Aesthetics (analytic)

In Graham Oppy Nick Trakakis (ed.), A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand. Monash UP (2010)

David Macarthur
University of Sydney
If Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato, then aesthetics is a series of footnotes to Kant. This is as true of the analytic tradition as of the Continental. But there has been an important change of emphasis in the object of inquiry of analytic aesthetics, which predominantly concerns theorising about the experience and criticism of works of art. Kant’s idea of aesthetics as primarily concerned with beauty, or heightened or intensified perceptual experiences of natural phenomena, has largely been eclipsed (but not entirely: e.g., Mothersill 1984). Analytic aesthetics, once considered the neglected step-child of analytic philosophy, is beginning to gain confidence as a significant area of study with much to tell us about human experience, art, taste, expression, representation, interpretation, intention, imagination and reason. In the 1950s analytic philosophers complained of the barrenness of aesthetics, but today as analytic philosophy enters an intense period of self-searching and reassessment, it is to aesthetics that one might profitably turn to gain a better understanding of the complex Kantian origins of the discipline. The most significant Kantian legacy in the aesthetic domain has been the idea of the autonomy of the work of art and our experience of it from other theoretical, practical and sensory aspects of human life. To approach the topic of analytic aesthetics let us first ask, ‘What is analytic philosophy?’, before turning to the analytic approach to aesthetics, and the contribution of its Australasian practitioners. It is familiar that there is no dominant paradigm or practice of analysis engaged in by those who regard themselves as analytic philosophers. Analytic philosophy is closely aligned with the development and application of modern symbolic logic and with the attempt to adopt the methods of the natural sciences or to give them a certain metaphysical priority – which goes some way to explaining the lowly status aesthetics has been accorded in Anglo-American circles of philosophy for most of the twentieth century..
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