British Journal of Aesthetics 43 (3):260-278 (2003)

Paisley Livingston
Lingnan University
It has often been claimed that adequate aesthetic judgements must be grounded in the appreciator's first-hand experience of the item judged. Yet this apparent truism is misleading if adequate aesthetic judgements can instead be based on descriptions of the item or on acquaintance with some surrogate for it. In a survey of responses to such challenges to the apparent truism, I identify several contentions presented in its favour, including stipulative definitions of ‘aesthetic judgement’, assertions about conceptual gaps between determinate aesthetic properties and even the most perfect descriptions, and claims about the holistic and sensibility-relative character of aesthetic qualities and values. With reference to considerations advanced by Frank Sibley, Alan H. Goldman, and particularists and anti-particularists in meta-ethics, I contend that strong versions of the apparent truism lack sufficient warrant. Two successors are proposed, however. One reframes the thesis in terms of our contingently limited descriptive and theoretical capacities with regard to a subset of the aesthetic qualities of extraordinary works; the second involves a shift from epistemic to axiological matters: what even the most perfect descriptions cannot provide, and in some cases spoil, is our gauging of an item's inherent, experiential value.
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DOI 10.1093/bjaesthetics/43.3.260
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