to the kind of feature appealed to in explanation of what
makes experience aesthetic. Internalist theories appeal to features internal to experience, typically to phenomenological features,
whereas externalist theories appeal to features external to the experience, typically to features of the object experienced. (The
distinction between internalist and externalist theories of aesthetic experience is similar, though not identical, to the distinction
between phenomenal and epistemic conceptions of aesthetic experience drawn by Gary Iseminger (Iseminger 2003, 100, and
Iseminger 2004, 27, 36)). Though internalist theoriesparticularly John Dewey's (1934) and Monroe Beardsley's (1958)
predominated during the early and middle parts of the 20th century, externalist theoriesincluding Beardsley's (1982) and George
Dickie's (1988)have been in the ascendant since. Beardsley's views on aesthetic experience make a strong claim on our attention,
given that Beardsley might be said to have authored the culminating internalist theory as well as the founding externalist one.
Dickie's criticisms of Beardsley's internalism make an equally strong claim, since they moved Beardsleyand with him most
everyone elsefrom internalism toward externalism.
According to the version of internalism Beardsley advances in his Aesthetics (1958), all aesthetic experiences have in common
three or four (depending on how you count) features, which some writers have [discovered] through acute introspection, and
which each of us can test in his own experience (Beardsley 1958, 527). These are focus (an aesthetic experience is one in which
attention is firmly fixed upon [its object]), intensity, and unity, where unity is a matter of coherence and of completeness
(Beardsley 1958, 527). Coherence, in turn, is a matter of having elements that are properly connected one to another such that
[o]ne thing leads to another; continuity of development, without gaps or dead spaces, a sense of overall providential pattern of
guidance, an orderly cumulation of energy toward a climax, are present to an unusual degree. (Beardsley 1958, 528)
Completeness, by contrast, is a matter having elements that counterbalance or resolve one another such that the whole stands
apart from elements without it:
The impulses and expectations aroused by elements within the experience are felt to be counterbalanced or resolved by other
elements within the experience, so that some degree of equilibrium or finality is achieved and enjoyed. The experience detaches
itself, and even insulates itself, from the intrusion of alien elements. (Beardsley 1958, 528)
Dickie's most consequential criticism of Beardsley's theory is that Beardsley, in describing the phenomenology of aesthetic
experience, has failed to distinguish between the features we experience aesthetic objects as having and the features aesthetic
experiences themselves have. So while every feature mentioned in Beardsley's description of the coherence of aesthetic
experiencecontinuity of development, the absence of gaps, the mounting of energy toward a climaxsurely is a feature we
experience aesthetic objects as having, there is no reason to think of aesthetic experience itself as having any such features:
Note that everything referred to [in Beardsley's description of coherence] is a perceptual characteristic and not an effect of
perceptual characteristics. Thus, no ground is furnished for concluding that experience can be unified in the sense of being
coherent. What is actually argued for is that aesthetic objects are coherent, a conclusion which must be granted, but not the one
which is relevant. (Dickie 1965, 131)
Dickie raises a similar worry about Beardsley's description of the completeness of aesthetic experience:
One can speak of elements being counterbalanced in the painting and say that the painting is stable, balanced and so on, but what
does it mean to say the experience of the spectator of the painting is stable or balanced? Looking at a painting in some cases
might aid some persons in coming to feel stable because it might distract them from whatever is unsettling them, but such cases are
atypical of aesthetic appreciation and not relevant to aesthetic theory. Aren't characteristics attributable to the painting simply being
mistakenly shifted to the spectator? (Dickie 1965, 132)
Though these objections turned out to be only the beginning of the debate between Dickie and Beardsley on the nature of aesthetic
experience (See Beardsley 1969, Dickie 1974, Beardsley 1982, and Dickie 1987; see also Iseminger 2003 for a helpful overview of
the Beardsley-Dickie debate), they nevertheless went a long way toward shaping that debate, which taken as whole might be seen
as the working out of an answer to the question What can a theory of aesthetic experience be that takes seriously the distinction
between the experience of features and the features of experience? The answer turned out to be an externalist theory of the sort
that Beardsley advances in the 1982 essay The Aesthetic Point of View and that many others have advanced since: a theory
according to which an aesthetic experience just is an experience having aesthetic content, i.e., an experience of an object as having
the aesthetic features that it has.
The shift from internalism to externalism has not been without costs. One central ambition of internalismthat of fixing the
meaning of aesthetic by tying it to features peculiar to aesthetic experiencehas had to be given up. But a second, equally
central, ambitionthat of accounting for aesthetic value by tying it to the value of aesthetic experiencehas been retained. Indeed
most everything written on aesthetic experience since the Beardsley-Dickie debate has been written in service of the view that an
object has aesthetic value insofar as it affords valuable experience when correctly perceived. This viewwhich has come to be
called empiricism about aesthetic value, given that it reduces aesthetic value to the value of aesthetic experiencehas attracted
many advocates over the last several years (Beardsley 1982, Budd 1985 and 1995, Goldman 1995 and 2006, Walton 1993,
Levinson 1996 and 2006, Miller 1998, Railton 1998, and Iseminger 2004), while provoking relatively little criticism (Zangwill
1999, Sharpe 2000, D. Davies 2004, and Kieran 2005). Yet it can be wondered whether empiricism about aesthetic value is
susceptible to a version of the criticism that has done internalism in.
For there is something odd about the position that combines externalism about aesthetic experience with empiricism about aesthetic
value. Externalism locates the features that determine aesthetic character in the object, whereas empiricism locates the features that
determine aesthetic value in the experience, when one might have thought that the features that determine aesthetic character just
are the features that determine aesthetic value. If externalism and empiricism are both true, there is nothing to stop two objects that
have different, even wholly disparate, aesthetic characters from nevertheless having the very same aesthetic valueunless, that is,
the value-determining features of an experience are bound logically to the character-determining features of the object that affords
it such that only an object with those features could afford an experience having that value. But in that case the value-determining
features of the experience are evidently not simply the phenomenological features that might have seemed best suited to determine
the value of the experience, but perhaps rather the representational or epistemic features of the experience that it has only in
relation to its object. And this is what some empiricists have been urging of late:
Aesthetic experience aims first at understanding and appreciation, at taking in the aesthetic properties of the object. The object
itself is valuable for providing experience that could only be an experience of that object . Part of the value of aesthetic
experience lies in experiencing the object in the right way, in a way true to its nonaesthetic properties, so that the aim of
understanding and appreciation is fulfilled. (Goldman 2006, 339341; see also Iseminger 2004, 36)
But there is an unaddressed difficulty with this line of thought. While the representational or epistemic features of an aesthetic
experience might very plausibly contribute to its value, such features very implausibly contribute to the value of the object
affording such an experience. If the value of the experience of a good poem consists, in part, in its being an experience in which the
poem is properly understood or accurately represented, the value of a good poem cannot consist, even in part, in its capacity to
afford an experience in which it is properly understood or accurately represented, because, all things being equal, a bad poem
presumably has these capacities in equal measure. It is of course true that only a good poem rewards an understanding of it. But
then a good poem's capacity for rewarding understanding is evidently to be explained by the poem's already being good; it is
evidently in virtue of its already being good that a poem rewards us on condition that we understand it.
Other empiricists have taken a different tack. Instead of trying to isolate the general features of aesthetic experience in virtue of
which it and its objects are valuable, they simply observe the impossibility, in any particular case, of saying much about the value
of an aesthetic experience without also saying a lot about the aesthetic character of the object. So, for example, referring to the
values of the experiences that works of art afford, Jerrold Levinson maintains that
if we examine more closely these goods we see that their most adequate description invariably reveals them to involve
ineliminably the artworks that provide them . The cognitive expansion afforded us by Bartok's Fourth String Quartet, similarly,
is not so much a generalized effect of that sort as it is a specific state of stimulation undetachable from the particular turns and
twists of Bartok's carefully crafted essay . even the pleasure we take in the Allegro of Mozart's Symphony no. 29 is, as it were,
the pleasure of discovering the individual nature and potential of its thematic material, and the precise way its aesthetic character
emerges from its musical underpinnings . there is a sense in which the pleasure of the Twenty-Ninth can be had only from that
work. (Levinson 1996, 2223; see also Budd 1985, 123124)
There is no denying that when we attempt to describe, in any detail, the values of experiences afforded by particular works we
quickly find ourselves describing the works themselves. The question is what to make of this fact. If one is antecedently committed
to empiricism, it may seem a manifestation of the appropriately intimate connection between the aesthetic character of a work and
the value of the experience that the work affords. But if one is not so committed, it may seem to manifest something else. If, when
attempting to account for the aesthetic value of Bartok's Fourth String Quartet in terms of the value of the experience it affords, we
find ourselves unable to say much about the value of that experience without saying something about the quartet's particular turns
and twists, this may be because the value resides in those twists and turns and not in the experience of them. To affirm such a
possibility, of course, is not to deny that the value the quartet has in virtue of its particular twists in turns is a value that we
experience it as having. It is rather to insist on sharply distinguishing between the value of experience and the experience of value,
in something like the way Dickie insisted on sharply distinguishing between the unity of experience and the experience of unity.
When the empiricist maintains that that value of Bartok's Fourth String Quartet, with its particular twists and turns, consists in the
value of the experience that it affords, which experience is valuable, at least in part, because it is an experience of a quartet with
those twists and turns, one may wonder whether a value originally belonging to the quartet has been transferred to the experience,
before being reflected back, once again, onto the quartet.