The Nature of Aesthetic Experiences

Dissertation, University College London (2000)
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Abstract
This dissertation provides a theory of the nature of aesthetic experiences on the basis of a theory of aesthetic values. It results in the formulation of the following necessary conditions for an experience to be aesthetic: it must consist of a representation of an object and an accompanying feeling; the representation must instantiate an intrinsic value; and the feeling must be the recognition of that value and bestow it on the object. Since representations are of intrinsic value for different reasons, there are different kinds of aesthetic experiences . By means of certain conceptual links, it is possible to extend this account to other aesthetic entities thus enabling the formulation of a general theory of the aesthetic in non-aesthetic terms. In particular, aesthetic values are identical with subjective dispositions to elicit aesthetic experiences under normal conditions. Accordingly, I endorse anti-realism about aesthetic values: their existence, nature and exemplification are mind-dependent, while their ascriptions to objects have genuine truth-values. I back up this account by arguing against the alternative positions that either take aesthetic values to be objective or deny the truth-aptness of their attributions. Furthermore, I put forward a relativist variant of anti-realism according to which ascriptions of different aesthetic values to a particular object are all correct, given that the aesthetic experiences involved are made under normal conditions and concern the same aesthetically nonevaluative features of that object. For there is no specifically aesthetic norm by means of which one of the faultless aesthetic experiences can be picked out as the only appropriate one. That aesthetic values nevertheless show a normative dimension is ensured by their conformity to a general account of values as capacities to satisfy, or dissatisfy, rational desires.
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