Sentimentalism and the Intersubjectivity of Aesthetic Evaluations

Dialectica 61 (3):417-446 (2007)
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Within the debate on the epistemology of aesthetic appreciation, it has a long tradition, and is still very common, to endorse the sentimentalist view that our aesthetic evaluations are rationally grounded on, or even constituted by, certain of our emotional responses to the objects concerned. Such a view faces, however, the serious challenge to satisfactorily deal with the seeming possibility of faultless disagreement among emotionally based and epistemically appropriate verdicts. I will argue that the sentimentalist approach to aesthetic epistemology cannot accept and accommodate this possibility without thereby undermining the assumed capacity of emotions to justify corresponding aesthetic evaluations – that is, without undermining the very sentimentalist idea at the core of its account. And I will also try to show that sentimentalists can hope to deny the possibility of faultless disagreement only by giving up the further view that aesthetic assessments are intersubjective – a view which is almost as traditional and widely held in aesthetics as sentimentalism, and which is indeed often enough combined with the latter. My ultimate conclusion is therefore that this popular combination of views should better be avoided: either sentimentalism or intersubjectivism has to make way.
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