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 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.
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.
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.
Dominic McIver Lopes
This article focuses on aesthetics and the philosophy of art as branches of so-called analytic philosophy. It begins with a historical overview of aesthetics and the philosophy of art before turning to a discussion of how the philosophy of art bears upon human culture. It then considers the methods used in attacking problems in aesthetics and the philosophy of art by highlighting the distinctions between pure and applied philosophy, between internal and external perspectives on aesthetic and artistic phenomena, and between first-order and second-order methods. It also examines how aesthetics and the philosophy of art are affected as the arts evolve and as empirical studies of aesthetic and artistic phenomena become well established in the social and behavioural sciences as well as the humanities.
This article focuses on the philosophical issues, themes, and theories of postmodernism and how they impact on the field of aesthetics. But it begins with a brief historical overview of how postmodernism evolved in the past half-century from a specific artistic style concept to a notion of very general social and cultural significance. It then explores the nasty tangle of ambiguities and tensions in the concept of postmodernism and goes on to survey its major philosophical theories. It concludes by considering what consequences postmodernism should have for aesthetic theory and what a postmodern aesthetic would be like.
The long period of stagnation into which the aesthetics of nature fell after Hegel's relegation of natural beauty to a status inferior to the beauty of art was ended by Ronald Hepburn's ground-breaking paper (1966). In this essay, which offers a diagnosis of the causes of philosophy's neglect of the aesthetics of nature, Hepburn describes a number of kinds of aesthetic experience of nature that exhibit a variety of features distinguishing the aesthetic experience of nature from that of art and endowing it with values different from those characteristic of the arts, thus making plain the harmful consequences of the neglect of natural beauty. The subtlety of Hepburn's thought precludes simple summary, and this article does no more than enumerate a few of his themes that have been taken up and developed in the now flourishing literature on the aesthetics of nature (although not always with the nuanced treatment accorded them by Hepburn).
Questions about the aesthetic value and appreciation of popular art have only recently become an area of interest to Anglo-American aesthetics. This is curious, for the distinction between high and popular art — like that between high and popular culture, and between avant-garde art and mass art — is a familiar and longstanding one frequently drawn by critics, philosophers, and cultural theorists throughout the course of the twentieth century. It was extensively discussed by Marxist thinkers like Walter Benjamin, and was the stock-in-trade of the Critical Theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Not just those two, but high-modernist philosophers and critics like R. G. Collingwood, Clement Greenberg, and Dwight MacDonald also made much of the distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ (or popular) art. Even so, it was a distinction that did not earn the serious attention of philosophical aesthetics until the penultimate decade of the twentieth century.
All responsible inquiry into the contemporary state of avant-garde art must acknowledge the possibility that no such art exists. Such non-existence would be dismaying news for a lot of people because, despite the possibility that the concept refers to nothing, many writers and artists continue to invest in it as if its capacity to illuminate contemporary artistic and aesthetic practices were a given. If one inclines towards believing that there was an American avant-garde in those years, one is likely to find that Sayre's roster of participating figures includes the expected artists and movements: Carolee Schneeman and Robert Morris, Judy Chicago and Robert Smithson, Fluxus and the Judson Dance Theater, and so on.
‘Everyday aesthetics’ refers to the possibility of aesthetic experience of non-art objects and events, as well as to a current movement within the field of philosophy of art which rejects or puts into question distinctions such as those between fine and popular art, art and craft, and aesthetic and non-aesthetic experiences. The movement may be said to begin properly with Dewey's Art as Experience (1934), though it also has roots in continental philosophers such as Heidegger. The possibility of everyday aesthetics originates in two undoubted facts: firstly, that art emerges from a range of non-art activities and experiences, and, secondly, that the realm of the aesthetic extends well beyond the realm of what are commonly conceived to be the fine arts.
Michael Lacewing and Richard G.T. Gipps
This introduction provides an overview of the chapters in this section, which explores the role of psychoanalysis in aesthetics. More specifically, the chapters examine some psychoanalytic concepts with which to think more deeply about human creativity and aesthetic sensibility, such as wish and wish fulfilment, the depressive position, projection, containment, and mentalization. The focus is on what Sigmund Freud thinks about art, how we should understand it (the question of criticism), what makes an experience distinctively aesthetic, and how we should understand artistic creativity. One of the chapters deals with film theory, arguing against the cognitive turn in favour of the view that ‘the creation and experience of film is driven by desire and wish fulfilment and functions so as to satisfy certain psychological, protective, expressive needs of both artists and audiences’. Another chapter considers the developmental, transformative nature of art, and the particular importance of its form in this respect.
Susan L. Feagin
This article explains the complexity argument as offered by Peter Kivy in relation to absolute music. The next section looks at a particular criticism of the complexity argument: that feelings often alert us to what is important in one's current environment (for these purposes, what is important in the work one is reading) in a way that cannot be accomplished by reason or cognition, ‘intellectual’ activity, or even by affectless perception. Such a view of feelings in general currently enjoys substantial popularity among a variety of psychologists and philosophers. The next section presents one intellectualist model for appreciation, courtesy of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five: the Tralfamadorean view, which connects the absence of time from the reading process, and from the process of living one's life, with the absence of feelings that reflect the human capacity for agency.
Exclusive moral concern for human beings is often thought to be the ideological source of many contemporary environmental problems. So the development of a non-anthropocentric theory of intrinsic moral value, according to which at least some parts of the non-human world are morally considerable for their own sake, is often thought to be a defining characteristic of a satisfying environmental ethic. This chapter unpacks three distinct forms of anthropocentrism, outlines three versions of ethical nonanthropocentrism, and sketches some of the debate between anthropocentrists and nonanthropocentrists before concluding that a virtue-theoretic approach to human natural goodness exemplifies one form of anthropocentrism that may continue to play a vital role in developing an environmental ethic suitable to the Anthropocene.
This article traces the ideas that have marked and divided the major architectural fashions of the last 150 years, and the refinements that have been given to these ideas by philosophers of architecture working within a wider philosophical perspective. In fact, despite the differences between the various schools of thought just alluded to, it is not difficult to detect an underlying unity in the central conceptual problem that both philosophers and architects have sought to address. This may be summarized in the question ‘How is architecture to be secured a place in the sphere of the aesthetic?’ or, more simply, ‘What makes architecture an art?’