In this paper I argue against one variety of contextualism about aesthetic predicates such as “beautiful.” Contextualist analyses of these and other predicates have been subject to several challenges surrounding disagreement. Focusing on one kind of contextualism— individualized indexical contextualism —I unpack these various challenges and consider the responses available to the contextualist. The three responses I consider are as follows: giving an alternative analysis of the concept of disagreement; claiming that speakers suffer from semantic blindness; and claiming that attributions (...) of beauty carry presuppositions of commonality. I will argue that none of the available strategies gives a response which both (a) satisfactorily explains all of the disagreement-data and (b) is plausible independent of significant evidence in favor of contextualism. I conclude that individualized indexical contextualism about the aesthetic is untenable, although this does not rule out alternative contextualist approaches to the aesthetic. (shrink)
Many philosophers, however, have been tempted to be relativists about speciﬁc domains of discourse, especially about those domains that have a normative character. Gilbert Harman, for example, has defended a relativistic view of morality, Richard Rorty a relativistic view of epistemic justiﬁcation, and Crispin Wright a relativistic view of judgments of taste.¹ But what exactly is it to be a relativist about a given domain of discourse?
In the Critique of the Power of Judgment, Kant diagnoses an antinomy of taste: either determinate concepts exhaust judgments of taste or they do not. That is to say, judgments of taste are either objective and public or subjective and private. On the objectivity thesis, aesthetic value is predicable of objects. But determining the concepts that would make a judgment of taste objective is a vexing matter. Who can say which concepts these would be? To what authority does one appeal? (...) On the subjectivity thesis, aesthetic value is not predicable of objects. But this threatens judgments of taste with a sort of relativism. Can we not firmly assert the aesthetic value of any object? Have we no authority to make criticisms of taste? Following John McDowell’s “Aesthetic Value, Objectivity and the Fabric of the World”, I will hold that aesthetic value is neither objective nor subjective, but rather intersubjective. But, contra McDowell, I will argue that the validity that intersubjective aesthetic value bestows on judgments of taste must assume an indeterminate absolute conception of reality, of the world as it is in itself. Only such a conceptual resource can in turn make intelligible the notion of a shared or common sense according to which a judgment of taste can be universally valid, that is, valid for all subjects. Finally, I will consider an objection to common sense in matters of taste. (shrink)
Aesthetic discourse is highly metaphorical, and many art-critical metaphors seem to be genuinely informative. Aesthetic property realism holds that the characteristic terms of aesthetic discourse pick out mind-independent properties. The prevalence of metaphor is a problem for realism, then, because most art-critical metaphors are true only when artworks are imagined in a certain way. Realist attempts to consign metaphor to the roles of filling lexical gaps or picking out mind-independent but ineffable properties fail. I argue that a cognitivist aesthetic anti-realism (...) is a better fit with a reflective understanding of our art-related practices. Metaphorical assertions about artworks can be truth-apt, but their truth depends essentially on our mental activity. (shrink)
Artworks frequently are the objects of multiple and apparently conflicting aesthetic judgements. This commonplace of the artworld poses a challenge for realist metaphysics, because to assert conflicting judgements of an artwork seems to amount to asserting p & p. Critical pluralism is an ever-more frequently invoked solution to this impasse. What its varieties share in common is the claim that the disagreement between judgements is only an apparent one. I argue, however, that critical pluralism masquerades either as relativism or anti-realism. (...) I examine a number of pluralist proposals, including one that attempts to reconcile pluralism with critical monism, and argue that they are inadequate to their advertised task. Finally, I sketch a solution employing dialetheic logic that captures both intuitions about these cases: that sometimes, judgements about artworks can truly conflict and jointly be true. (shrink)
This paper criticizes contemporary relativist scepticism concerning the universal validity of the concepts ‘art’ and the ‘aesthetic’. As an alternative, it offers a normative definition of art based on intrinsic aesthetic meaning contextualized by innovation and refinement in the diachronic history of art media. In section I, anti-foundationalist relativism, and softer versions (found in the Institutional definitions of art) are expounded in relation to art and the aesthetic. In section II, it is argued that antifoundationalism is conceptually flawed and tacitly (...) racist, and is, in effect, a cultural expression of global consumerism. Section III analyses the scope of the aesthetic in non-western contexts, and then offers a critique of the Institutional definitions as also being conceptually flawed, tacitly racist, and consumerist in orientation. In section IV the positive basis of a normative definition of art is outlined in detail and defended at length against possible relativist objections. It is finally argued that the normative approach taken in this paper shows how cultural conservatism can be a left-wing project. (shrink)
i> “There’s no disputing about taste.” That’s got a nice ring to it, but it’s not quite the ring of truth. While there’s definitely something right about the aphorism – there’s a reason why it is, after all, an aphorism, and why its utterance tends to produce so much nodding of heads and muttering of “just so” and “yes, quite” – it’s surprisingly difficult to put one’s finger on just what the truth in the neighborhood is, exactly. One thing that’s (...) pretty clear is that what’s right about the aphorism, that there’s no disputing about taste, isn’t that there’s no disputing about taste. There’s heaps of disputing about taste. People engage in disputes about which movies, music, paintings, literature, meals, furniture, architectural styles, etc. are good, beautiful, tasty, fun, elegant, ugly, disgusting, etc. all the time. This is obvious to anyone who has watched dueling-movie-critics shows, read theater reviews, or negotiated with a group or partner about which movie or restaurant to go to, or which sofa or painting to put in the living room. It takes great care and good aim to fling a brick without hitting somebody who’s engaged in a dispute about taste. (shrink)
This paper argues against relativism, focusing on relativism based on the semantics of predicates of personal taste. It presents and defends a contextualist semantics for these predicates, derived from current work on gradable adjectives. It then considers metasemantic questions about the kinds of contextual parameters this semantics requires. It argues they are not metasemantically different from those in other gradable adjectives, and that contextual parameters of this sort are widespread in natural language. Furthermore, this paper shows that if such parameters (...) are rejected, it leads to an unacceptably rampant form of relativism, that relativizes truth to an open-ended list of parameters. (shrink)
Pluralism—the incommensurability and, at times, incompatibility of objective ends—is not relativism, nor, a fortiori, subjectivism, nor the allegedly unbridgeable diﬀerences of emotional attitude on which some modern positivists, emotivists, existentialists, nationalists and, indeed, relativistic sociologists and anthropologists found their accounts.
Pluralism—the incommensurability and, at times, incompatibility of objective ends—is not relativism, nor, a fortiori, subjectivism, nor the allegedly unbridgeable differences of emotional attitude on which some modern positivists, emotivists, existentialists, nationalists and, indeed, relativistic sociologists and anthropologists found their accounts.
I argue for the possibility of substantive aesthetic disagreements in which both parties speak truly. The possibility of such disputes undermines an argument mobilized by relativists such as Lasersohn (Linguist Philos 28:643–686, 2005) and MacFarlane (Philos Stud 132:17–31, 2007) against contextualism about aesthetic terminology. In describing the facts of aesthetic disagreement, I distinguish between the intuition of dispute on the one hand and the felicity of denial on the other. Considered separately, neither of those phenomena requires that there be a (...) single proposition asserted by one party to an aesthetic dispute and denied by the other. I suggest instead that many such disputes be analyzed as disputes over the selection or appropriateness of a contextually salient aesthetic standard. (shrink)
Davies argues that the ontology of artworks as performances offers a principled way of explaining work-relativity of modality. Object oriented contextualist ontologies of art (Levinson) cannot adequately address the problem of work-relativity of modal properties because they understand looseness in what counts as the same context as a view that slight differences in the work-constitutive features of provenance are work-relative. I argue that it is more in the spirit of contextualism to understand looseness as context-dependent. This points to the general (...) problem—the context of appreciation is not robust enough to ground modal intuitions about objective entities. In general, when epistemology dictates ontology there is always a threat of anti-realism, scepticism and relativism. Davies also appeals to the modality principle—an entity’s essential properties are all and only its constitutive properties. Davies understands essentiality in a traditional way: a property P is an essential property of an object o iff o could not exist and lack P. Kit Fine has recently made a convincing case for the view that the notion of essence is not to be understood in modal terms. I explore some of the implications of this view for Davies’ modal argument for the performance theory. (shrink)
This paper explores the various available forms of relativism concerning aesthetic judgement and contrasts them with aesthetic absolutism. Two important distinctions are drawn. The first is between subjectivism (which relativizes judgements to an individual's sentiments or feelings) and the relativization of aesthetic judgements to intersubjective standards. The other is between relativism about aesthetic properties and relativism about the truth-values of aesthetic judgements. Several plausible forms of relativism about aesthetic properties are on offer, but relativism about the truth-values of aesthetic judgements (...) is more elusive. In particular, John MacFarlane's approach to relativism is shown not to result in relativism about the truth-values of aesthetic judgements. (shrink)