Stephen Davies presents a fascinating exploration of the idea that art, and our aesthetic sensibilities more generally, should be understood as an element in human evolution. He asks: Do animals have aesthetics? Do our aesthetic preferences have prehistoric roots? Is art universal? What is the biological role of aesthetic and artistic behaviour?
What are musical works? Are they discovered or created? Can recordings substitute faithfully for live performances? This book considers these and other intriguing questions. It first outlines the nature of musical works, their relation to performances, and their notational specification; it then considers authenticity in performance, musical traditions, and recordings. Comprehensive and original, the volume discusses many kinds of music, applying its conclusions to issues as diverse as the authentic performance movement, the cultural integrity of ethnic music, and the implications (...) of the dominance of recorded over live music. (shrink)
In the last thirty years, work in analytic philosophy of art has flourished, and it has given rise to considerably controversy. Stephen Davies describes and analyzes the definition of art as it has been discussed in Anglo-American philosophy during this period and, in the process, introduces his own perspective on ways in which we should reorient our thinking. Davies conceives of the debate as revealing two basic, conflicting approaches--the functional and the procedural--to the questions of whether art can be defined, (...) and if so, how. As the author sees it, the functionalist believes that an object is a work of art only if it performs a particular function (usually, that of providing a rewarding aesthetic experience). By contrast the proceduralist believes that something is an artwork only if it has been created according to certain rules and procedures. Davies attempts to demonstrate the fruitfulness of viewing the debate in terms of this framework, and he develops new arguments against both points of view--although he is more critical of functional than of procedural definitions. Because it has generated so much of the recent literature, Davies starts his analysis with a discussion of Morris Weitz's germinal paper, "The Role of Theory in Aesthetics." He goes on to examine other important works by Arthur Danto, George Dickie, and Ben Tilghman and develops in his critiques original arguments on such matters of the artificiality of artworks and the relevance of artists' intentions. (shrink)
Representing Stephen Davies's best shorter writings, these essays outline developments within the philosophy of music over the last two decades, and summarize the state of play at the beginning of a new century. Including two new and previously unpublished pieces, they address both perennial questions and contemporary controversies, such as that over the 'authentic performance' movement, and the impact of modern technology on the presentation and reception of musical works. Rather than attempting to reduce musical works to a single type, (...) Davies recognizes a great variety of kinds, and a complementary range of possibilities for their rendition. (shrink)
Written with clarity, wit, and rigor, _The Philosophy of Art_ provides an incisive account of the core topics in the field. The first volume in the new _Foundations of the Philosophy of the Arts_ series, designed to provide crisp introductions to the fundamental general questions about art, as well as to questions about the several arts. Presents a clear and insightful introduction to central topics and on-going debates in the philosophy of art. Eight sections cover a wide spectrum of topics (...) such as the interpretation of art, the relation between art and moral values, and the expression and arousal of emotion through art. Pedagogical features include full-color illustrations, vibrant examples, thought-provoking discussion questions and helpful suggested readings. (shrink)
Most art is made by people with a well-developed concept of art and who are familiar with its forms and genres as well as with the informal institutions of its presentation and reception. This is reflected in philosophers’ proposed definitions. The earliest artworks were made by people who lacked the concept and in a context that does not resemble the art traditions of established societies, however. An adequate definition must accommodate their efforts. The result is a complex, hybrid definition: something (...) is art (a) if it shows excellence of skill and achievement in realizing significant aesthetic goals, and either doing so is its primary, identifying function or doing so makes a vital contribution to the realization of its primary, identifying function, or (b) if it falls under an art genre or art form established and publicly recognized within an art tradition, or (c) if it is intended by its maker/presenter to be art and its maker/presenter does what is necessary and appropriate to realizing that intention. Meanwhile, artworlds—historically developed traditions of works, genres, theories, criticism, conventions for presentation, and so on—play a crucial but implicit role in (b) and (c). They are to be characterized in terms of their origins. (shrink)
I offer an analysis of the role played by consideration of an item's functions when it is judged aesthetically. The account applies also to artworks, of which some serve extrinsic functions (such as the glorification of God and the communication of religious lore) and others have the function of being contemplated for their own sake alone. Along the way, I deny that aesthetic judgements fit the model of judgements either of free beauty or of dependent beauty, given how these two (...) came to be described in the early twentieth century. (shrink)
In its narrative, dramatic, and representational genres, art regularly depicts contexts for human emotions and their expressions. It is not surprising, then, that these artforms are often about emotional experiences and displays, and that they are also concerned with the expression of emotion. What is more interesting is that abstract art genres may also include examples that are highly expressive of human emotion. Pure music – that is, stand-alone music played on musical instruments excluding the human voice, and without words, (...) literary titles, or associated texts connected to it by its composer – is often characterized as the expressive art par excellence. Yet how could that be possible, given that such music lacks semantic or representational content? Pure music presents the hardest and most vivid philosophical challenge to any account of expressiveness in the arts, which is why it is crucial to consider the musical case for the light it sheds on the underlying principles and issues. In this chapter I consider two accounts of expressiveness in pure music. Both regard expressiveness as an objective property of such music. I argue for the position I call appearance emotionalism and against the alternative, which I label hypothetical emo- tionalism. But before I get to that, there is a different mode of musical expression to be acknowledged. Even instrumental music comes charged with associations. Some of these are private to the listener, but many are widely shared. The latter may be included in a piece by accident but are, more often, deliberately placed for their effects. For instance, when a song is quoted in an instrumental work, its title or words may be brought to mind. Certain melodies (e.g., “Ode to Joy”), styles (e.g., tarantella), idioms (e.g., fanfares), forms (e.g., minuet), modalities (e.g., church modes), and instruments (e.g., fifes and snare drums) recall particular social events, geocultural regions, historical periods, ideas, and sensibilities, and in this way can hook up with affective life-experiences. Though it is music’s associative ties that are likely to be referred to when most people are asked about music’s significance, philosophers say little about them.. (shrink)
This paper reviews the debate about behavioral modernity in our species, listing counterexamples to the thesis that there was a dramatic change to the minds of Cro-Magnon sapiens in Europe in the Upper Paleolithic. It is argued that we were probably behaviorally modern from about 150,000 years ago, and that aspects of this mentality were apparent in developments in tool technologies and hunting practices across the prior Homo lineage. Key behaviors expressive of behavioral modernity include practical reasoning about the past (...) and future and role-differentiated rights-based cooperation, which are more obvious in their effects than is the vague but much-used notion of symbolic thinking. Behavioral modernity leads to technological innovation but is not sufficient to maintain such innovations in face of population loss and environmental instability, which along with the vagaries of preservation explains why the archaeological record of behavioral modernity in our species is patchy until the Upper Paleolithic. (shrink)
In this chapter, I discuss the kinds of understanding expected of and evinced by skilled listeners, performers, analysts, and composers. I confine the discussion to Western, purely instrumental music, mainly with the classical tradition in mind. And I refer primarily to the Anglophone literature of "analytic" philosophy of music. As will become apparent, my concern is with an analysis that maps what are meant to be familiar aspects of musical experience. I investigate the various understandings expected of an accomplished listener, (...) the performer, the music analyst, and the composer. (shrink)
I discuss three theories regarding the interpretation of fictional literature: actual intentionalism (author's intentions constrain how their works are to be interpreted), hypothetical intentionalism (interpretations are justified as those most likely intended by a postulated author), and the value-maximizing theory (interpretations presenting the work in the most favourable light are to be preferred). I claim that actual intentionalism cannot account for the appropriateness or legitimacy of some interpretations, or alternatively that it must be weakened to the point that the considerations (...) raised by hypothetical intentionalists and value maximizers come into play. And I argue that hypothetical intentionalism either reduces to the value-maximizing theory, which provides a more accurate and clearer expression of the position than does hypothetical intentionalism, or it mistakenly attributes to hypothesized intentions the kind of force that attaches only to actual intentions. (shrink)
Berys Gaut has recently defended a cluster account of art. He proposes it as superior to other anti-essentialist positions. I argue that his defence of this claim is unconvincing. Not only is the cluster theory consistent with the current crop of disjunctive definitions, it is at its most plausible when seen in such terms.
Philosophical Perspectives on Art presents a series of essays devoted to two of the most fundamental topics in the philosophy of art: the distinctive character of artworks and what is involved in understanding them as art. In Part I, Stephen Davies considers a wide range of questions about the nature and definition of art. Can art be defined, and if so, which definitions are the most plausible? Do we make and consume art because there are evolutionary advantages to doing so? (...) Has art completed the mission that guided its earlier historical development, and if so, what is to become of it now? Should architecture be classified as an art form? -/- Part II turns to the interpretation and appreciation of art. What is the target and purpose of the critic's interpretation? Is interpretation primarily directed at uncovering artists' intended meanings? Can apparently contradictory interpretations of a given piece both be true? Are interpretative evaluations entailed by descriptions of a work's aesthetic and artistic characteristics? In addition to providing fresh answers to these and other central questions in aesthetics, Davies considers the nature and content of metaphor, and the relation between the expressive qualities of a work of art and the emotions of its creator. (shrink)
It is widely held that there is a paradox in the fact that we respond emotionally to characters, situations, or events that we know to be fictional, or in other words, when they do not exist. To take a familiar example.
According to Peter Kivy, to be profound, music would have to be about a profound subject that is treated in an exemplary way. Instrumental music does not satisfy this definition; usually it is not about anything humanly important, and when it is, it can convey no more than banalities. Like others, I argue against the propositional character of Kivy's ‘aboutness’ criterion; profundity can be revealed or displayed other than via statements and descriptions. I am less inclined than some of Kivy's (...) critics to argue that music conveys profound insights into the emotions or abstract metaphysical ideas, such as unity and identity. Instead, I draw a parallel with great chess, which illustrates the fecundity, flexibility, insight, vitality, subtlety, complexity, and analytical far-reachingness of which the human mind is capable. That demonstration is of deep significance, given the wider importance of an appreciation of our intellectual and imaginative powers, even if chess says nothing about the skills to which it draws attention. My thesis is that some instrumental music is profound in a similar way; namely, for what it exemplifies and thereby reveals about the capacities of the human mind. (shrink)
Stephen Davies taught philosophy at the University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand. His research specialty is the philosophy of art. He is a former President of the American Society for Aesthetics. His books include Definitions of Art (Cornell UP, 1991), Musical Meaning and Expression (Cornell UP, 1994), Musical Works and Performances (Clarendon, 2001), Themes in the Philosophy of Music (OUP, 2003), Philosophical Perspectives on Art (OUP, 2007), Musical Understandings and Other Essays on the Philosophy of Music (OUP, 2011), The Artful (...) Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution (OUP, 2012), The Philosophy of Art (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016 second ed.), and Adornment: What Self-decorations Tells Us about Who We Are, (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020). (shrink)
known as timbral sonicism, accepts that a musical work's orchestral colour is a factor in its identity, but denies that the use of the specified instruments is required for an authentic rendition of the work provided that sounds as of those instruments are achieved. This position has been defended by Julian Dodd. In arguing against his view, I appeal to empirical work showing that composers, musicians, and listeners typically hear through music to the actions that go into its production. In (...) this respect, musical listening reflects the standard account of ‘ecological hearing’; we appreciate sounds as providing information about their sources rather than for their intrinsic qualities. On this basis, I suggest that musical instruments are not merely means to the production of the sounds of performances. Their use is mandated if such performances are to be properly formed. More specifically, when composers are able to make the instrumentation of their compositions central to the identity of those compositions, accurate performances must involve the appropriate use of the specified instruments. CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
In this paper I suggest that music and dance of an artful kind could pre-date the emergence of our species by several hundred thousand years. Our progenitor, H. heidelbergensis, had the necessary physiological resources and social capacities. And she inherited older modes of moving and vocalizing that could have laid the foundations for dance and music. Admittedly, for her, these artistic activities would have been more about sharing and expressing emotions than about symbolizing abstract ideas or conveying complex thoughts. But (...) that is something for which song and dance are ideally suited. Accordingly, the common assumption made by many paleoarchaeologists in discussions of the origins of art and of psychological modernity — that art is a distinctively sapiens attribute presupposing the kind of complex mentality that may be unique to our species — is mistaken. As well, there are some philosophical morals about the nature of art to be teased from the facts of its ancient origin. (shrink)
Arthur C. Danto taught that an artwork’s identity and content depend on "an atmosphere of theory the eye cannot de[s]cry" (1964:580). By "theory", he did not mean the ideas developed by philosophers of art. His point was that an artwork can be properly recognized and appreciated only when seen in relation to the heritage of works, writings, practices, genres, and conventions that form the ground on which it stands out as subject. In brief, the work must be seen against the (...) backdrop of what he dubbed (1964) the art world. (shrink)
In this paper, I review arguments that have been offered in favor of the view that humans' art and/or aesthetic behaviors are (in part) a product of our biologically evolved human nature, either as adaptations in their own right or as incidental byproducts of adaptations with non-art and non-aesthetic functions. I present an overview of the main positions and options, critically evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and outline their presuppositions.
To analyze the relations between art and science, philosophers and historians have developed different lines of inquiry. A first type of inquiry considers how artistic and scientific practices have interacted over human history. Another project aims to determine the contributions that scientific research can make to our understanding of art, including the contributions that cognitive science can make to philosophical questions about the nature of art. We rely on contributions made to these projects in order to demonstrate that art and (...) science are codependent phenomena. Specifically, we explore the codependence of art and science in the context of a historical analysis of their interactions and in the context of contemporary debates on the cognitive science of art. (shrink)
The aesthetic sense we inherited from our successful ancestors drew them toward conditions that made for survival and reproductive success and repelled them away from conditions that impacted negatively on longevity and fertility. But for them, as for us, those desirable outcomes were incidental and uncalculated. Their search was for the beautiful and sublime. Aesthetic behaviours are apparent in our forerunner species about 400,000 years ago. They sometimes made symmetrical hand axes that were then not used. We can take an (...) aesthetic interest in more or less anything, but the aesthetic responses that are rooted in our biology include those to landscapes and environments, to non-human animals, and to the appearance and behaviour of our fellow humans. (shrink)
Artists' intentions are among the primary data retrieved by art appreciators. However, artistic creation is not always deliberate; artists sometimes fail in their intentions; artists' achievements depend on artworld roles, not only intentions; factors external to the artist contribute to artwork meaning; artworks stand apart from their creators; and interpretation need not be exclusively concerned with recovering intended meaning.
In a recent essay, Jerrold Levinson defends his version of hypothetical intentionalism, which is a theory of literary interpretation, from two criticisms. The first, argued by Stephen Davies, is that it is equivalent to the value-maximizing view. The second, argued by Robert Stecker, is that there are straightforward counterexamples to HI. We will argue that Levinson does not successfully fend off either criticism, and further, that in the process of attempting to do so, creates another dilemma for his view.
defining art conjunctively, that is, by defining the individual arts and joining these definitions in an exhaustive list. I suggest that the individual art forms are no easier to define than is the general category of art. As well, not everything falling within a given art form counts as art, not every instance of art in the given medium falls within the art form, and some artworks do not belong to an art form at all, so conjoining definitions of the (...) individual art forms (supposing they could be defined) would not map the extension of ’art’. Taken together, these problems indicate that the approach advocated here to art’s definition cannot be successful or convincing. (shrink)