Is beauty in the folk intuition of the beholder? Some thoughts on experimental philosophy and aesthetics

Rivista di Estetica 69:21-39 (2018)
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In this paper I will discuss some issues related to a recent trend in experimental philosophy (or x-phi), and try to show the reasons of its late (and scarce) involvement with aesthetics, compared to other areas of philosophical investigation. In order to do this, it is first necessary to ask how an autonomous experimental philosophy of aesthetics could be related to the long-standing tradition of psychological experimental aesthetics. After distinguishing between a “narrow” and a “broad” approach of experimental philosophy, I will then make a distinction between topics in aesthetics pertaining to perceptual and cognitive processes, and traditional issues involved in the analysis of general and culturally-laden concepts. The narrow program of experimental philosophy, focused on the investigation of folk intuitions, is particularly effective only when two general conditions are met: the use of hypothetical scenarios (testing of thought experiments) and the heuristic role of folk intuitions in drawing philosophically relevant conclusions. I will argue that, when aesthetics is concerned, these requirements are not easily met. These difficulties notwithstanding, I will support a pluralistic view where aesthetics is revealed as an instructive example of how experimental approaches and traditional “armchair” philosophy integrate, and enrich each other.

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Emanuele Arielli
Istituto Universitario di Architettura (Venezia)


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