The Nature of Aesthetic Experience

Philosophy 27 (100):18 - 29 (1952)
The traditional business of Aesthetics has been the study of the aesthetic experience and activity of mankind, in order to show what it is and how it can be distinguished from other experiences and activities. The assumption commonly made is that we ourselves, like others before us, have had a specifically aesthetic experience in the enjoyment of art or the beauty of nature, or have been engaged in the making of something unquestionably artistic. This basic assumption has been challenged recently by I. A. Richards, who calls aesthetic experience “a phantom.” His view is shared by other contemporary philosophers, who also maintain that there is no appreciable difference between an aesthetic reaction and any other frame of mind, or between artistic behaviour and other forms of creative work. We can certainly appeal to experience for the support of a postulate usually taken for granted and say that most artists, authors, and ordinary people in fact regard their aesthetic experience as something entirely distinct from what they do or feel at other times. Analysis will show whether this common-sense opinion is illusory
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