Aesthetic Adjectives

In James Young (ed.), The Semantics of Aesthetic Judgment. Oxford University Press (2014)
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Among semanticists and philosophers of language, there has been a recent outburst of interest in predicates such as delicious, called predicates of personal taste (PPTs, e.g. Lasersohn 2005). Somewhat surprisingly, the question of whether or how we can distinguish aesthetic predicates from PPTs has hardly been addressed at all in this recent work. It is precisely this question that we address. We investigate linguistic criteria that we argue can be used to delineate the class of specifically aesthetic adjectives. We show that there are, in fact, good motivations for keeping PPTs and aesthetic predicates apart: the semantic structure of the former, but not the latter, entails an experiencer. There are many adjectives whose semantic structure arguably also entails an experiencer, yet which are readily used in expressing aesthetic judgments. Adjectives such as provocative or moving are a case in point, since as adjectives they arguably maintain the experiencer argument from the verb they are derived from. Nevertheless, when we describe, say, a sculpture as provocative, or a theater performance as moving, we clearly make aesthetic judgments. The difficult question, then, is to articulate the relationship between an aesthetic predicate (of which beautiful and ugly are paradigms) and other predicates that just happen to be used in making an aesthetic judgment. Tightly related to this point is the more general question of the relationship between an evaluative predicate and a predicate that occurs in an evaluative judgment. One of our aims is to make some progress in addressing these questions.

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Louise McNally
Universitat Pompeu Fabra


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