Up the nose of the beholder? Aesthetic perception in olfaction as a decision-making process

New Ideas in Psychology 47:157-165 (2017)
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Is the sense of smell a source of aesthetic perception? Traditional philosophical aesthetics has centered on vision and audition but eliminated smell for its subjective and inherently affective character. This article dismantles the myth that olfaction is an unsophisticated sense. It makes a case for olfactory aesthetics by integrating recent insights in neuroscience with traditional expertise about flavor and fragrance assessment in perfumery and wine tasting. My analysis concerns the importance of observational refinement in aesthetic experience. I argue that the active engagement with stimulus features in perceptual processing shapes the phenomenological content, so much so that the perceptual structure of trained smelling varies significantly from naive smelling. In a second step, I interpret the processes that determine such perceptual refinement in the context of neural decision-making processes, and I end with a positive outlook on how research in neuroscience can be used to benefit philosophical aesthetics.

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Ann-Sophie Barwich
Indiana University, Bloomington


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