Arrangement and Timing: Photography, Causation and Anti-Empiricist Aesthetics

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 7 (2021)
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According to the causal theory of photography (CTP), photographs acquire their depictive content from the world, whereas handmade pictures acquire their depictive content from their makers’ intentional states about the world. CTP suffers from what I call the Problem of the Missing Agent: it seemingly leaves no room for the photographer to occupy a causal role in the production of their pictures and so is inconsistent with an aesthetics of photography. In this paper, I do three things. First, I amend CTP with Fred Dretske’s distinction between triggering and structuring causes, thereby overcoming the Problem of the Missing Agent. Second, I argue that CTP so amended in fact illuminates two aesthetic interests that we may take in photographs, focussing on photographic portraiture and street photography. Third, I show how reflection on the aesthetics of photography serves to support aesthetic anti-empiricism: the view that the aesthetic value of artworks consists, at least in part, in achievement rather than sensory pleasure.

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Dan Cavedon-Taylor
Open University (UK)


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