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What are the main issues in aesthetics? From superficially browsing the

What are the main issues in aesthetics? From superficially browsing the internet, it would seem that most of the debate centers around the question of what counts as art; surely an entire branch of philosophy can't be built on a question about the classification of cultural products. What other issues, besides the criteria for membership in the category "art", are dealt with in aesthetics?

The question 'What is art?' has the form of a classical philosophical question--questions of that form were raised by Socrates in 'early' dialogues such as the Euthyphro--and although this question has received considerable attention from philosophers, it's not universally accepted that this question is indeed well-formed. (It has been claimed, for example, that the concept 'art' is a 'family resemblance concept' that does not admit of a characterization in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions for falling under that concept and, hence, that much of traditional aesthetics, has rested on a mistake.) So the question of whether the question, 'What is art?' is indeed a genuine philosophical question is also a philosophical question!! Even if one were to conclude, however, that the question, 'What is art?' does indeed rest on a mistake, it should not therefore be concluded that reflection on the nature of art is not philosophically or artistically illuminating: it might well be argued that artists themselves push their media in new directions by expanding the concept of that particular art.

While the issue of the nature of art has been taken to be paradigmatic of a question in aesthetics, perhaps because philosophers of art have long sought to raise questions that are not related to any particular artistic medium, but other similarly general questions, such as questions about the nature of artistic representation and the nature of the interpretation of art, have long been and continue to be raised by philosophers. For what it's worth, however, I myself think that the most fruitful philosophical inquiries into art are likely to come from consideration of issues internal to a particular art or artistic practice. Such questions would, I think, be more closely engaged with actual artistic practice and thus be more engaging for all those interested in that practice. But if this is correct, then one can't specify in advance just what questions will count as questions in aesthetics, and so for meta-philosophical reasons, I would want to resist answering your question.

My admittedly contentious view aside, however, if one wants to get a sense for the range of questions that have traditionally taken to fall within the purview of aesthetics, one would do well to consider one of the handbooks or reference guides that have recently appeared on the topic, such as the Routledge Companion to Aesthetics.,

Is it possible for an action or an event to be beautiful? If so, what does this

Is it possible for an action or an event to be beautiful? If so, what does this descriptor mean? Are we appealing to the same aesthetics we are when judging works of art, or objects?

I hope it is possible, otherwise I am in trouble. As a boxing trainer and writer, I have found a number of bouts to be of staggering beauty. I don't believe that I use the same criterion of beauty for boxing as I do for, say, sunsets or for that matter poetry. I'm not sure what would follow if there were indeed something like harmony that was present in all things that we judged to be beautiful, but it doesn't seem to me as if there is any such thing. Thanks.

Why is aesthetics so concerned with beauty? When I listen to music or appreciate

Why is aesthetics so concerned with beauty? When I listen to music or appreciate art I respond to it in all sorts of different ways and beauty is only a small but significant part of the experience of art.

The answer is that it isn't. Here are links to recent tables of contents from two major aesthetics journals:

As you'll see, beauty doesn't make much of a splash here; only one essay on the topic. If you do some archival digging, you'll see that this is pretty typical and has been for a long time. Aestheticians would agree with you: beauty is only one bit of our experience of art, and often not the most important bit.

When two people share an experience of something but reach difference aesthetic

When two people share an experience of something but reach difference aesthetic judgements about the experience, are they experiencing the thing in question differently? Or are they reacting differently to exactly the same experience, and if so, what does that entail? For example, I grew up in Canada and have always liked peanut butter, but I now live in Germany, where few people seem to even know what peanut butter is, and nobody actually likes it. My girlfriend has tried it, but doesn't like it at all. I find it hard to believe that she can eat peanut butter and experience the same delicious taste I am experiencing, and yet not enjoy it. It seems more plausible to me that peanut butter tastes different to her than it does to me, for whatever reason (and obviously, neither of us experience the "correct" taste, just different ones), and that this accounts for her not liking it. Yet on the other hand, the chemicals in the food are the same for both of us, so how can the taste be so different? So...

This is a terrific question! But rather than answer it, let me direct you to someone who has treated it at some length with many interesting and provocative things to say. Check out Daniel Dennett's famous article "Quining Qualia," as well as his book "Consciousness Explained" -- you'll get some great material there, and then will probably come back and ask follow up versions of this question!

good luck,


Do most aesthetic theorists in philosophy think that things beside art can be

Do most aesthetic theorists in philosophy think that things beside art can be aesthetic (such as everyday life when not presented with art)? Or is that something only a few philosophers advocate (such as Dewey and Wittgenstein)?

Most aestheticians make the distinction between aesthetics and philosophy of art, with "aesthetics" being the wider term and "philosophy of art" the narrower one. "Philosophy of art" is only the philosophy of works of art or art objects as they are unappealingly called these days. In other words, these philosophers accept that it is not only works of art to which the terms of aesthetic appraisal apply, such as "attractive", "unattractive", "lovely", not lovely", "unlovely", "majestic", "grubby", "oily", and on and on, without end. They also apply to the human face and the human form, to nature and parts of nature, including natural landscapes, the sea, etc. There is practically no word, I believe, that cannot one way or another be used as a term of aesthetic appraisal. The aesthetic is everywhere; a happy thought.

Do we judge a person's palate by whether they appreciate sophisticated beauty?

Do we judge a person's palate by whether they appreciate sophisticated beauty? Or do we judge beauty by whether it is appreciated by people with sophisticated palates?

This question seems to raise an aesthetic version of what has come to be known as the 'Euthyphro Question' (from Plato's dialogue Euthyphro), where it is asked if what is holy is holy because the gods love it, or if the gods love what is holy because it is holy. If one answers that what is holy is holy because the gods love it, one endorses a version of the view that values are created, or even subjective; if one answers that the gods love what is holy because it is holy, one endorses a version of the view that values are discovered, or even objective. (There are, of course, a range of alternatives between these poles, but let's stick to them, since they bring out the issue most sharply.) By parity of reasoning, it might seem that if one believes that the capacity to appreciate beauty reflects the sophistication of one's aesthetic judgment, then it would seem that beauty is independent of the perceiver, discovered by perceivers, and maybe even is objective; if one believes that beauty is constituted by the judgments of perceivers, then it would seem that beauty depends on perceivers and maybe even is subjective. Now it seems to me that one interesting thing about beauty is that while it is akin to other values, in that judgments of beauty can be justified and hence are, in a certain sense, objective; on the other hand, only if one experiences the thing in question, and has a subjective experience of it, is one in a position to judge whether it is beautiful. This may even reflect a difference between aesthetic value and other kinds of value (such as moral or epistemic value). The line that I've presented here is very loosely derived from the position elaborated by Kant, in the first part of his Critique of the Power of Judgment, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the nature of aesthetic judgments.

People say that the more wine you drink, the more you "learn to appreciate" fine

People say that the more wine you drink, the more you "learn to appreciate" fine wines (we're talking about over the course of a lifetime, of course, not over the course of an evening!). Assuming this is true, is one's taste in wines actually improving over time? Or is it just changing? If the connoisseur likes dry red wine from France, and the "pleb" likes sweet white wine from Romania, what makes the connoisseur's taste superior to or more refined than the pleb's taste? Is it just the institution of wine-loving that contructs one taste as superior to the other, or do the connoisseur's taste buds literally detect marks of quality that the pleb's doesn't?

The philosophical investigation of wineexperience has become a popular topic recently, with several bookshaving come out. You questions go right to some of the most commonlyaddressed problems.

First of all, notice that the questionsuse terms such as connoisseur or pleb, and contrast France withRomania. This is politically and socially charged language, andsometimes it is difficult to avoid the conclusion (hinted at in yourlast question) that what is really going on here is that a region (onthe side of producers) or a group of people (on the side of thetasters) are conspiring to maintain class distinctions or prop up thesales price. I don't think this is true.

The first thing to say is that thescientific study of wine and wine tasting is quite advanced – notsurprising since it is a huge world-wide industry. There isconsiderable empirical evidence from the scientific community thatstudies wine to suggest that quality differences are real. 'Fine'wines tend to be more complex and concentrated (in ways other thanalcohol or sugar). In addition, there is good evidence that trainedexperts can detect features in wine that inexperienced tasterscannot. The detecting and identifying of subtle flavour or odourcomponents is not 100% reliable, and experts can and do get it wrong.Nevertheless, there is a statistical reliability. So, it is not thecase that connoisseurship is simply a con.

But, saying that some wines aredifferent from others, and that people with the relevant experiencecan taste some of those differences, is only half the battle. Whatyou want to know is whether these differences amount to a superiorityin terms of quality. That is trickier. Here, the notion of quality or'goodness' is relative to the standards we set up based upon whyor for what purpose we are judging. So, implicit in everystatement of 'that is good...' is the additional phrase '...for thispurpose'. This is a good wine … to have with a BBQ; this is a poorwine … to drink on a hot summer's day. Your pleb is perfectlyjustified in saying 'this is a quality wine … for pleasing me' andhaving the opposite judgement of some other bottle costing twentytimes as much. Everyone's taste is different, it seems.

However, experienced or expert tasters– again not perfectly but with statistical reliability – havetastes that tend to converge on particular regions, styles, vintages.To that extent, their tastes in wine are shared. Experienced tasters,then, not only learn to detect different things in wine, but alsolearn to gain pleasure or stimulation from wines that rise to a setof quality standards. There is clearly a role for the variousinstitutions of wine production and consumption, but it looksincreasingly unlikely that this role is just about snobbery or money.

Dear Philosophers,

Dear Philosophers, Can we regard Race discrimination as an aesthetic issue? By this I mean to view the differences among different races as aesthetic preference. So, can we say that when a person doesn't like a specific human race, he/she is just making an aesthetic choice, and, consequently, if we do not allow him/her to express his/her preference we are limiting his/her freedom of speech? Thank you

What seems to be at issue in this question is not racial discrimination, in terms of which the question begins, which would seem to imply that what's at issue is negative bias towards people in virtue of their race, which certainly wouldn't be an aesthetic, but a moral issue; the second sentence suggests that what's really at issue in the question is the nature of the basis for distinguishing among people with respect to their race, which is a distinct matter, and which need not--although, admittedly, it tends to--have moral and political implications. Now there is no doubt that individuals from different races often appear different--even if, as recent empirical work has suggested, there is little to no genetic difference between such people, so that they are not essentially different, even though they appear different--and it does not seem implausible to me that one might, whether because of habit, preference or other reasons, find individuals of certain races less attractive than those of other races. The mere fact that one finds individuals of certain races more attractive than those of other races need not itself have political and moral implications, and if in saying that one preferred individuals of certain races to those of other races, one were merely signaling one's aesthetic preference, this need not reflect on one's moral status at all, for the aesthetic preference need not have moral implications. Given current US law regarding freedom of speech, provided that one isn't in a politically sensitive position and thereby not speaking for oneself, but from one's position, it seems to me that there is no bar against the expression of one's preference for individuals of certain races, rather than others, regardless of whether in so doing one is expressing an aesthetic or a moral judgment, and no law could be passed that banned or even limited such expression. (Even if this expression did even incite others to mistreat members of the less aesthetically races, hate speech has been upheld in the US Supreme Court.) To be sure, if in expressing one's preference for individuals of some race(s) as opposed to others, one were making a value claim, in addition to registering an aesthetic preference, then even though, in the appropriate circumstances, even such expression could not be curtailed, such expression would reflect morally on the agent expressing such a preference, but if the preference were indeed merely aesthetic, then it does not seem to me that it would have any such implication whatsoever.

If personal taste is something that emerges somewhat chaotically from personal

If personal taste is something that emerges somewhat chaotically from personal experience and potentially genetics, then how can it belong to oneself and truly be personal? Surely, we don't like to think of our tastes as random; on the contrary, they define us. And yet if our tastes are something rational, then we might indeed be able to dispute them with some level of objectivity - some tastes would just be bad or good, and this could be proven. Clearly this isn't the case - so it seems personal taste is neither a chaotic result of our interaction with our life experience, nor some sort of rational conclusion on the subjects of the taste. What, then, is personal taste?

I think this is a fine question or questions.

Consider first the issue of whether what you are calling taste can be subject to proof or at least rational dispute. It may be that what you mean by "taste" simply means a desire or aversion to (for example) limes or apples, something which lacks standards to settle (assuming neither is a poison, etc). But if "taste" includes any kind of desire (the desire for justice versus the desire for mercy and so on), then many philosophers would claim (on all sorts of grounds) that we can rationally debate such matters. You might check out the work of John Rawls on one promising model of how one might adjudicate competing tastes.

On the second issue about when a taste or desire is one's own.... Perhaps the answer lies in terms of volunatary choice or consent or identification with the tastes or desires that you have. Consider the following possibility: each of us develops different tastes or desires, whether these are through nature or nurture, design or chaos, brain washing or accident, rational dispute or irrational impulse. But when a taste or desire becomes one's own or (as you put it) personal, this seems to be a case of when a person has (in some way) voluntarily chosen or consented to or identified with the taste or desire as one's own. So, imagine I have a desire to worship God. But imagine this is something I have never questioned or consented to; I was simply brought up that way. We might in that case think that my desire is not so much personal or voluntary as much as it is the desire of my community. And the same would be true if I had a desire to deny the existence of God; my atheism would not be reflection of MY particular, voluntary thought, but something I inherited or picked up from my community. I suggest that making a desire one's own involves consenting to it or identifying with it as when someone as an adult identifies themselves as (for example) a theist or atheist or whatever.... On this point, you might check out the work of Harry Frankfurt (Princeton University).

So, when you ask "What, then, is personal taste?" I suggest that some tastes or desires can be rationally debated and chosen and which tastes are authentic and personal to you depends on which tastes or desires you identify with or choose. If someone has a taste or desire that they do not choose and they find opposed to their deepest values, then those tastes or desires are still theirs, but those in such a state are (I suggest) in a fragmented, divided condition that will be difficult to sustain.

There is this idea that languages can be judged and valued - take the very

There is this idea that languages can be judged and valued - take the very stereotypical image of the proud French person praising their own language's beauty and warmth while explaining that English is an impure, soulless and emotionless tongue with "stolen" vocabulary. Is the idea that languages can be judged and praised/scorned (sort of like works of art) rooted in a theory of linguistic aesthetics? Has such a theory ever been articulated? More to the point, are there any general justifications for such views, or are words really just words?

You ask, first of all, whether the idea that languages can be judged and praised/scorned is rooted in a theory of linguistic aesthetics. Well, that might be one basis on which to evaluate a language; there may be others, such as those I'll mention below. Also, I don't know of any substantial theory of linguistic aesthetics. However, one can imagine some of what such a theory might say. For instance, just as we can find a line of a poem beautiful because of its sonic properties, we might want to say such a thing of a sentence of a certain language. If a language L is one in which such sentences are commonly found, while another language L' has sentences line that rarely, but a lot of other sentences are are percussive, gutteral, or in some other way less beautiful, that would be a reason for judging L to be superior to L' on aesthetic grounds. That would not for a moment prejudge the relative merits of the two languages on other dimensions, such as clarity. For hints of a line of thought along these lines, you might check out Rousseau's _Essay on the Origin of Language_.

You next ask, "are there any general justifications for such views, or are words really just words." Let's keep in mind that languages are a lot more than words or combinations of words. The grammar of a language is a crucial part thereof, and modern linguistics takes grammar (nowadays referred to as 'syntax') as perhaps more important to the nature of language than the words it contains. Accordingly, one can imagine what would justify saying that one language is grammatically superior to another: the superior one would permit less ambiguity in terms of what the structure is a given sentence; at the same time one language might be superior to another in terms of the *learnability* of its grammar.

Philosophy has a long tradition of thinking about what a "logically perfect" language would be like. The idea stretches as far back at least as Leibniz, and after being discarded for some time, emerges again in Germany and Austria in the 19th Century. Gottlob Frege had a lot to say about what a logically perfect language would be like. His discussions leave open the possibility that the norm of logical perfection is at odds with the norm of aesthetic beauty of a language. For further discussion you might useful an article of mine on Frege, which warms up to its subject by tracing some of the aforementioned history: "The Inferential Significance of Frege's Assertion Sign," Facta Philosophica Vol. 4, No. 2 (2002): 201-229.

Mitch Green