Précis of Being for Beauty: Aesthetic Agency and Value

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 102 (1):209-213 (2021)
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One question that leads us into aesthetics is: why does beauty matter? Or, what do aesthetic goods bring to my life, to make it a life that goes well? Or, how does beauty deserve the place we have evidently made for it in our lives? A theory of aesthetic value states what beauty is so as to equip us to answer this question. According to aesthetic hedonism, aesthetic values are properties of items that stand in constitutive relation to pleasure. Contemporary versions of aesthetic hedonism don’t explain what makes aesthetic values aesthetic, but they do explain what makes them normative, stating what makes it the case that aesthetic value facts lend weight to what an agent should do, for the fact that acting yields pleasure is always a reason to act. This book introduces and defends an alternative to aesthetic hedonism. According to the network theory, aesthetic value facts lend weight to its being an achievement for an agent to act. Since agents achieve by acting in coordination with one another, the theory takes seriously the sociality of aesthetic activity. The main argument for the network theory is that it better explains six facts about aesthetic activity than does aesthetic hedonism. The book also discusses the relationship between aesthetic value and pleasure, the point and distinctive character of aesthetic discourse, and the metaphysics of aesthetic value. Two final chapters use the network theory to shed light on how aesthetic value matters to us as individuals and as members of collectives.

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Dominic McIver Lopes
University of British Columbia


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