The aesthetic peculiarity of multifunctional artefacts

British Journal of Aesthetics 45 (4):412-425 (2005)
Abstract
Echoing a distinction made by David Wiggins in his discussion of the relation of identity, this paper investigates whether aesthetic adjectives such as ‘beautiful’ are sortal-relative or merely sortal-dependent. The hypothesis guiding the paper is that aesthetic adjectives, though probably sortal-dependent in general, are sortal-relative only when used to characterize multifunctional artefacts. This means that multifunctional artefacts should be unique in allowing the following situation to occur: for some object x there are sortals K and K' such that x is a beautiful K and also a K', but not a beautiful K'. Examples of multifunctional artefacts show that this is indeed a possibility. However, that multifunctional artefacts are unique in this respect will be demonstrated by a more principled argument, taking into account the nature of functions on the one hand, and the nature of artefact-classification on the other hand.
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