What do we see in museums?

Philosophy (forthcoming)
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I address two related questions. First: what value is there in visiting a museum and becoming acquainted with the objects on display? For art museums the answer seem obvious: we go to experience valuable works of art, and experiencing valuable works of art is itself valuable. In this paper I focus on non-art museums, and while these may house aesthetically valuable objects, that is not their primary purpose, and at least some of the objects they house might not be particularly aesthetically valuable at all. Second: to what ontological type or category do museum objects belong? What type of item that should be featured on an inventory of a museum collection? I distinguish between typical objects and special objects. While these are different types of object, both, I argue, are abstracta, not concreta. The answer to the second question, concerning the ontological category of special objects, throws new light on various philosophical questions about museums and their collections, including the question about the value of museum experiences. But it also throws light on important questions concerning the preservation and restoration of museum objects.
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