Aesthetic Agency

In Luca Ferrero (ed.), Routledge Handbook for the Philosophy of Agency. pp. 456-466 (forthcoming)
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Abstract
Until very recently, there has been no discussion of aesthetic agency. This is likely because aesthetics has traditionally focused not on action, but on appreciation, while the standard approach identifies ‘agency’ with the will, and, more specifically, with the capacity for intentional action. In this paper, I argue, first, that this identification is unfortunate since it fails to do justice to the fact that we standardly attribute beliefs, emotions, desires, and other conative and affective attitudes that aren’t formed ‘at will,’ including aesthetic appreciation, to people’s agency. Fortunately, we need not abide by this Practical Approach, but can develop an alternative: the Authority Approach to rational agency, which does justice to the widespread practice of rationally assessing, reactively responding to, and holding people responsible for non-voluntary attitudes. This is very good news for aesthetics since, I argue additionally, any account of aesthetic agency that accepts the Practical Approach, and focuses on aesthetic actions fails to provide a genuine notion of aesthetic agency. For we have no handle on what counts as aesthetic actions independently of these actions’ relation to appreciation: actions are “aesthetic” only derivatively insofar as they center around those that merit (dis)appreciation. For this reason, we have genuine aesthetic agency only if we can exercise agency in acts of the rational-affective capacity for appreciation, which differs from the will. The Authority Approach allows us to explain how we exercise agency in aesthetic appreciations, thus equipping us with a genuine conception of aesthetic agency.
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