This article surveys attempts by aestheticians writing in the Anglo-American analytic tradition during the last half of the twentieth century to clarify, defend, and use the idea of a distinctively aesthetic state of mind. Their ambitions typically include most or all of the following: giving an account of what distinguishes the aesthetic state of mind from other states of mind that are like it in some ways, such as sensual pleasure or drug-induced experience, or from those connected with other realms of human concern, such as the religious, the cognitive, the practical, and the moral; giving that account in a way that appeals neither to any prior idea of the aesthetic nor to the concept of art; explaining related ideas of the distinctively aesthetic, e.g. the ideas of aesthetic properties, qualities, aspects, or concepts, of the aesthetic object, of the aesthetic judgement, and of aesthetic value, in terms of the idea of the distinctively aesthetic state of mind; and defending some more or less close connection between the realm of the aesthetic thereby explained and the realm of art, while recognizing that the aesthetic state of mind may appropriately be directed towards or grounded in non-art (e.g. nature) as well.
This article considers the nature of our aesthetic thought and experience. It does not tackle head-on the issue of whether or not we should think that reality includes mind-independent aesthetic properties and thus mind-independent aesthetic states of affairs in which objects or events possess mind-independent aesthetic properties. However, thinking about the nature of our aesthetic thought and experience unavoidably involves us in thinking about the metaphysics that we are committed to in our aesthetic thought and experience. The issue is whether or not aesthetic thought and experience is ‘realist’, in the sense that we represent aesthetic properties and states of affairs in such thoughts and experiences. If so, ‘common sense’ or ‘folk aesthetics’ has metaphysically dirty hands, though whether or not this common-sense metaphysics is true is another matter. In contrast with realists, there are ‘non-realists’, who deny that ordinary aesthetic thought and experience have such metaphysical commitments.
John W. Bender
Aesthetic property realism would seem to be committed to at least some version of the following two claims: (a) there is a distinctive category of predications or attributions used in describing art works and other objects of our aesthetic attention; and (b) it is correct to construe these attributions as asserting that certain aesthetic properties exist and are objectively true of art works and other objects. Although anti-realist challenges have focused mainly on deconstructing (b), there has also been considerable scepticism over (a), i.e. over the very concept of aesthetic properties. The distinction between the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic is one of those distinctions that has strong intuitive credibility but yields grudgingly to philosophical analysis.
Aesthetic reasons are reasons to do and think various things. For example, it makes sense to wonder if a tree stump on the lawn was left there for environmental rather than aesthetic reasons, or for no reason at all. Aesthetic considerations of this kind are often contrasted with non-aesthetic reasons—such as moral or epistemic reasons. For example, they seem connected to pleasure-in-experience in a distinctive way that differs from paradigmatic moral reasons. Relatedly, the authority of aesthetic reasons has often been thought to involve less of an “external demand” upon us than in the other cases. In this chapter, I suggest that such distinctiveness and modesty coheres well with an anti-realist treatment that views them as non-objective in nature. I then go on to consider an alternative, more robustly realist conception of aesthetic reasons.
This article examines how aesthetics became a branch of psychology during the early modern period in which new references to taste, perfection, and harmony reinforced the emphasis on personal experience and judgement that was common to the natural and the human sciences of the period. During this period the debates in art theory centred on questions of the legitimacy of artistic innovations in style and genre, and were based on interpretations of the ancient texts of rhetoric and poetics. It discusses the factors that contributed to the development of aesthetics, the question of aesthetics prior to the eighteenth century, and the post-Kantian distinction between the tasks of rhetoric and those of aesthetics.
This article draws some lines that might indicate the direction in which one might consider the notion of medieval aesthetics. It chooses three examples that have always been at the centre of the history of medieval aesthetics and the various attempts of its conceptualization: Abbot Suger's writings on the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis; the aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas; and the Schedula diversarum atrium. These examples also indicate the difficulty in relating the question of aesthetics exclusively to philosophy or even to address it as a philosophical question.
The subject of this article is the connection between art and all those aspects of mind that have, to some degree, an empirical side. It covers results in neuropsychology and neuroscience, in cognitive and developmental psychology, as well as in various parts of the philosophy of mind. This article, however, ignores questions about the natural history of our mental capacities. To the extent that art has human psychology as its subject, there must be potential for conflict with the sciences of mind. As philosophers have recently noted, results in social psychology challenge our ordinary conception of human motivation, suggesting that moral character either does not exist at all or plays an insignificant role in shaping behaviour.
Cultural studies in its first and second phases was an avowedly political undertaking, clearly associated with the British New Left as well as with Marxist social and political philosophies. By the 1970s and 1980s, Birmingham-style cultural studies was producing work on subjects such as ideology, language, discourse and textuality, the role of police, youth subcultures, and audience response to popular and mass cultural texts. The third phase of cultural studies, roughly from the late 1980s to the present and especially in its ‘international’ tendencies, moves away from a commitment to Marxism — especially from a commitment to Marxist political economy — and focuses increasingly on what Douglas Kellner describes as a ‘postmodern problematic’ dealing with ‘pleasure, consumption, and the individual construction of identities’.
To the extent that these neo-Aristotelian value realisms offer multi-dimensional accounts of the good and very flexible appreciations of different virtues (of both character and art) in different contexts, they account well for the varieties of characters, actions, and works of art that we value. But it is not always easy to see exactly how the particularism fits with the objectivism. When there is that much variety in judgements of value, often indexed to local cultural or historical circumstance, then, even if it need not be true, the thought that such judgements are mere expressions of individual or social preference looms. When, in contrast, the overall theory of the good or the beautiful is given more shape and content, so that common features of beauty or goodness in different particulars are discernible, then the particularism lapses.
The applications of the science of psychology to our understanding of the origins and nature of art is not a recent phenomenon; in fact, it is as old as the Greeks. Plato wrote of art not only from the standpoint of metaphysics, but also in terms of the psychic, especially emotional, dangers that art posed to individuals and society. It was Plato's psychology of art that resulted in his famous requirements in The Republic for social control of the forms and contents of art. Aristotle, on the other hand, approached the arts as philosopher more comfortably at home in experiencing the arts; his writings are to that extent more dispassionately descriptive of the psychological features he viewed as universal in what we would call ‘aesthetic experience’. Although Plato and Aristotle both described the arts in terms of generalizations implicitly applicable to all cultures, it was Aristotle who most self-consciously tied his art theory to a general psychology.